Thanks to Mexico’s traditions, and the popular animated movie Coco (thanks Disney!), Dia De Los Muertos is becoming a popular holiday across the world.
But don’t get it twisted! The Day of the Dead is not a Mexican Halloween with kids in costumes asking for candy. Dia de los Muertos is a Mexican tradition celebrated from October 31-November 2 to honor deceased ancestors. It is done by creating altars called ofrendas that include their ancestor’s photos, favorite foods, candles and flowers. Some people bring their offerings directly to their families grave sites. It’s a custom we practice to remember the deceased and help them on their spiritual journeys.
Here’s a fun fact though. Other Latino cultures celebrate their dead on a daily basis. For some it’s a religious and spiritual practice. Consider this your “Muertos 101 Guide” to understanding how other Latinos commune and honor the spirits.
Espiritismo (spiritism) is a practice of communicating with spirits via mediums. Latinos tend to practice Kardecian spiritism. Developed by French philosopher Allen Kardec in the 1800s. It is most often practiced in Puerto Rico, Cuba and Brazil. It is called Misa Blanca (white table). A medium leads a mass of devotees around a white table in prayers and invite spirits to communicate with the living. The pratice is based on the concept of a single God and the belief that good and bad spirits exist.
Palo Monte or Palo Mayombe was brought to Cuba by the Bantu of Central Africa’s Kongo region. It is a nature religion centered around tending to spirits housed in a nkisi or prenda (iron or clay cauldron) which includes consecrated earth, bones, wood and other sacred natural elements, to improve the Paleros (stick men of stick women) lives.
Los Misterios also known as Los 21 Divisiones or Arara are religions with roots that can be traced to the Fan-Dahomey people of Guinea. These people brought the religion to the Dominican Republic, Haiti and Cuba. Sometimes called Dominican Vodou, the religion’s deities, los loas were disguised in Catholic imagery to maintain their survival.
In these practices people communicate with black, white and Indian spirits through mediums called servidores de los misterios (ministers of the spirits) or caballos (horses) who are mounted by spirit that then communicate with the living.