Calaveritas, calacas, grim reaper, bony, catrinas, garbanceras… Who was going to tell us that the skulls so fashionable in Mexico today came from small satirical fragments published in the 19th century? Or is it possible that they arose from even older traditions? Next we will try to dig into the history of Mexico to find the true origin of the literary skulls, the supposed origin of the myth of the catrina and the Central American death cult.
Types of Mexican Literary Skulls
There are many types of literary skulls, among the most common we find:
Skulls for children
skulls Short skulls
Day of the dead skulls
Skulls for friends
Skulls for teachers Skull
Meaning of Literary Skulls
Today we understand by literary skulls or “calaveritas” small poems written as an epitaph that appear on the Day of the Dead in a mocking tone, with the intention of despising material goods and making it clear that death will catch up with us all later. or early.
The first printed skulls appear in the newspaper El Socialista, a leftist newspaper that had the habit of mocking the fine manners of high (and not so high) Mexican society, which tried to resemble Europe even though it lacked wealth.
The ridiculous and hypocritical aspect that this farce took on for many led journalists to address their texts to specific figures in society, sometimes with names and surnames, reminding them that living a life of feigned pretense would also end in the grave.
If we look back, we find in Mexican traditions a similar type of text called “pantheon” that expressed exactly the same ideas, unfortunately, from this point on, orality and tradition prevent us from following the trail of these curious epitaphs that do not we will find writings prior to the 19th century.
But if we take a long jump back in time, to colonial times, we find a strange manifestation resulting from the conjunction of Hispanic and Mesoamerican cultures that curiously resembles modern literary skulls. We talk about the prophecies of Mother Matiana de Tepozotlan.
Origin and History of the Literary Skulls of Mexico
Although we do not know for sure the dates of birth and death of this supposed visionary, the truth is that she was adopted by the nuns of the convent of San Juan de la Penitencia and served under the supervision of Mother Sebastiana Maya between the middle and end of the century. XVIII.
Although she never became a nun, she carefully observed the Christian faith and behaved in a humble manner and never spoke ill of others. When Mother Sebastiana passed away, Matiana left the convent under rumors of her supposed holiness and attributions of her supposed miracles.
By divine inspiration, she moved to the convent of San Jerónimo, where she founded a kind of spiritual school that achieved such fame that the Inquisition itself appeared in the convent to question her. It was during this time when Mother Matiana began to recount her dark revelations about the future of Mexico and some others that concerned Spain. Her words were never written.
After the death of the supposed “Saint”, Mother Josefa de la Pasión de Jesús, traveled immediately to the convent to collect her divinations, which were related to her by her two favorite disciples, Francisca Montes de Oca and an Indian cacique simply called María Paula.
Although they were not the exact words of their teacher, the students spoke of great disasters and incipient poverty in Mexico, in addition to other warnings such as a future battle between Christians and demons from the underworld and, above all, many references to the world of the dead: skeletons that rise from their graves through rituals and that dance to the beat of infernal music.
The dance of the dead was already a recurring theme in Europe during the High Middle Ages and possibly served as an inspiration to capture the visions of the nun. In any case, the warnings, the appearance of dancing corpses, the poverty of Mexico and the inevitability of death are themes that are related to literary skulls in a way that cannot be ignored. For many historians and specialists, this fatalistic mentality has been adapted by the common people to be turned into a burlesque mockery, not without a certain sadness.
How to make Mexican Skulls
Now that we have more clues as to its provenance and know its true meaning, we feel more motivated to try creating our own little skulls. The rules are simple and generally start from a composition in octosyllabic verses that form stanzas of four verses, the rhyme can be assonant, consonant or not exist at all. Many opt for hendecasyllabic verses (11 syllables), which make composition easier, giving it a more narrative character.
The theme must be creative, think of a lurid, strange or surreal theme and do not forget to add a spicy element to it, here your imagination must be untethered. Obviously the main character must be death, the bald, the bony… but with references to the Devil or to biblical characters and their disastrous destinies, for example, in Spain it is very common to make jokes about the death of San Lorenzo on the grill, with several examples in popular compositions such as jotas or chirigotas. Finally, the comic element is essential, after all, it is about laughing at one’s own death.
Once you have your skull finished, all you have to do is leave it in a place where the recipient can find it, an adhesive note on their clothes, as a bookmark in their bedside book or in the most unlikely places. Don’t forget that you can always dress it up with a drawing of your own harvest, don’t be shy!