Archive for the ‘Folklore’ category

Watch “2018 Halloween Creations by Felicia Lujan” on YouTube

September 18, 2019

I Believe in Magic

September 21, 2014

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I had so much fun this year at the Santa Fe Renaissance Fair at El Rancho de Las Golondrinas. It was such a blast and I love that fair more every year. This is the third or fourth year that I’ve gone. I’m seriously contemplating being a volunteer next year, just to camp on the historic property.

Sucked that I missed the fire dancers this year. Here is a link to a video I shot of one of the fire dancers last year on the My Voyage Through Time YouTube channel. The belly dancers are always great to watch though~ mesmerized by bouncing bellies n shit. Hahahaaa! Of course…I went to the fair *after* a killer back workout!

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An Interest in the Undead: An Interview with Author Ray John de Aragón

September 9, 2014

An Interview with Ray John de Aragon_Logo
Ray John de Aragón has been called “one of New Mexico’s prolific Hispanic authors” and a “master of both the English and Spanish languages making him one of the top bi-lingual authors producing today.” The Hispanic American author who was born in Las Vegas, New Mexico has a rare mix of artistic gifts. Not only is he a writer, but he is an “internationally recognized santero” and artist. This man with an intricately carved professional career also shares creative energy with his community as the District Arts Coordinator for the Los Lunas Schools. Aragón is an educated man who majored in American Studies and actively participates in scholarly and artistic events.

“I always knew I wanted to be a writer. I often thought about the idea that written words possess a great power. Words can make people think. They can make them laugh, and even make them cry. Written words have changed the course of history and have directed civilizations.”
~~~Ray John de Aragón

Ray John de Aragon and Doña Sebastiana

~Ray John de Aragón and Doña Sebastiana~

Aragón’s award-winning/bestselling book Padre Martinez and Bishop Lamy (2006) has been regularly reviewed for several years. The onset of reviews is said to have spurred the Hispanic writer into the national and even international spotlight. He has been featured on streaming media and has made several guest appearances on radio and television over the years. This includes being featured on ABC, CBS, NBC, PBS, Telemundo and Univision. The same bestselling book is also used by students in courses at Harvard University, the University of California, Berkeley, the University of Notre Dame, Stanford University and the University of New Mexico.

I am always very honored when Ray John de Aragón asks me to write about him. It is great to be respected by such an accomplished writer who is known internationally by scholars, authors and artists alike. I had the pleasure of meeting Aragón in 2011. I met him not as an archivist, but as a writer. We met a little over three years ago at the National Hispanic Cultural Center during the 9th Annual National Latino Writers Conference. For that conference, Aragón was a presenter in addition to being a distinguished guest of honor. Visit these links to read more about when I met Aragón at that conference or to read about what I have already written about Aragón.

Since I have known this author, he has published four books. This is the third that I will write about. Between the late 1970s and 2014, Aragón has written a total of 10 books. In retroflex this includes: New Mexico Book of the Undead: Goblin & Ghoul Folklore (2014); Lincoln: Images of America (2013); Enchanted Legends and Lore of New Mexico: Witches, Ghosts & Spirits (2012); Hidden History of Spanish New Mexico (2012); The Legend of La Llorona (2006); Padre Martinez and Bishop Lamy (2006); The Penitentes of New Mexico (2006); Hermanos De LA Luz: Brothers of the Light (1998); Hermanos De La Luz: Living Tradition Of the Penitente Faith (1997); and City of Candy and Streets of Ice Cream (1979).

“The story I will always remember, of course, is the one of La Llorona. I grew up with it. I was told where she had lived, and where she had died. She is an alma que anda penando, a soul in search of peace. I can honestly say that I heard her one night. Her piercing cry was like the cry of a demented woman. One would have to hear it to believe it.”
~~~Ray John de Aragón

Aragón is married to Rosa Maria Calles. He and his wife are fixtures of Valencia County and are very well known in Los Lunas. Calles is originally from Tome, New Mexico and they have four children. Aragón found his creative and intelligent match in Rosa Maria Calles, who is “a renowned artist, playwright, director, and producer.” The couple is actively involved with the Los Lunas Museum of Heritage and Arts and in 2007, Aragón was recognized by the Valencia County News-Bulletin for winning “statewide attention for art programs” as the District Arts Coordinator of Los Lunas Schools. In late 2008, the Los Lunas museum featured Aragón’s work in the exhibit “Saints and Sacred Places.” His work was again featured in 2010 for the “Nuestras Raices: Our Roots” exhibit.

