Let’s Throw The Shawl Over

The phrase “let’s throw the Shawl over” is used in México to say we heard something and we’ll tell it in our very personal way, adding as much as needed to make it tastier and even spicy.   So, a few years ago, when women gather to chat and talk, they would take an end of their shawl and throw it over the opposite shoulder to hide their mouths from people outside their group, generally men, who could call them gossipy. This practice to camouflage themselves from peeping eyes, almost eradicated from the cities, is still very much in use in Mexican small towns and rural communities.

So, to “throw the shawl over” today, and because the Day of the Dead celebration is close, I’ll tell you what I heard about the Aztec or Mexican funeral custom when a high personage died.

For a long time it was thought that when a high personage died, a huge number of his wives and slaves were slaughtered so that he might be properly attended in the other world. This idea comes to us from Christian priests and it is not known where they took it from because there’s no place in México in which a mass burial like that occurred. If some high personage would have taken with him a number of people to his grave, some evidence would have been found by archeologists, at least the companions’ bones, in the tombs from which the remains of a single occupant were dug out. Every one was buried with his tokens of nobility and prestige: jewels and articles according to his rank. But wives and slaves? No. This would have been a foolish practice since everybody knew that when lesser people died, they went to an entirely different afterworld.

The only creature to die with the personage was a dog of medium color to help him cross the black river to which the dead person always arrived at the darkest hour of a dark night. To get to the other side, he would have to hold on to a dog, which could smell the far shore and swim directly to it. And the dog had to be of medium color because, if it were white it would be clean from having already been in the water too long, so it would refuse the task, and if it were black, the diseased wouldn’t be able to see in order to hold on to it would get lost.

The dead person would have to face many more obstacles beyond the black river. He would have to pass between two mountains that would unite or separate at unpredictable intervals. Next, he would have to climb a mountain compose of sharp obsidian chips, which would leave multiple cuts on his feet, hands, elbows, and legs. He would walk through a forest of waving banners obscuring the path and flapping in his face to blind and confuse him. From there he’d get to a region of ceaseless rainfall made of arrow head drops. On top of all that, he would have to protect his heart from poisonous snakes, hungry crocodiles, and lurking jaguars.

At last, he would arrive in Mictlán, where Lord Mictlantecuhtli and Lady Mictlancíhuatl awaited his arrival. The personage would take from his mouth the jadestone with which he had been buried, if he had not lost it when screaming during his journey, and would hand it to the Lord and the Lady who would smile in welcome and point him toward the afterworld he deserved, where he would live in luxury and happiness for all eternity.

And that is all I know about it.   

See you soon!

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