Category Archives: Religion

Fogatas, tapetes and San Miguel Arcangel –Bonfires, sawdust and Michael the Archangel

Uriangato, the neighboring town that also believes itself to be a city, has an incredible community festival in September to honor their patron saint, Michael the Archangel. It begins on September 19 and is followed by 8 days of activities, finishing with an event called La Octava Noche on September 29.

From September 19 to September 28, each household lights a small bonfire with ocote wood (a type of pine native to Mexico) in front of their homes each night. These fires are called candiles literally translated as lightings as they are said to light the path of San Miguel Arcangel during this novena (9 prayer days).


I have to say that the first time I witnessed this event, I was startled. It’s quite a sight, fire after fire, street after street. Of course, it’s origin is prehispanic.

From what I understand, this local tradition was associated with the god Curicaueri, whose name in Purepecha means great fire, and who was credited with the foundation of the state of Michoacan. (Uriangato is a mere hop, skip and jump from the present day border of Michoacan.) Curicaueri was considered the oldest of the gods and was honored by the lighting of bonfires with ocote wood.  Some of this long ago origin remains in the form of indigenous dancers that perform during the events.

There are peregrinaciones (pilgrimages) over several days usually in the form of parades made up of local civic groups.  The parade route takes the pilgrims to the Parroquia de San Miguel Arcángel, the main Catholic church in Uriangato.

The other major event associated with this festival is the creation of tapetes, floor mats. These are labourously created with colored sawdust, seeds, and flowers along the roads in Uriangato. They usually take the form of a variety of Catholic images and are tread upon by the passage of the image of Michael the Archangel on October 6, known as La Octava Noche (the 8th prayer day in the novena). The tapete tradition is said to have begun in 1966 and each year becomes more and more elaborate.

The custom to take out the image of San Miguel and walk through the town at night, in a similar fashion to El Senor de Esquipulas in Moroleon, began after the Spanish conquest. It seems that only the Independence War and the Cristero War kept the procession from well, proceeding. It starts and ends, naturally enough, at La Parroquia de San Miguel Arcángel and covers an area about 5 km long.

The image is carried by different groups of volunteers with rest and prayer stations found along the route. This year, the image has been covered in protective glass, which better protects the 50 ornate vestments from the elements.

Here are some of the outfits.

It really is a unique festival and should you happen this way during the holy celebration, it is definitely worth checking out.




Filed under Mexican Holidays, Religion, Tourist Sites in Mexico


maya glyph for cacao.jpg

Chocolate, from the Nahuatl word xocolatl meaning bitter water, is a gift from the gods.

Legend has it that the god Quetzalcoatl stole and gave the plant that provided a special drink meant only for the gods to his chosen people, the Toltecs. He asked Tlaloc, the rain god, to water this plant and Xochiquetzal, the goddess of fertility and vegetation, to tend to it. Quetzalcoatl picked the pods, roasted the kernels and taught the Toltec women to grind it to a fine powder. The women mixed it with water and whipped it to a bitter, frothy drink called chocolatl. Such was its sacredness, it could only be enjoyed by the priests and royalty.

When the gods discovered Quetzalcoatl’s theft, they were angry and plotted the destruction of Quetzalcoatl and his people. Quetzalcoatl’s enemy Tezcatlipoca came to earth on a spider’s thread and disguised himself as a pulque vendor. He came across a worried Quetzalcoatl and offered him the drink of happiness, the fermented agave drink. Quetzalcoatl drank until he was drunk. He did the happy, happy joy dance outside his temple. His people didn’t know what to think of his strange antics and lost respect for their god. Eventually, Quetzalcoatl passed out. (See Maguey)

The next morning, Quetzalcoatl woke up with a heavenly hangover. When he realized that his people had abandoned him, he left, heading towards the evening star. He saw that the gods had transformed the chocolatl plant into the agave plant which had intoxicated him. He walked all the way to the sea. Just before he left the shore, he planted the seed that he held in his hand, the seed that he had stolen from the gods. This seed became the cacao plant and the last gift Quetzalcoatl gave to his people.