Ray John de Aragon and wife Rosa Maria Calles

~Ray John de Aragón and wife Rosa Maria Calles~

It is likely that Aragón’s “professional learning and growth” again sprouted in 2012 after a short hiatus from publishing books. After becoming a Santa Fe Leadership Center fellow and being acknowledged for The Art and Experience of Leadership, the author came back full force and has published 4 books since then. His latest book is New Mexico Book of the Undead: Goblin & Ghoul Folklore, which was just released with an awesome book jacket. Like me, it seems that Aragón tends to prefer the darker side of history. Our state is filled with black stories and complex mysteries. Like most New Mexicans, Aragón is intrigued by the tales of ghosts, witches and hauntings passed on to us by our grandparents. In this book, Ray John de Aragón “recounts stories from the state’s rich and spine-chilling cultural folklore.”

New Mexico Book of the Undead by Ray John de Aragon

“Folklore is a part of who we are. It is an integral part of our being. This was true thousands of years ago and it is true today. Even in this technological age, most everyone is still intrigued by stories of witches, phantasms, vampires, and the unexplained.”
~~~Ray John de Aragón

The author says that his newest book is filled with “New Mexico Hispanic folklore” which is “full of terrifying creatures that traverse the dark shadows of the night.” Aragón says “these otherworldly beings appear when one least expects it. They are there, waiting in the darkness to strike in places we should not be at, or at times of the night that we should not be out.” His book “captures these forbidding spirits and tells their stories” that were passed down from generation to generation. One story which will be recounted is that of “Bloody Mary.” It will be her first appearance in a book published about New Mexico folklore. He says that some of the stories “are as old as the Spanish colonization of New Mexico,” and span our 400 year history here.

If you want to meet an author who believes in ghosts and says “seeing is believing,” you can pick up his newest book just in time for Halloween!! Aragon currently has three book signings scheduled for October. The first is on October 11, 2014 at 2:00pm at the National Hispanic Cultural Center in Salón Ortega. The second will be on October 18, 2014 at 2:00pm at the Los Lunas Museum of Heritage and Arts. The third will be on October 30, 2014 at 7:00pm at Bookworks in Albuquerque. You can also order New Mexico Book of the Undead: Goblin & Ghoul Folklore online by visiting the History Press web site.

Banshee: Exploring the Origins of a Witchy Woman

August 22, 2014
Banshee by Felicia Lujan

~”Banshee” a Digital Composite by Felicia Lujan~

What is a banshee? Is she a spirit? Is she a figment of our imaginations? Is she a monster? Is she a being of light or a lover of the darkness? Something I read recently sparked my curiosity with regard to the origins of these mysterious women who are supposedly supernatural. The dictionary defines a “ban·shee” as “an Irish legend” and “a female spirit whose wailing warns of an impending death in a house.” Banshee appearances and accounts have largely been captured and passed on through oral traditions; however, there are a handful of documented accounts and attempts to make sense of the stories.

A Princeton University web site defines the banshee as a “woman of the side” or a “woman of fairy mounds” or a “seer.” She is said to be a “female spirit in Irish mythology, usually seen as an omen of death and a messenger from the Otherworld.” This messenger or “fairy woman” is often “keening at the death of important personages.” Important personages? Yes…that is a word! Many believe the banshee can predict death. Many have heard the “mourning call” of the banshee in the late hours of the night when a person is going to die. This happens most often around woodland areas, though there are some accounts by water. A tale from 1437 says that King James I of Scotland had an encounter with a “banshee who foretold his murder…” Her cries may have been “so piercing” that they were able to shatter glass.

The university web site says that “the banshee can appear in a variety of guises. Most often she appears as an ugly, frightening hag, but she can also appear as a stunningly beautiful woman of any age that suits her. In some tales, the figure who first appears to be a ‘banshee’ is later revealed to be the Irish battle goddess, the Morrígan. The hag may also appear as a washer-woman, or bean-nighe (washing woman), and is seen washing the blood stained clothes or armour of those who are about to die.” I would like to learn more about the Irish battle goddess. The banshee is also rumored to appear in other supernatural life forms. She may appear as a “hooded crow, stoat, hare and weasel.” In Ireland, these are animals which the locals associate with dark arts and witchcraft.
