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So much has been written, photographed, and reported about this most-Mexican of fiestas that it is difficult to trace all origins of the many adopted features of the "Muertos" altar. Whether constructing an altar in the states of Michoacán, Oaxaca, Puebla or San Luis Potosí, the visual details beckoning the spirits from Mictlán (the indigenous name for the place of the dead), vary according to the customs of that region. But rather than noting the differences, we find the elements common to all Muertos altars the most-meaningful and compelling. Please join us in discovering the traditional ritual artifacts used in the creation of a Mexican Día de los Muertos altar.
THE ESSENTIAL ELEMENTS~
PHOTOS OF PUBLIC ALTARS:
The foundation of a home altar is the MESA GRANDE (large table) located in a prominent room in your home, where the company of visiting spirits may be enjoyed. Next, cover your table with a favorite table cloth. At the center of the table, favorite photos of the honored dead are placed. The addition of personal belongings and favorite foods and beverages of the deceased ensure that the visiting spirits will feel most-welcome. In Mexico, favorite offerings often include a bottle of tequila, a pack of cigarettes or a cigar (all depending upon the personal tastes of the honored), and traditional foods such as mole, tamales, and the bread of the season"pan de muertos". Taking the hospitality shown the visiting spirit-guests one step further, the tequila bottle is open and a shot poured and waiting. The visiting souls must be served!
In addition to these
personal mementos, symbols of the FOUR ESSENTIAL ELEMENTS OF NATURE
must also be incorporated according to indigenous beliefs of the Lake
Pátzcuaro region; EARTH, WIND, WATER and
SALT is also placed on the altar in containers and serves to purify the spirits. COPAL, incense made of tree resin, is aromatic and its smoky tendrils rise like spirits in the night further sweetening the air on Muertos. "Copaleros" or "salumerios" made of clay are the special incense holders used on the altar. CEMPAZUCHTL flowers (marigolds) form the bright and golden path further guiding the spirits on this night, and adorn the altars in every imaginable way. A HUMBLE MAT woven of local reeds or grasses, is at last placed at the base of the altar table as a resting place for the weary souls after the long journey.
The CEMPAZUCHTL flower (marigold) is most-closely associated with the muertos altar of Mexico. But other varieties of flowers such as white calla lily, maroon cock's comb, baby's breath, and lavender orchids (which bloom in Michoacán during this season) are also traditionally used for altars and readily available in the local markets in late October.
We invite you to experience the loving
process of constructing your own home altar this year.
The spirits will surely join you!
Begin preparing your own home altar in October, adding meaningful components throughout the month. The evening of November 1st is spent with friends & family gathered to enjoy favorite recipes, stories and music until the sun comes up. Noche de Los Muertos officially begins on November 2nd, so expect the spirits to begin arriving at midnight on the 1st!
By Debra Hall