- Carolina Quiroga-Stultz
1 - Spooky Tales
A greedy man dares to move into a house whose owners have died. Soon after, he starts hearing and later seeing strange things. In the comments, we explore the dog's symbolism in the Aztec and Maya cultures.
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Source: The Dog Who Spoke and More Maya Tales.
Edited and translated by James D. Sexton y Freddy Rodríguez Mejía.
Published by The University of Oklahoma Press.
Adapted by Carolina Quiroga-Stultz
Back in the old days lived an old couple, viejitos, who had a huge lot of land and a big house, but they did not have offspring, children, or grandchildren. So the neighbors around began wondering what was going to happen to the land and the house when the old couple was gone because that was eventually going to happen. Then, the neighbors had a brilliant idea, to start bringing their children to see if the old couple would like the children enough to adopt them, and eventually, someone would inherit something.
Well, it didn't work, but there was a neighbor who wanted the house so badly that he decided not to bring his children but to bring himself. Every day, he volunteered to sweep, to mop, to dust off, to run any errands that the old couple need it. And yes! In time he became the perfect son.
But you know how life is, one day, all of a sudden, the old couple died. And when the attorney was going through the will, to the disappointment and surprise of this neighbor that I told about, nobody had inherited anything at all. This became the perfect situation because all the neighbors around gathered and agreed that the fair thing to do was this split everything.
But this neighbor that I told you about managed to keep the house and a little bit of land, not exactly with the blessings of the other neighbors. And immediately, he moved into that house with his wife and two children. After the first week, it felt as if it was fate that had brought them into that house. It was perfect. Until one night after they all have gone to sleep, the man woke up hearing as if somebody was running around the house.
In those times, they didn't have electricity, so he lit up a candle, and he checked on his wife, he checked on his children:
- No! They are asleep. A thief running around the house? No, it has to be the frijoles, the beans, of course, my wife always tells me I should not eating beans before I go to sleep. Yes, of course, because it is a heavy meal, and then you have nightmares. That is what it is!
And so, the man went back to sleep. The next night after they all had gone to sleep, the man woke up hearing as if somebody was banging on the walls. The man lit up a candle, checked on the wife, checked on the children:
- No, a thief banging on the walls, no! Oh! I know what it is; my wife always tells me: I should be drinking more water. I work 16 hours straight in the Milpas, in the fields. I need to drink more water. If you don't drink water, then at night, you have nightmares.
And the man went back to bed. The next night nobody was running around the house or banging on the walls. This time when the man was having a very pleasant dream with wife included, of course, from underneath the bed came crawling a hairy hand. That began to caress his thigh, and oh! the man was having a very pleasant dream.
But then it grabbed his thigh and tried to pull him out of bed. The man woke up and saw the hairy hand and thought: my wife? Hairy hands? He checked, but she did not have hairy hands, but still, he woke her up, and they both began to pull back and forth. They wrestled back and forth against the hairy hand, and finally, it released him and disappeared underneath the bed.
Well, after that they were entirely convinced that something wrong was going on in that house. So, the next day they went to see a zahorí, a curandero, a shaman. One of those men or women that know what you don't know that can see what you cannot see and can talk to those you cannot talk, one of those. And the zahorí told them that they had awakened evil spirits of jealousy, ambitions, and greed because they had moved into that house not exactly with the permission of the previous owners or with the blessings of the other neighbors. But there was a way to expel those evil spirits. Mainly what they needed to do was to perform a ritual called a "secreto", a secret.
– (The Zahorí speaks in Spanish: “Vea todo lo que ustedestienen que hacer es cortar unas papayas y unas piñas en cuatro. Ponerlas en las esquinas de la casa. Luego corte una cebollapor la mitad y póngala debajo de la cama. Abra la Biblia, Salmo 91, léalo por siete noches. Y luego hágase unos bañitos de agua, ruda y sal, y verá que con eso todos los malos espíritus de le va y usted puededormir tranquilo”)
Did you get it? No? That is because it is a secret. I should not be telling you. But ok, I will do it just in case somebody has sent you the evil spirits. I hope you did not do anything wrong to that person. What they needed to do was to get some pineapples, and papayas cut them in four, put them in the corners of the house. Cut in half an onion and put it under the couch. Open the Bible. Salm 91. It works against evil spirits. And then some showers with sea salt, rue, and honey. And yes, it worked. The evil spirits were gone, but not for long.
One night, after they all had gone to sleep, the man woke up hearing as if somebody was sweeping the house. The man lit up a candle, he checked on the wife, checked them the children
- No! A thief cleaning my house? No! It cannot be the evil spirits. We expelled them!