Syracuse Herald_1.2.1898_Syracuse_NY
In an 1898 column titled The Easy Chair, the Syracuse Herald said that “a genuine Irish banshee is a little old woman in a red cloak…” A little old woman doesn’t seem that scary, but maybe? The column was spurred by the review of a play titled Number Nine. In numerology, the number nine symbolizes karma, spiritual lightening and awakening, mysticism, and divine wisdom in addition to other things. It is not clear who reviewed the play, but it was apparent that their curiosity was spurred by the mythology shrouding the banshee. The column goes on to say that…“she appears only to announce unpleasant events, such as one’s demise” and that “she does not always appear.” According to the author of this column, the banshee may make an appearance only in sound by wailing.

By 1929, the story of the banshee seems to be associated with the death of important people. If you recall the 1898 column and the number nine, this may be due to a growing association of the banshee with karma. The Buffalo Center Tribune ran a short piece titled Believe in Banshee as Herald of Death with regard to the death of Baron O’Neill. Neighbors of the family mogul “declared they heard the wail of the banshee the night before near the ruins of Shane’s castle on the shores of Lough Neagh. The castle was formerly the O’Neill residence.” Maybe people used the banshee as a way to understand the death of corrupt officials? “Baron O’Neill was eighty-nine…” Really? The number nine shows up again? The article says he “had had a long career as judge and member of parliament” from 1863-1880. Maybe he was a bad man?
Buffalo Center Tribune_1.10.1929_Iowa
In 1942, Virginia Moore published a poem titled The Banshee in the scholarly Poetry journal. Her poem captures the darkness and the light of banshee mythology, which may be seen by writers as a deep symbol of both death as well as the afterlife. Moore wrote…“Lightly, lightly, Ever brightly, Moves the banshee, certain death. Cry and call out, Death will fall out. Hold – you cannot hold – your breath.” It is interesting how she frames the poem with light. When you read about the banshee in historical news articles, she (not he) is always fixed as a creature of straight darkness. This is one reason I love writers. We see deeper than the dark. Moore closes her poem with…“Brilliant yellow, Is this fellow, Is the banshee, plumed and bright. Lovers hearing. Listen, fearing. Hark! Who treads the plushy night?”
Elyria Chronicle Telegram_6.28.1935_Elyria_OH

Patricia Lysaght studied banshee folklore in the mid to late 1970s. In her white paper titled Irish Banshee Traditions: A Preliminary Survey, Lysaght took an in-depth look at the folklore of this mythical apparition based on manuscripts from the 1930s in the archives of the Department of Irish Folklore with the University College in Dublin, Ireland. This female scholar went straight to the source. She says that “the explanations of how the banshee came to be are not only few; they also seem to have a limited distribution, or even to be individual fabrications.” That was interesting to learn. It confirms that more often than not, the early origins of these oral stories were not recorded. She did locate an account of a local custom by Co. Tipperary. Tipperary said that “long ago people used to pay women to moan in the corpse house just when the corpse would be leaving for the church.”

Could this be how the mythology of the banshee started? Were women paid to wail and moan when someone died? Maybe we will never know if a banshee is a spirit or a figment of our imaginations or a monster that encompasses the light and darkness? What I do know is that my unending curiosity associated with the origins of mysterious things will never die, much like the tales of the banshee.

Santa Fe New Mexican_10.31.1976_Santa Fe_NM

Sources:

Princeton University Web Site (Accessed August 21, 2014)
https://www.princeton.edu/~achaney/tmve/wiki100k/docs/Banshee.html

The Easy Chair~ Syracuse Herald~ Syracuse, New York (January 2, 1898)

Believe in Banshee as Herald of Death~ Buffalo Center Tribune~ Buffalo Center, Iowa (January 10, 1929)

How it Began~ Elyria Chronicle Telegram~ Elyria, Ohio (June 28, 1935)

The Banshee a poem by Virginia Moore~ Poetry (Vol. 59, No. 5, 1942, Page 247)

Irish Banshee Traditions: A Preliminary Survey by Patricia Lysaght~ An Cumann Le Béaloideas Éireann (The Folklore of Ireland Society), (Page 94-119, 1974-1976)

Down the Old Santa Fe Trail~ Santa Fe New Mexican~ Santa Fe, New Mexico (October 31, 1976)

Interviewing an Author with an Interest in the Undead

August 19, 2014
