Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Protesting arrogance and greed brings hope

LAS CRUCES — Tenny Hale said the spiritual diseases of our era are arrogance and greed.
The major maladies of her Great Depression-World War II era, Hale said, were innocence and ignorance. And many of what Tom Brokaw would later term “the greatest generation” helped us find the “cures:” experience and education.
It’s not over yet, but I think I can already confirm that 2011 has been one of the toughest years many of us have ever seen.
But this fall, things are looking up. Whatever else happens, it’s somehow uplifting to see crowds flocking to the streets in cities all over the county to protest arrogance and greed.
It’s a breath of fresh air. Especially after the endless, selfish ME generation reign of self-absorbed terror. After surviving the materialistic 1980s and ‘90s. After the “official” rulings that “corporations are people.” (If so, what can we do to encourage them to be wise, compassionate and caring “people”?)
Are cures on the horizon for the diseases of arrogance and greed?
The diagnosis always has to come first. And that seems to be what a lot of people are concerned about these days, in social network-inspired protests and gatherings all over the world.
I followed our local protests at NMSU with interest and conferred with a good friend, former Las Crucen Cecilia Lewis, about what’s happening near her current home in New York City.
We had some philosophical discussions about what comes next, after the Arab Spring and the Tea Party and the current new round of protests.
The words of ancient sages came to mind: “Work on what has been spoiled” and “After enlightenment comes the laundry.”
“Maybe it’s time to stop, take some time and get together and decide what we want next for the world,” Cecilia said.
One of the few things that is clear in this murky era is that a lot of what we’ve been doing isn’t working, or needs repair and a fresh approach.
Major changes are happening in virtually every area of our lives, from the way we do our jobs and make our living to the ways we enjoy and purchase (or steal, alas, for the tech-savvy unscrupulous) music, films and books.
And those of us who have been alive long enough to see monumental change and keep our wits about us, realize that the capacity to transform our world is also increasing by leaps and bounds.
Change being life’s only constant, there is no choice about whether we’ll make changes, but we still have something to say about what, where, how and when.
Wouldn’t it be wise to have more local, national and international conversations about the future of everything from education to economic systems?
We might start with some paradigms that focus on better rather than bigger, on smart repair, regrowth and remodeling strategies, on creative conservation instead of wasteful, destructive, endless expansion.
We all seem to agree that in mature human beings, unbridled growth for the sake of growth is definitely not a good thing (consider cancer and morbid obesity, for instance). Might we not follow the same principle in mature human economies and societies?
Protest is great, and it’s the crucial diagnostic phase of what ails us. While we’re protesting, I hope we’ll devote some sit-in time to thoughtful pondering of where we’ve come from, where we are and where we’re headed.
We could even come up with some remedies for arrogance and greed and the messes they’ve gotten us into. With some steady doses of thoughtful humility, generosity and compassion and as much cooperative collective wisdom as we can muster, we just might be able to come up with cures that will leave upcoming generations with a better world.

S. Derrickson Moore can be reached at; (575) 541-5450. To share comments, go to and click on Blogzone and Las Cruces Style.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Dead Day 101

