Patzin: La Katrina and Marigolds

Day of the Dead is about life and about death, about how we honor and how we remember the dead

By Patrisia Gonzales
Published on LatinoLA: November 1, 2005

Patzin: La Katrina and Marigolds

These are the nights and days of La Katrina & marigolds. La Katrina is one of the Mexican popular names for death, and the marigold is her flor de muerto, the "death flower" that actually celebrates life. Lady Death is often depicted with a flower in her Victorian hat and a bustled dress.

The marigolds' Nahuatl name - cempoalxuchitl - is recorded in the amoxtlis or pre-Columbian books (also known as codices). Cempoalxuchitl, or cempoalxochitl, means 20-flower and is related to the sacred count of 20 in ritual pre-Columbian calendars. Marigolds grace altars and burial sites and marigold petals are strewn around altars from Oct. 28-Nov. 2 in ancient rituals that honor the spirit world. The spirits return, enticed by the smells of cempoalxuchitl and their favorite foods - from tamales to chocolates -- that are made in ritual offerings.

The Day of the Dead is not a Mexican or indigenous version of Halloween. They have nothing to do with each other. Day of the Dead is about life and about death, about how we honor and how we remember the dead.

Day of the Dead ceremonies were once part of a 20-day cycle that also recognized that the earth was about to go into repose. While many people are now familiar with the public altars and offerings, and the colorful "marigold parades" or processions and other community celebrations, ancient indigenous traditions continue complex ceremonies in Mexico and the United States rarely seen by the public. In fact, the celebration has now virtually achieved total mainstream acceptance.

While many indigenous cultures in North America do not follow Day of the Dead ceremonies, there does exist ceremonies that honor people in the spirit world, and the Northern relations are often invited to join in the pre-Columbian ceremonies. Day of the Dead has been internationally recognized as part of a world heritage, and no traditional observance of it is complete without cempoalxuchitl.

I can't help but wonder about the significance of names and the irony that this deadly hurricane carried the name of Katrina. As we mourn what Lady Death delivered to Louisiana, I offer these marigold recipes in honor of the dead.

In keeping with the indigenous tradition of triple meaning, the marigolds, which are offered to the spirits, also represent the sun.

They are used in ceremonies, spiritual rites and medicinal remedies. All of the marigold plant can be used medicinally in teas, baths, tinctures, soaps and creams. The ??oAztec marigold??ˇ or Tagetes erecta (a relative of calendula) heals afflictions of the skin, wounds, yeast imbalances, infertility and ulcers. It also helps with digestive disorders and is said to calm the spirit and balance body temperature. It is a hot plant and can induce sweating and its root, says partera/ midwife, Dona Emilia of San Luis Potosi, can heal frio en la matriz. It is high in phosphorous.

A standard dosage of one teaspoon of marigold to one cup water is administered for one to two cups a day.

And as a cultural recipe, let us offer flowers and song to remember that despite death and repose, the sun also rises.

This year's Dia de los Muertos Column is done in memory of: Don Nicolas, Don Felipe, Tio Sigfredo, Lalo Guerrero, Luis Alberto, the victims of the hurricanes, earthquakes, the tsunami, and all the current wars.

? Column of the Americas 2005

About Patrisia Gonzales:
We can be reached at: 608-238-3161 or or Column of the Americas, PO BOX 5093 Madison WI 53705. Our bilingual columns are posted at:

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