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~A distorted hint of Ray John de Aragón's newest book jacket~

I am always very honored when Ray John de Aragón asks me to write about him. It is awesome that he acknowledges my writing skills and gives me respect. He is an accomplished man who is very well respected by scholars, authors and artists alike. I met him years ago at the Latino Writers Conference in Albuquerque, New Mexico (see Alchemist: Connecting Signs and Symbols) You can see some of his other books I wrote about here. I am currently in the interview process with him to cover his newest creation!

His new book is titled New Mexico Book of the Undead: Goblin & Ghoul Folklore. I’m sure you know why the historian/author/santero/visionary/and District Art Specialist for the Los Lunas school system asked me right? If not…you don’t know me very well. He sent me a digital image of the book jacket and it’s awesome! Can’t wait to cover this. I’m giving you just a hint of the jacket. If you want to learn more and see the full jacket, be sure to come back for a visit to read my story about his take on the darker side of history.

♥•• Intoxicating Madness and a Magical Root

November 20, 2013

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“Insanity” by Felicia Lujan
A digital composite used to demonstrate the personification of Aphrodite, the Greek goddess of love and beauty. The symbolic image is comprised of 4 layers including: a mandrake root; human hair; a heart; and a tornado.

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Mandrake roots have been used medicinally since at least AD 60. Dioscorides, the Greek physician seems to be one of the first to actually explore the anesthetic use of the roots of the mandragora plant. These long, brown roots from the nightshades family were used in a special tincture to help heal those in need. This may be the earliest example of the use of mandrake roots in medicine, however, the most interesting use of these roots has been associated with love charms, potions and magic.

In medieval times “insane root” was believed to be a root which caused “madness in those eating it…” This root has long been correlated with insanity for both concrete and mythological reasons. After researching, I believe these reasons are numerous and depend on the source. The most logical is the fact that the root acts as a natural drug. Mandrake roots contain “deliriant hallucinogenic tropane alkaloids.” Those who consume the root become intoxicated. This explains why it was used as an anesthetic. Maybe this is why it was used not only to induce love, but possibly to ease love pains?

Mandrake roots often grow to look like a human figure. For this reason, the folklore and mythology surrounding the root runs deep. The root has been used to make love charms and to concoct magical love potions. According to the Dictionary of Folklore, Mythology and Legend, “insane root” is also called a “love apple.” The “fruit” symbolizes fertility and has been identified as a personification of Aphrodite, the Greek goddess of love and beauty. Consequently, love potions made from mandrake were considered aphrodisiacs.

Sounds like an interesting root to experiment with ha? The Dictionary of Folklore, Mythology and Legend also says that “insane root” or “love apple” or mandrake “will cure barrenness.” Barrenness? Maybe I was right about the root being used to ease love pains? A mandrake “love charm” also has the power to “make the wearer invisible, or reveal hidden treasures.”

Hum…I guess if you’re looking for me, you can find me scouring the local herberias/yerberias for the magical root which causes intoxicating madness.

SOURCES

Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary

Dictionary of Folklore, Mythology and Legend (Funk and Wagnalls Standard)

Myths and Mandrakes by Anthony John Carter~ Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine~ Vol.96 (2003)

Wikipedia

Thrills, Magic, Health, Faith and Riches: In Pursuit of Treasure

April 10, 2013

In Pursuit of Treasure by Felicia Lujan
If I had to create a definition for the word treasure, it would not be traditional. In my eyes treasure can be many things. I don’t believe that precious metals and gems are the only physical things which possess value. For example, an archaeologist would consider old bones to be a treasure, and a historian would find wealth in certain records. An entomologist would treasure the discovery of a new insect, while a lover of code may prize a new script.

Within the last couple of years, a book by the Santa Fe author Forrest Fenn has been sought-after by treasure hunters. Thrill of the Chase: A Memoir is a book Fenn has used to drive people into a maddened search for a treasure chest the author has hidden. On March 9, 2013, a 34 year old woman from Texas was found after she got lost in Bandalier National Monument while searching for the treasure. This month, officials with the New Mexico Department of Game and Fish threatened to file charges against a man they found digging under a descanso (roadside memorial or grave marker) for the treasure. What are these people thinking?