Well, he could not sleep that night. The next night after they all had gone to sleep, the man woke up, but this time because that somebody was dusting the house. The man lit up a candle, he checked on the wife, checked on the children.
- No! (the man cries)
Oh! He could not sleep at all. The next morning, the man decided that the best thing to do was to get a dog. So, he went to the nearest town, got a dog, and brought him to the house. That night, after they all had gone to sleep, the man woke up, but this time because the dog was barking. And also, somebody was sweeping and also somebody was dusting the house.
Oh! The man could not handle it anymore. He grabbed a stick, and he began to hit the dog until the dog stopped barking. Then, he dropped the stick and went back to bed. The man slept for only a couple of hours, not exactly very good. And when he got up the next morning, the man is feeling as if after nights of not sleeping, he was in the middle of a nightmare. So, he got up and went to feed the dog, and here is when he found the dog lying on the ground, hardly breathing.
The man knelt to caress the dog, a here's when the dog slowly opened his eyes, looked at his master, and said: Master, you beat me so hard that I am going to die. I am not to blame, last night I saw an old man and an old woman coming into the house.
What? The man could not believe it. He had never seen a dog talking before. But at that moment, that dog slowly raised his paw and touched the man's eyes, and said: Now you will see what I saw.
And the dog died. The man who thought that this was clearly a nightmare, and he needed to wake up as soon as possible, he did what anybody else would have done. He tried to rub his face with his two paws. He looked up and around, and everything seemed so wide and big, and his wife looked like a giant shadow; and he was no longer seeing in colors but in black and white, and then he tried to stand up in his two, no! his four legs. The man had been turned into a dog.
That night, after they all had gone to sleep, the man-dog woke up hearing (sounds of the door opening and steps) and then he saw an old man and an old woman coming into the house. He began to bark: who are you? Who are you? But they did not listen instead, they began to clean the house. He kept asking, who are you? Who are you? And then he heard when the old woman said to the old man:
- Old man, this house is so dirty we will have to come back tomorrow to clean it up.
Then he saw when the old man in the old woman left the house. He followed them and saw them going into another neighbor's house to cleaning up. Ever since, people say that when a dog barks late at night, it is because the dog can see what you can not see.
Finally, I would like to talk a little bit about dogs in the Maya folklore. This information comes from the book Maya Mythology, Serpents, Giants, and Magical birds by Roldan Peniche Barrera. The author tells us there is one dog in the Maya folklore called Uay Pek. And Uay Pek is believed to be the incarnation of the devil. He has a shaggy coat and has the habit of getting into houses and spending the night scratching and licking itself, shaking his ears, and bumping into hammocks.
To me, Uay Pek looks more like a trickster because he seems completely harmless, but still, the locals fear his presence, and to stop him from getting into the houses, they place crosses behind the door. Another option is to draw crosses with salt and rue herb in the entrances of the houses. My theory is that this specific belief is postcolonial since the rue herb has European origin, as well as the idea of using salt and crosses to repel the devil.
In the book An Illustrated Dictionary of the Gods and Symbols of Ancient Mexico and the Maya, by Mary Miller and Carl Taube, we find an older reference about dogs in the Maya folklore. In their mythology, the dog serves a specific purpose in the Mayan underworld. Xolotl, the Central American god with intimate ties with the underworld, sometimes is depicted with the head of a dog.
In both Aztec and Maya beliefs, dogs are perhaps embodying the role of Xolotl to guide their masters into the underworld help their master crossing bodies of water. This specific belief is based in the findings of skeletons of dogs buried along with humans. They also appear on underworld scenes painted on classic Maya pots.
Well, friends, this is all for now. Tres Cuentos at a time warns you that whether you believe or not in the afterlife or strange happenings, you should always treat well your pets because one day, he or she could be saving you from a curse or helping you cross the river of dead souls. Next time we will find how curiosity can become a double edge sword. Until next time.
1. Maya Mythology, Serpents, Giants, and Magical birds by Roldan Peniche Barrera. Illustrations by Juan Ramón Chan Alvarado. Published by Dante, 2011.
2. An Illustrated Dictionary of the Gods and Symbols of Ancient Mexico and the Maya, by Mary Miller and Carl Taube. Published by Thames and Hudson, 1997.
3. The Dog Who Spoke and More Maya Tales. Edited and translated by James D. Sexton y Freddy Rodríguez Mejía. Published by The University of Oklahoma Press, 2010.
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