Under a waning moon crescent, four days before the New Moon (who shares her initials with New Mexico…), I heard an owl calling in the dark for the first time since I’ve lived here. I did not think of it as a bad omen, as some might because of the Mexican saying “Cuando el tecolote canta, el indio muere” (When the owl sings, the Indian dies). I consider myself a positive person, but I have also learned to appreciate both sides of the coin, flip and all, and both aspects of all beings, who need light AND shadow to be complete. Furthermore, I choose the Greek approach to owl, companion of the Goddess Athena / Minerva (and so many more since “all the Goddesses are one Goddess” according to Dion Fortune), therefore I see wisdom in the bird’s presence. And how can you bring light if there is no darkness, or bring life again if there’s no death? The owl is also associated with the Egyptian Goddess Isis, who brough Osiris back to life and gave him a son-bird associated with the Sun: hawk-Horus, while Osiris would reign from the Underworld. Some say that this aspect of Isis turns her into Black Isis, and also in an avatar of Lilith, or is it in reverse? The thing is, darkness is where a seed spends the most important part of her life, buried, preparing for the Spring when it is time to pierce the Earth and blossom… I am learning plant wisdom, bit by bit, seed by seed, still more metaphoric than organic for now, truth be told. Still, I am blessed to learn from some curanderos or curanderas (folk healers) and shamans, both “real and fictitious”. Among the fictitious healers is Última, whose spirit guide was the owl, a bird chosen by New Mexico’s acclaimed author Rudolfo Anaya. When he was writing about his childhood for what became his most famous coming-of-age novel, Última once came to him from the spirit realm, telling him that he should write about her if he wanted his literary endeavor to work. And boy, did it work! Rudolfo was born some time ago, on October 30th, when the veil between worlds becomes very thin. October 30th is also one of the dates of celebration of Isis… There is no such thing as “coincidence”, and so-called “chance” is Spirit tiptoeing in our lives and blowing on the dandelion seeds of our persona, for them to land softly on the soil of our soul’s slumbering memories…
“My” owl was probably calling from the cottonwood tree that stands across the alleyway, by the “Washa” (Washington Middle School), where Rudy was a student in 1952. The quiet giant is “entre verde y seco“, maybe to remind me of always trying to search balance and “the middle field” in all things, or to see in its half-thirsty, half blooming self a metaphor for the beauty of water asking the glass that contains her if it feels either half empty or half full… Why do I use Spanish to describe the struggle of the old tree, torn between giving in to dry branches, or celebrating green sprouts? Because I pronounced this exact expression the first time I saw the dual tree peeking into my patio, when I was greeted by a hawk perching on my roof on the very first morning I woke up in this place. He flew toward the cottonwood, from where a raven had just called. This embodied for me the magical coming to life of the first lines I’ve ever read of Rudolfo Anaya’s literary world, in his detective series that describes the transformation of Sonny, the private eye, into a shaman who has to fight his “arch-nemesis” Raven. The latter, for me, is the shadow self of Sunny-Sonny playing with Tezcatlipoca’s mirror to show all sides of his archetypal story, his New Mexican hero’s journey…
The full moon was hanging over the valley like a holy wafer, bathing the dirt roads and potholed streets of the valley in a sheen of silvery light. The full moon after the solstice was a moon of magic, rich with portents the old people of the valley believed. Magic strong enough to bring life back into the dry, gnarled limbs of the tree. (…) The huge southern arm of the tree was greening. The pale green leaves shimmered in the moonlight.
“See,” don Eliseo whispered, pointing. “Entre verde y seco.”
Between green and dry, some old trees grew like that, one side would begin to dry out, but the spirit of life was too great to be denied, and they put out one green branch to show the roots were yet alive. Entre verde y seco, life on the Río Grande high Plateau was like that, dry and harsh as the summer that had baked the valley and then soft as love under a summer rain.