Web sites across the world proclaim the words “somewhere in the mountains north of Santa Fe, a magnificent treasure box is hidden. Will you find the treasure? Join the chase!” The book is only being carried by one bookstore here in Santa Fe. The delirium led me to consider the human fascination with treasure, so I decided to peer into a small part of this history.

Dictionary of Folklore Mythology and Legend

~Funk and Wagnalls Standard Dictionary
of Folklore Mythology and Legend (©1949)~

Why are humans so fascinated with the hunt for treasures? Aside from the fact that many people are extremely broke right now, what drives them to partake in the hunt? According to the Funk and Wagnalls Standard Dictionary of Folklore Mythology and Legend (©1949), “gold has been consistently the most highly prized of metals thorough the ages…” The book says that “gold was so highly valued, it early became associated with religion. It was used to make idols, as tribute, and as offerings to the Gods.” This means that the symbolism of gold has been ingrained into humans since it was first discovered. Not only has the warm colored metal been associated with the heavens, but the Chinese “believed gold leaf” was “the most perfect form of matter; an unguent containing it was the most powerful remedy of Chinese medicine as it gave renewed life to the human body.”

I have discovered that gold was “a potent curative force” in “early medical practice,” and that it was associated with the Gods. I believe that the value of this metal is inherent in our collective memory for at least two good reasons. I found some interesting articles and books which explore lost treasures. I thought it would be great to share these stories which begin in 1902 and end in 1963. These stories shed light on the quest for treasure and the hunters who obsess about the hunt. The Dictionary of Folklore Mythology and Legend also describes hunters who “go into a trance” while being under the spell of “hunting magic.” A search for gold could not both invite and “repel” madness~ could it? For as long as many people can remember, there have been oral stories of: money walled up in houses; gold being buried in mountains; and unknown treasures which are not considered “lost.”

The Santa Fe New Mexican ran an article on July 24, 1902 in the “Special Correspondence” section of the paper. In this article, it was reported that there was “supposed hidden Spanish Treasure” in Grant County. The special report said that the treasure was hidden in an “old cave near San Lorenzo.” Apparently over the years many people tried to locate the Spanish treasure. I had to laugh out loud in the silent library when I read that the “treasure-seakers” had found many skeletons, but not any treasure. I guess if you were talking to a person interested in straight forward wealth, bones would just be worthless? On the other hand, an archaeologist would find much wealth in that type of finding.

Wealth Hidden by Baker

~Article printed in the Roswell Daily Record
on August 3, 1922~

On August 3, 1922, in Racine, Wisconsin it was was reported that the “lure of hidden treasure” surrounded “an old building on one of the principal streets.” The Roswell Daily Record issued a news release titled “Wealth Hidden by Baker During the War Be Sought by K. of C.” This was a very interesting story. It was reported that a “miser’s hoard of gold” was “buried there, according to pioneers.” It was apparently a “mystery, more than half a century old” that members of the Knights of Columbus wanted to solve. The article seemed to speculate that a German baker starved his wife to become rich. The reporter described her as a “gaunt, silent woman.” During the Civil War, the baker feared “the loss of wealth” so he “withdrew his savings, cashed all his securities and bonds and under cover of darkness buried the treasure somewhere within his house.” The poor starved wife wasn’t even told where the treasure was buried. The baker figured that if she was captured, she would be tortured to reveal the secret location. After the baker died, the wife searched for the loot to no avail.

