El Vuelo de los Ancestros

Return to the ancient path,
the roadmap of greatness,
the elders call must be obeyed,
thoughts of the ancestors is enough,
everything is hidden within it.
It is the beginning of healing
for all of us and our land.Put your ears on the ground to listen
to what they have to say.
Tilt your head and look up for
the sky bear witness to this truth.
The air still sings their music,
even the waters also whispers their songs
for they drank from the same well as you.Emeka Mokeme, The Elders Call

by Morgan Vierheller

Each year as the fall season deepens, hearts and minds in Latin America turn to family members that have crossed the threshold. During this time of celebration, people believe that the deceased return and ofrendas (altars and gifts) should be offered to welcome them.The altar holds four important elements: water, wind, fire and earth. Water is given to quench the spirits’ thirst from their long journey and is usually put in a clay pitcher or a glass. Fire is signified by the candles and wind is signified by papel picado (“punched” paper). The earth element is represented by food, usually pan de muerto (bread of the dead) and specific things the deceased person liked. In addition, calaveritas de azucar (sugar skulls) and flowers are placed on the altar, as well as pictures of the deceased and religious items. These offerings ensure that the dead will have everything they need for their journey back.

Weeks before Día de los Muertos (Day of the Dead), families start preparing for the return of their loved ones. Families visit cemeteries to have a picnic, and clean and decorate the graves with cempasuchitl (a marigold flower native to Mexico), candles and incense. The marigold petals are used to make a pathway. Their scent and color attract the spirits and lead them from the cemetery back to their home. Honoring the dead is not a new tradition. Thousands of years prior to the Spanish Conquest, numerous ethnic groups of the region including Aztecs, Mayans and Toltecs had specific times that they commemorated the deceased.

At this time of each year, the monarch butterfly makes its migration across central Mexico. When a person dies, holes are drilled in the coffins because the soul (el alma) is thought to escape the body after death in the form of a butterfly. When the monarchs return, as they always do, the migration is viewed as the spirits of ancestors returning home to visit—a beautiful metaphor for life’s triumph over death. The monarch was called by the Aztecs xochiquetzal (precious flower) or quezalpapalotl (holy butterfly). It was considered the symbol of the dead and of fire, as well as the spirit of the forest.

The Eugene Waldorf School celebrates this time of year in two ways. First, is the creation of the calaveras de azucar, pan de muerto, papel picado and other crafts in the grades Spanish classes and an ofrenda for the community to honor family members that have passed. On the night of October 31, there is a Halloween celebration at the school for the students in preschool through the lower grades that includes story-telling, traditional jack-o-lantern decorations and modified trick-or-treating with homemade goodies.