From Sacrificial Fire to Fire in the Mind: The Mexican Cult of Death in Myth, Literature, and Politics
Death and revolutionary violence are dominant leitmotifs in modern Mexican literature. Both themes can be linked to a cult of death, the roots of which are buried deep in the ancient past and serve as a vital key to understanding the Mexican psyche.For modem Mexicans, as for their predecessors, the creation of a new world—or new world order—is steeped in death. However, the new world of the 21st century, though born of death and deprivation, may no longer be doomed to catastrophe. Fatalism, as an aspect of the Mexican cult of death, was a necessary tool of the ancient priest-politicians, one that was clearly reflected in lyric poetry and other literary forms. Since then, much has changed in Mexico. Passage of the North American Free Trade Agreement in 1994, the influence of Western—particularly U.S.—popular culture, entrance into the Information Age, and the urbanization of the Mexican population have contributed to a changed worldview for many Mexicans. Many had expected that this change might obscure or eliminate the Mexican cult of death as a dominant expression of "mexicanidad", particularly among the intelligencia. It appears that they were mistaken.The modern Chiapan literary corpus attests to a new political consciousness and to the continuity of concepts rooted in the distant past. That the cult of death remains a salient feature of the traditional Mexican worldview is evidenced in the writings of EZLN Subcomandante Marcos and other Zapatista writers; and it seems certain that the phenomenon, so dominant a theme in Ancient Mexican myth and literature, will endure as long as the indigenous soul remains alive in Mexico. The form the phenomenon will take within the emerging context of peace and prosperity remains to be seen.
Keywords: Mexican Cult of Death, Ancient Mexican Myth and Literature, Zapatista Literature, Politics and Worldview
Prof. Barbara Brodman
Professor, Division of Humanities, Nova Southeastern University