In the book Hidden Treasure in the Wild West by Oren Arnold (©1966), the author wrote about “Pancho Villa’s Mountain Bank.” Here was one case amongst many cases of hidden treasure being buried in a mountain scape. “The poor people of Mexico considered” Pancho Villa a hero. According to the book, Villa had told his friends “I have some money hidden away in a secret mountain bank.” The hero assured the people by telling them “when it is needed for our experimental work here, I will go get it. Perhaps we can build a testing laboratory with it and hire good scientists. I will look into the matter soon.” What a nice thought! Unfortunately Villa was killed on July 20, 1923. Arnold’s book says that “when he had driven his automobile to a nearby town, old enemies ambushed him.” Before he could reveal the location of his mountain bank, “the harsh staccato bark of machine guns sounded, and Pancho Villa, the great liberator, fell across the steering wheel, dead.”

“Writing in a geological bulletin published by the New Mexico Bureau of Mines in 1935, K.C. Dunham told” the story of Padre LaRue’s mine. In Mines of the Old Southwest by Jack D. Rittenhouse and Rex Arrowsmith (©1963), I located information on the “Organ Mountain Silver Mines.” Arrowsmith was a geologist and gave a particular professional flavor to his account of the mines. The report said that LaRue was “stationed at a hacienda in Chihuahua (Mexico)” and that the priest “was told by a dying friend of placers and a fabulously rich gold-bearing lode in the mountains two days’ journey north of Paso del Norte.” LaRue migrated north with others to the Organ Mountains so that he could find the gold. According to the report, they located the gold, and then buried it at the request of Padre LaRue. The priest was located by the Church in the City of Mexico and he was later “murdered” by a soldier for not divulging the location of the treasure. In case number three, the secret location followed LaRue to his grave.

Treasure Land Map_Campa Book

~Treasure Land map in Arthur L. Campa’s book
Treasure of the Sangre de Cristos: Tales and
Traditions of the Spanish Southwest (©1963)~

The only thing I found in common with the small amount of stories I looked at for this research was the fact that all the men died without telling anyone where the treasure was buried. It is possible that all of these stories were simply not true. It is possible that there was never any treasure at all. Though I guess I could say that as an archivist, I do tend to value stories as a type of treasure. I do find a sort of wealth in that! The author who really put this into perspective for me was Arthur L. Campa. In his book Treasure of the Sangre de Cristos: Tales and Traditions of the Spanish Southwest (©1963), Campa published a “Treasure Land” map which focuses on New Mexico treasures. The map shows places from the north to the south (Taos, Sangre de Cristo Mountains, Cuba, Las Vegas, Santa Fe, Sandia Peak, Albuquerque, Tome, Magdalena Mountains, Santa Rita, Mesilla, and the Organ Mountains among others). I was particularly intrigued with Chapter 11~ “Natural Phenomena and the Growth of Legends.”

It is more than safe to conclude that the value of treasure is inherent in our collective memory for several reasons. Campa said that “legends are an interesting product of folk society, the origin of which dates back to pre~Christian days, to Greece, Babylon, and the valley of the Nile. They are so deeply imbedded in the cultural texture of the folk thinking that today, as in the days of the Greeks, even geological formations assume anthropomorphic shapes and are indued with the attributes of folk heroes.” Contemplating the forces which drive humans to insanity can be a good way to peer into the mind. Where are are these behaviors and beliefs rooted?

The treasure Forrest Fenn says he buried may or may not exist. We may never know. Maybe Fenn will take the secret to his grave like so many did before him? Then again “a simple story may be gradually embellished with whatever attributes are important to folk, and with whatever concepts are current and acceptable at the time when it begins.” According to Campa, “very often the actual fact or historical account that gives rise to a particular legend may be totally forgotten, lost, or modified to such an extent that only the legend growing from the original happening survives.”

A Look at the Symbols in Bless Me Ultima

October 29, 2012

On Sunday my sister and I took our mom to the movies. This week is her birthday and she has been wanting to see the new movie Bless Me Ultima. The movie is based on a book written by Rudolfo Anaya. The novel took the writer many years to finish, and he is said to have employed spirit guides and his subconscious mind to complete this work. It was published in 1972. The book has been used in classrooms for many years because it is well respected in the world of Chicano literature. I was also very anxious to see the film because I knew it featured a curandera and that it would be filled with love, magic, history, land, nature, herbs, and witches. What’s not to love? A curandera is a female folk healer who uses faith as a weapon. She also employs good magic using herbs, spirit guides, and the power of the natural world around her. The story is not that of Ultima’s. It is the story of a young boy named Antonio Márez y Luna, an outside spectator who is contemplative of many things.