Dry and green, like people whose juices dry up momentarily, whose spirits wither, then they cast off the dread and the blood flows again, renewing body and soul. A man is like a tree, and his spirit was alive with life-giving light. He would live many more years. (Rudolfo Anaya, Zia Summer)
Don Eliseo was blessed to contemplate the miracle of life under a full moon after the summer solstice. He “lived” in the North Valley, whereas Rudy lived in the barrio, aka Barelas, but I can feel the same spirit in both areas. During his teenage years in Barelas, Rudy’s first years in Albuquerque were led on Pacific Avenue SW, between the famous Rail Yard that employed so many Burqueños and that acequia where he once dove and broke his back, which would change his fate forever. I am writing from a ‘Burque’ spot at walking distance from all those important places in Rudy’s life story. I am writing from the edge of the barrio where a few weeks ago they held a velorio for a flesh and blood curandera who will no longer hold my hands while diving into my eyes to scan my soul. When I left Maclovia Zamora’s emblematic store after I paid my tribute to her, I noticed juniper all around the place. I felt connection, I felt sorrow, I felt Última’s strength and presence together with the comfort of a wizard’s whispers, and I felt love, and responsibility, like young Antonio, who had to bury Última’s owl under the forked juniper. Here, on the edge of the barrio, “my owl” called, 4 days before the new moon, 8 days before the spring equinox. Can you see the parallel, like a shadow taking shape on a scrying mirror, or a cat-and-mouse game on a Wheel divided into the four quadrants of Time, Seasons, “Reality” and Fiction?
I profoundly believe in the magic of letters, and also in the blurred boundaries between Literature and Life. Never in my (Spanish) life had any book, like Zia Summer and then all of Anaya’s books, taken me back, so powerfully, to this land that whispered my name and made me feel that I belonged. I was first drawn to the New Mexican detectives series thanks to its cover: a cow skull over a Zia sign glowing in the Sunrise. Maybe Isis was winking already, since the cow is another of her attributes… I could not put that book down, because I somehow felt that it told me about my future self, or selves, although sometimes it really felt like it was talking to and about my past self, or selves, as well…
I see writers as brujos, aka wizards, because many stories actually do come true… So we’d better write beautiful ones, with happy endings! The collage above these lines was originally a slide from the presentation of my dissertation defense in Spain… But the story rewrote itself, to come up with better lines for my new role in this life, since I am writing from the very same New Mexico that had profoundly spoken to my soul the first time I visited it, and which was welcoming me time and again in the pages of Rudy’s books before I could be back in the flesh. When I was still in Granada, my attraction to Anaya’s world was so powerful that I had decided to analyze his universe for my dissertation, obliged step we are supposed to take if we want to become a “grown-up in Academia“. The only problem was that I “was not supposed” to work on any material in English since “I belonged” to the French department. However, this detail was not meant to stop me doing what I felt was my soul’s calling! I would compare the New Mexican literary world with that of my native Belgium through a comparison of works by Rudolfo Anaya and René Henoumont.
1111 pages (and thrice as many days) later, I have not “defended” the dissertation, and I never will, and it does not matter, because I was meant to defend something much more important: my life, and the search for the real me. I had to learn how to grow not only owl’s wings but also claws, to let go of my past self, navigate in darkness and tread on slippery rooves, and nevertheless show faith and trust in the journey toward a new me that felt very ancient. So I left the dissertation, I left the job, I left a house and a land I loved, and I dove into this adventure to start living in my third country, and by that I mean New Mexico, which I consider a country per se, and the land where my soul is meant to shine in its brightest colors…
I did not meet Última la curandera in a “chronological” manner. For me, she came “after” Lorenza, a younger curandera in Sonny’s adventures, but I am sure that she waited because she wanted me to learn how to trust Spirit ways and to patiently wait for the right time. Not always an easy task! But now that I know her well, since Última means “the last one”, and maybe to honor the mischievous spirit of some black-haired chifonete I know, I want to dedicate this first blog topic to her, also because this is what the owl whispered to my ear on that waning moon night…
However, for me to reveal this to you, you will have to practice your Spanish reading skills…
Cuando el Tecolote canta,
Abre los Ojos la Luna,
Despierta la Curandera
y Renace la Magia Femenina
(*) The face in the painting seems to come to life if you look at Última’s gaze at 3:07
(**) See first blog post