Or so the story goes.


Blood, maize, and cacao play a hand in the creation of mankind in the story of Ixcacao, a Mayan fertility goddess.

Cacao beans ground to chocolate can be traced back to the Olmec civilization, about 1000 BCE. As the story above illustrates, chocolate was considered just sacred as maize. Mayan artifacts often picture maize and cacao gods together. During rituals that involved the cacao gods, priests would lance their earlobes and cover the cacao with their blood as a tribute to the gods.

reborn as cacao

This is a representation found on the sarcophagus of an 8th-century Mayan ruler, Pakal of Palenque.  It shows Pakal’s mother, Lady Sak K’uk being reborn as a cacao tree.

Even the trees themselves were considered sacred bridges between heaven and earth. In especially holy circumstances, a deceased ruler might even be reborn as a cacao tree.

Cacao was also an important part of the marriage ritual among the Mayan. A man who wished to marry would invite his intended bride’s father to his home. He would serve his future father-in-law a hot chocolate beverage as they discussed the marriage arrangement. The bride price and dowry were often paid in cacao beans as well.

codex nuttall--mextec lord chocolate.jpg

The wedding of Lord 8 Deer Jaguar Claw and Lady 13 Serpent as pictured in the Nuttall Codex.  The bride has poured and served a cup of chocolate to complete the marriage ritual.

The Aztecs collected their tributes from conquered groups in the form of cacao and often used it as a currency. So valuable was the cacao, that one hundred beans could buy a canoe full of fresh water or a turkey hen.

rain god and chocolate

The rain god Chac and the moon goddess IxChel exchanging cacao as depicted in the Madrid Codex.

During rituals to appease Quetzalcoatl, the Aztecs would give the intended sacrifice a gourd full of chocolate mixed with the blood of the previous victim to calm their nerves. Another, less icky drink, made with chocolate called chilate, was believed to give the drinker strength, and thus included in soldiers’ rations, and to have aphrodisiac properties.

The Aztec ruler Moctezuma II, as royalty, often enjoyed the sacred drink. Bernal Diaz del Castillo, a foot soldier with Hernan Cortes, wrote his observationsFrom time to time they served him [Montezuma] in cups of pure gold a certain drink made from cacao. It was said that it gave one power over women, but this I never saw. I did see them bring in more than fifty large pitchers of cacao with froth in it, and he drank some of it, the women serving with great reverence.”

The Spaniards weren’t overly fond of the frothy, bitter drink. Jose de Acosta described it as

“Loathsome to such as are not acquainted with it, having a scum or froth that is very unpleasant taste. Yet it is a drink very much esteemed among the Indians, where with they feast noble men who pass through their country. The Spaniards, both men and women that are accustomed to the country are very greedy of this Chocolate. They say they make diverse sorts of it, some hot, some cold, and some temperate, and put therein much of that “chili”; yea, they make paste thereof, the which they say is good for the stomach and against the catarrh.”

chocolate pouring

An Aztec woman pouring chocolate to make it frothy as pictured in the Tudela Codex.  The Aztecs drank their chocolate beverage cold.

Remember, whatever recipe you use, the best chocolate drink is made in a clay olla (pot), mixed with a molinillo, and served in a clay cup.

Chocolate also has its place in Mexican dichos (sayings). After giving birth, a woman “merece el chocolate” (deserves chocolate). It is customary for a new mother to receive a cup of hot chocolate every morning for 40 days to aid in recovery. (See Candlemas) (See Three Kings Day)

One of the most famous Mexican sayings is “estar como agua para chocolate.” Literally, it means to be like water used in preparing chocolate which is HOT. Passionate, angry, boiling over with emotions.

Another expression you might come across is “darle una sopa de su propio chocolate.” Literally, it means to give someone a cup of their own chocolate. Remember, chocolate in Mexico has traditionally been prepared as a drink. It was bitter, not sweet and often used as a remedy for a variety of ailments. So, this expression would be the same as “to give someone a taste of their own medicine”.