Our Tickets to Bless Me Ultima on 10.28.2012

Photo I took of Ultima “La Grande”
and Antonio in the movie Bless Me Ultima

At first I was surprised to learn that the movie was two hours long. I must say that there was not one moment of the movie that didn’t capture me completely. We laughed and we cried as a New Mexico story graced the big screen in a way that I have never seen. I have one of the original runs of Anaya’s book. When I was a girl I remember reading the book in school, and in college we did chapter studies. I felt that the film flawlessly embodied and conveyed the heart of the original story. We all loved the film. I always feel so blessed to have people in my life who understand me. As we left the theater, I explained to my mom and my sister that I was taking notes on my phone. My mom said “I know,” and my sister said “I figured.” In some movies I have attempted to take in a notebook, but it is hard to see what you are writing in the dark and have found it much easier to jot down thoughts in draft form on my phone. One day I aspire to complete a full literary analysis of this novel, but for tonight I will deliver the symbols I derived from the film.

Photo I took of the funeral procession
of a Trementina witch sister
in the movie Bless Me Ultima

When we were leaving I told my mom that I saw so many symbols in this film. I adore my mature and intense mind. My mom was very curious about the symbols I saw, so I dedicate this to her. Maybe with any luck I will make her and my sister just as crazy as I am! If you have or haven’t seen the film, or even if you have only read the book, look deeper. In my mind, symbolism is about connection. A symbol is a connection~ usually from sight to an object or idea (with the mind)~ to a feeling (with the heart)~ and then ultimately to a person, place or thing. Following are the symbols I ascertained from Bless Me Ultima. This was not Ultima’s story, however, she embraced symbolism like no other character in Anaya’s novel does. The end of the movie brings the strongest and most poignant quote. When “La Grande” dies, Antonio laid her to rest and said “I did not cry~ her voice is everywhere.” The quote confirms a connection of all symbols in the book and film.

Symbols in the Movie

Ultima or “La Grande”~ was a symbol of love, sacrifice, life, death, land, faith, respect, acceptance, forgiveness, nature, power, protection, knowledge, tradition, and healing

Ultima’s Owl~ was a symbol of protection and sacrifice

The Moon~ was a symbol of mystery, land, time, magic, and knowledge

The River, Rain and Water~ were symbols of life, death, healing, abundance, and the seasons

The Land, Herbs, and Farming~ were symbols of home, family, tradition, knowledge, continuity, and healing

The War~ was a symbol of evil, change, vice, and sin

Death~ was a symbol of fear, evil, mortality, and immortality

Religion~ was a symbol of connection and disconnection

Amulet,Talisman,Trinket: The Lore of Blood Coral

March 2, 2012


Every morning as I drive to work, I am reminded of my maternal grandmother. Right before I had my one and only child, a son, she gave me a special gift. At the time, I never understood just how special the gift was. It must have been around July of 2005 when my grandma’s warm hand opened mine. She placed an odd shaped piece of coral on my palm. I looked at the red natural gem for a moment, and then asked “what should do with it?” She said that I needed it for protection, and after I gave birth that I should “pin it on her grandson.” My grandma told me that there would be people jealous of the baby and the attention he would get, so that I should be sure he used the coral. My grandma Corine did many things that I would never get to fully understand until I became a woman. What she believed we needed protection from was mal ojo or the evil eye.

As a child, I soaked up many of her traditions and beliefs, often unknowingly. I never took the time to learn more than that. I did know that all children were gifted with coral so of course I saved it. I made Daryn a pin, and he would wear it. I can’t remember when he stopped wearing the pin, but my grandmother passed away a little over two years after my son was born. I have only one photograph of her holding him in her arms. Naturally, I saved the precious piece. I made it into a necklace for me, and would wear it and think of my grandma. Later I decided to hang the necklace from the mirror in my vehicle. Maybe for protection? It still hangs there almost 5 years since my grandma died. For a few weeks, I have been wanting to look into the lore of coral. I finally took the time to do so this week. I was shocked to learn that the practice of gifting a child with red coral is not specific to New Mexico, yet alone to one culture.

