Worshiping Mixed Mexico: Rebirth, Resurrection and Sacred Spaces
Story and Photos by Lydia Carey

Mexico's religious traditions showcase the country's incredible cultural blending, as well as its dark Colonial past.

Dancing woman in Mexico

Before the sun’s rays can reach you on the west side of this massive structure you must make the icy climb up its 243 stairs. The cold, the altitude, and the early hour invade the lungs and oxygen comes in spurts. What I consider “normal” safety precautions when visiting an architectural monument are all but invisible as I climb the world's third largest pyramid, free to touch its stone and feel the energy of 2,000 years of history.

It's the first day of spring. The beginning of that stretch towards longer, light-filled days as we inch toward summer. A day that would have normally passed me by except for the ritual “recharging” I have come to experience outside my adoptive hometown, Mexico City.

Each year, thousands of locals, tourists, pilgrims, and practitioners arrive at daybreak to bask in the energy of the sun at the top of the Pirámide del Sol (the Pyramid of the Sun) in Teotihuacan, the “City of the Gods.”

Mexican pyramids

These ancient ruins hold as much mystery today as when they were “discovered” by the Aztecs over 500 years ago. By then the site was already abandoned by its residents, a metropolis of 150,000 – 200,000 people that rivaled the size of Rome for the largest city of the ancient world.

The Aztecs were so stunned by the glorious architecture that they insisted it must be the birthplace of the gods and they incorporated the city into their own creation myths. It became a sacred space for them. They believed that Teotihuacan was the birthplace of their current sun (the Fifth) and the moon, formed from the essence of the gods Tecuciztecatl and Nanahuatzin who threw themselves onto a burning pyre in order to bring light to the world. The story of these two gods’ penance, sacrifice, and rebirth might sound familiar, it’s much like the story of Jesus Christ and his death on the cross to save humankind. This day’s sun worship, like the Easter holiday that will take place in just a few days’ time (as well as the worldwide worship of Osiris, Dionysus, and Hun Hunahpa), is the worship of rebirth, resurrection, the coming of light after a time of darkness.

A Spring Blessing

Juan Manuel Sanchez Rameriz and a confederation of farmers from the surrounding communities are here to offer up a ritual of dance and prayers to the ancient Maya gods of spring. They will begin their own planting cycle in approximately one month (April 19th to the 23rd) and they bring seeds, earth, fruit, and shells to be blessed by the energy of their communion here. The dancers wear white, like many of the pilgrims at the pyramid on this day, and red bands wrapped around their foreheads and waists.

“We call the ancient path of our ancestors the camino rojo (red way),” Rameriz tells me in explication, “We are here to preserve their customs and culture.”

Worshipping in Mexico

A woman named Lolis, also dressed in white, says her women's group is visiting from the city of Monterrey and that they have come to soak in the equinox light.

“You can simply feel the energy here,” she tells me. “It can help you change your perspective, help you to be reborn, to become a better human being.”

This is one of the few places sacred to the indigenous of Mexico that the Spanish colonialists didn’t build over or demolish. As part of the Catholic strategy in the new world, thousands of churches and chapels were built atop locations spiritually important to the indigenous of Mexico.

North of the city’s center, the apparition of the Virgin of Guadalupe to indigenous peasant Juan Diego is said to have been atop a hill that was sacred to the Mexicas in worship of their goddess Tonantzin. There the Virgin spoke to Juan Diego in his native tongue and requested the local bishop build her a temple there. Each year on December 12th, millions of Catholic pilgrims walk down the church’s aisles on their knees, to the drum beat of the dozens of indigenous dancers performing in the outer plaza.

Guadalupe Basilica

Lolis tells me that she and her group were there just yesterday. She describes the overwhelming energy she felt in the church and the surrounding grounds. I ask them how they reconcile these two, what seem to me very distinct, belief systems.

“Easily,” Socorro, another woman from the group tells me, “These are our roots, they are part of our history as a people.”

As Socorro, Lolis and their friends raise their hands in offering to the sun, nearby families are led in prayers by their elders, tourists sit faces upturned to the sky, and religious pilgrims wearing identical garb worship the first rays of sunrise. People snap selfies, someone lights a stick of incense and a dozen hot air balloons float above our heads, but nothing disturbs the unified energy of hundreds of people sharing the same moment, hands upheld, petitioning the sun god for healing, love, peace, a bountiful spring, a spiritual rebirth.

Spring solstice in Mexico

A Southern Syncretism

A few months later I stand watching a woman in a striped orange and tan sweater light three candles, then 25 tinier ones behind those three, then 25 even skinnier in a row behind those. She sets the bottom of each candle over the flame of another just enough to soften the wax and then sticks them to the cement floor. As she chants she keeps one eye trained on her four-year-old who is running back forth across the church’s main altar, calling her for her attention.

She prays until the small candles are almost out, then takes pox, a home-brewed moonshine made from corn, and sprinkles it over the flames. They crackle and sizzle. She takes the three front candles up to the main altar and then goes to the back of the church and starts all over again. I watch her cautiously from a distance. She is a local curandera, a healer who people come to for help curing illnesses and warding off bad spirits.

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