Cacao is used as a base for other traditional Mexican delights, like mole.  Stay tuned for more information!



Filed under Carnival posts, Mexican Cultural Stories, Mexican Food and Drink, Religion

Playing Tourist–Patzcuaro, Michoacan


Ex-monastery of San Agustin in Pátzcuaro, Michoacán, Mexico

Patzcuaro, Michoacan is yet another Pueblo Mágico within easy driving distance from La Yacata, so there was nothing to be done but go. Its original name was Tzacapu-Hamúcutin-Pásquaro which roughly translates as Donde están las piedras (los dioses) a la entrada de donde se hace la negrura (where the stones of the gods are at the entrance to where they make the blackness) which sounds ominous. A better English translation would be ‘The entrance to the gates/entrance of Paradise’ or some such idea. The indigenous of the area held the belief that lakes were portals to the otherworld, so it comes as no surprise that there is a lake just outside of Patzcuaro proper.


Fountain in the center of Patzcuaro, Michoacan in honor of Bishop Vasco de Quiroga.

The Purépechas founded the town sometime before 1300 mostly as a religious center. The Spanish arrived in 1522, and the town remained a religious center with a very small population until about 1539 when the bishop Vasco de Quiroga dedicated himself to the repopulation and revitalization of the area. He was well received by the native people, even earning the nickname Tata Vasco.

In 1776, the indigenous of the area staged a revolution which was put down in 1777. In 1886, the railroad Morelia-Pátzcuaro was finished, and in 1899, Patzcuaro had its first electric lights. That amazes me since La Yacata is still waiting for electricity in 2016!


Since then, it has been a popular tourist area, known for its pottery and basketry. It really is a beautiful little town, done up in the red and white style, with cobblestone streets, much like Cuitzeo.

Our underlying reason for visiting Patzcuaro was my quest for a foot-pedaled sewing machine. Someone told me that these could be found there. So there we went. The road was clearly marked, unlike our trip to the Monarch Butterfly Sanctuary and we were able to take the libre (free) road the entire way.

There happened to be a tianguis (flea market) in the centro (downtown), but there wasn’t much of interest for us. Most vendors were hawking new toys and boxes of cookies for Los Santos Reyes. We did enjoy some gorditas de nata and fresas con crema (strawberries with whip cream).

Around la plaza, we noticed that there were a number of American-styled coffee houses instead of the more typical taco stands. It really smelled heavenly but was pricey, so we opted not to buy any. In line with the town’s tourist popularity, there were quite a number of gringos (white English speaking people) enjoying their cups of joe, playing chess or reading. The stores were chocked full of delightful artesenia (arts and crafts) but at prices that were not accessible to the average Mexican or to us, for that matter.

cam04112.jpgWandering around town, we came across the Basílica de Nuestra Señora de la Salud, built on a Purépecha/Tarasco pyramid platform. Notice the sign by the fence warns against tieing up your horses or leaning against it. I didn’t see much in the way of horses for that to be a current problem. There, outside the Basilica, vendors were selling prayer cards, rosaries, statues and peyote/marijuana cream for arthritis. Nuestra Señora de la Salud seems to be the same virgin found in Soledad, so I expect pilgrimages are made here as well to petition her curative powers. Tata Vasco’s remains are also housed within the Basilica.

We finally found the Singer Sewing store, and they had a foot-pedaled machine on display. However, the elderly owner would not sell it to me because she said it was a piece of crap, China made rather than hecho in Mexico (made in Mexico). My son pointed out that was just as well since if we did buy the machine, how would we get it in Myrtle (the VW bug) and back home? Good point.


We stopped at a yonke (junk yard) and picked up some pieces for the revitalization of Myrtle and had a late lunch at Las Jacarandas just outside of Cuitzeo. An excellent day trip if rather uneventful.




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Filed under Mexican Cultural Stories, Religion, Tourist Sites in Mexico