A piece of red coral given to me by my maternal grandmother was used to make this necklace. The "horn" or "branch" was much longer at one time, but a piece broke off a few years back. Before it was a necklace, my son would wear the gem as a pin for protection. Now this necklace is hanging from the mirror in my vehicle for protection on the road.

According to Bussoletti, Cottingham, Bruckner, and Roberts, in the Mediterranean, a coral amulet has “distinctive characteristics.” These characteristics stem from “the complex mythological content that surrounds it, tying it to the blood of the head of Medusa that Perseus decapitated, blood that would color and petrify the sea.” They published these ideas in Red Coral Science, Management, and Trade: Lessons from the Mediterranean. In Documents of British Superstition in Oxford, by Ettlinger, the author concluded that folklore of coral declared the gem “one of the most popular amulets by reason of its red colour-since a white coral has never been used as an amulet.”

I also located something called Chinese Charms: Hidden Meaning of Symbols and there it is said that “red coral is considered particularly auspicious.” In Italian Folklore of Italy, red coral was “used to protect mothers and their babies, and trees that bear fruit.” In the Important Symbolism of Middle Eastern Jewelry, “a talisman which is used for the elderly, women, children and babies,” often utilized “antique Mediterranean red coral and amber beads.” Roman Sexualities by Hallett and Skinner said that “women are vigilant in protecting the babies once they are born.” Some “baby amulets” included “branches of coral.”

Thomas Forbes with the Yale University Departments of Anatomy and the History of Science and Medicine published a paper titled Chalcedony and Childbirth: Precious and Semi-Precious Stones as Obstetrical Amulets. In a section titled Gems of Biological Origin, Forbes wrote that “one of the most interesting was coral,” he called the gem a “protective charm,” and said that it was “recommended a piece of coral hung about the neck as a birth charm.”

I did locate a vast amount of information about the mythology of coral, and the origins of these beliefs runs way, way back. One of the most interesting pieces I located was a paper titled The Evil Eye in Italian Art by S.A. Callisen. The paper was published in 1937 in The Art Bulletin (Vol. 19, No. 3). In a nutshell, Callisen mentions some of the following: peoples of the earth have feared the power of the evil eye, and an earnest faith in its malign potency can be traced to the dawn of folklore; in paintings and sculptures a branch of coral can be seen hanging from the Christ Child’s neck; a branch of coral, hung about the neck of an infant, is a protection from harm as a prophylactic against the evil eye; writers on magic were insistent that an amulet of red coral was much the most potent; and some believed that the coral branch was similar to a Roman phallic charm. There are references to coral and color changing. It is said that when the wearer is ill, the blood coral will change from red to a “pale” color.

In Women’s Tales from the New Mexico WPA: La Diabla a Pie, there is a story titled Remedios that is from the 1940s. There it is written, that “babies were harmed by mal ojo (evil eye). It was said that some persons could hurt babies with evil eye or mal ojo unconsciously. When baby was made sick by anyone who had mal ojo.” It is believed that “to protect little children from mal ojo, strings of coral beads were tied around their necks.” So yes- there are local stories, however, the lore of coral is cross-cultural and much deeper than I anticipated.

In the future, I would like to study what I see as the symbolism of coral, as water is one of my power symbols. That is a whole other topic for another long night. For now, if you would like to learn more about the lore of this biological gem, you should read The Evil Eye in Italian Art by S.A. Callisen. There was a great amount of scholarly research that went into that piece. The link is below. That paper is mind blowing! It turns out, there was a significant amount of history rooted in my grandmother’s beliefs about coral and children. It just takes a little looking…


Sources:

Various online sources.

The Art Bulletin, Vol. 19, No. 3 (1937, pages 450-462)- The Evil Eye in Italian Art by S.A. Callisenhttp://www.jstor.org/stable/3045692

Women’s Tales from the New Mexico WPA: La Diabla a Pie (page 29)- Edited by Tey Diana Rebolledo and Maria Teresa Marquez


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