Dead Day 101
By S. Derrickson Moore
LAS CRUCES — Día de los Muertos has been called “a day when heaven and earth meet” and “a celebration of lives well-lived.”
In Las Cruces, it has become a beloved tradition, a time when Borderland cultures blend, showcasing and sometimes creatively combining Spanish, Mexican, American Indian and Anglo customs and beliefs.
Día De Los Muertos “is not a morbid holiday but a festive remembrance of Los Angelitos (children) and all souls (Los Difuntos),” according to a statement from The Calavera Coalition of Mesilla. “This celebration originated with the indigenous people of the American continent, the Aztec, Mayan, Toltec and the Inca. Now, many of the festivities have been transformed from their original pre-Hispanic origins. It is still celebrated throughout North America among Native American tribes. The Spanish arrived and they altered the celebration to coincide with the Catholic celebrations of All Saints Day (Nov. 1) and All Souls Day (Nov. 2).”
Continuing an annual Las Cruces Style tradition, here is a guide to some important terms and concepts relating to Day of the Dead celebrations, collected during 18 years of commemorations here.
alfeñique: Molded sugar figures used in altars for the dead.
ancianos: Grandparents or elderly friends or relatives who have died; ancestors honored during the first (north) part of processions for Day of the Dead.
angelitos: Literally “little angels,” refers to departed children and babies, traditionally honored during the first day of celebrations, Nov. 1, and the third (south) part of processions honoring the dead.
anima sola: A lonely soul or spirit who died far from home or who is without amigos or relatives to take responsibility for its care.
calascas: Handmade skeleton figurines which display an active and joyful afterlife, such as musicians or skeleton brides and grooms in wedding finery.
calaveras: Skeletons, used in many ways for celebrations: bread and candies in the shape of skeletons are traditional, along with everything from small and large figures and decorations, skeleton head rattles, candles, masks, jewelry and T-shirts. It’s also the term for skull masks, often painted with bright colors and flowers and used in displays and worn in Day of the Dead processions.
literary calaveras: Poetic tributes written for departed loved ones or things mourned and/or as mock epitaphs.
Catrin and Catrina: Formally dressed couple, or bride and groom skeletons popularized by renowned graphic artist and political cartoonist José Guadalupe Posada.
copal: A fragrant resin from a Mexican tree used as incense, burned alone or mixed with sage in processions in honor of the dead.
Días de los Muertos: Days of the dead, usually celebrated on Oct. 31 through Nov. 2 (the official date for Day of the Dead) in conjunction with All Souls Days or Todos Santos, the Catholic Feast of All Saints. Various Borderland communities, including Las Cruces, have their own celebration schedules in October and November. Look for altars and art exhibits around the Mesilla Valley, and our largest area celebration Oct. 29 and 30 on the Mesilla Plaza, also the site of a procession beginning at dusk Nov. 2.
Difunto: Deceased soul, corpse, cadaver.
La Flaca: Nickname for the female death figure, also known as La Muerte.
Frida Kahlo: Mexican artist who collected objects related to the Day of the Dead. Her photo often appears in Día de los Muertos shrines or retablos.
Los Guerreros: Literally, “the warriors,” are dead fathers, husbands, brothers and sons honored in the final (east) stop in Dia De Los Muertos processions.
marigolds: In Mexico, marigolds or “cempasuchil” are officially known as the “flower of the dead.” The flowers are added to processional wreaths at each stop, with one blossom representing each departed soul being honored. Sometimes marigold pedals are strewn from the cemetery to a house. Their pungent fragrance is said to help the spirits find their way back home. Sometimes mums and paper flowers are also used.
mariposas: Butterflies, and sometimes hummingbirds, appear with skeletons to symbolize the flight of the soul from the body to heaven.
masks: Carried or worn during processions and other activities, masks can range from white face paint to simple molded plaster or papier-maché creations or elaborate painted or carved versions that become family heirlooms.
Las Mujeres: The women who have died are honored during the second (west) stop of Day of the Dead processions. After names of dead mothers, daughters, sisters and friends are called and honored, it is traditional for the crowd to sing a song for the Virgin of Guadalupe.
Náhuatl poetry: Traditional odes dedicated to the subject of death, dating back to the pre-Columbian era.
ofrenda: Traditional altar where offerings such as flowers, clothing, food, photographs and objects loved by the departed are placed. The ofrenda may be constructed in the home — usually in the dining room — at a cemetery, or may be carried in a procession. The ofrenda base is usually an arch made of bent reeds. It is ornamented with special decorations, sometimes with heirlooms collected by families much like Christmas ornaments. Decorations may include skeleton figures, toys and musical instruments in addition to offerings for a specific loved one.
pan de muertos: Literally, “bread of the dead.” It is traditionally baked in the shape of a skull — or calavera — and dusted with pink sugar. Here, local bakeries sometimes include red and green chile decorations.
papel picado: Decorations made of colored paper cut in intricate patterns.
Posada: José Guadalupe Posada, (1852-1913), the self-taught “printmaker to the people” and caricaturist was known for his whimsical calaveras, or skeletons, depicted wearing dapper clothes, playing instruments and otherwise nonchalantly conducting their everyday activities, sometimes riding on horse skeletons.
veladores: Professional mourners who help in the grief process in several ways, including candlelight vigils, prayers and with dramatic weeping and wailing.
Xolotlitzcuintle: Monster dog, sometimes depicted as a canine skeleton, sometimes as a Mexican hairless breed. Since pre-Columbian times, this Día de los Muertos doggy has, according to legend, been the departed’s friend, helping with the tests of the perilous crossing of the River Chiconauapan to Mictlan, the land of the dead.

S. Derrickson Moore can be reached at; (575) 541-5450. To share comments, go to and click on Blogzone and Las Cruces Style.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Here's to First Amendment Rights

By S. Derrickson Moore
LAS CRUCES — I’ll start by explaining that I’m not a pagan myself, but I am an American and a fan of the U.S. Constitution, so I’ll defend to the end your right to be a pagan, along with all other First Amendment freedoms.
In these contentious (and these days, seemingly endless) election season sieges, I always welcome the opportunity to refresh us all on the basis of one of my fave amendments.
The mnemonic devise that helps me remember the basic concepts is “GRASP” your First Amendment freedoms.” (Capitalization of the five key freedoms is mine): “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of Religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of Speech, or of the Press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of Grievances.”
A full disclosure note, in the spirit of freedom of speech, press and religion: I’m a Christian myself.
But when I looked up some of the definitions of “pagan,” I found a lot that I, and I suspect many of us, whatever our current professed religions, could sympathize with in our spiritual journeys through life.
“A person holding religious beliefs other than those of the main world religions,” is a definition I can identify with, as a Christian who works hard to adhere to the original Biblical teachings of Christ, which are often distressingly distant from the behaviors and practices of many professed practitioners of Christianity.
Paganism in its early history has always seemed more innocent than demonic to me. There is a sensuality and admiration for nature and all of creation that can — and usually has, in the evolution of most of our religions today —veered into hedonism.
And yes, there are historical incidents of bloodlust, human sacrifice and other manifestations of violence in many of the “pagan” cultures from which most of us trace our roots today, from Mayan and Aztec and numerous tribes in the Americas to the ancient beliefs of indigenous peoples of Africa, Asia, Australian, the Middle East, Polynesia, and my own mostly European heritage of Norsemen and Celts.
I wish I could say that we’ve outgrown all that in the “enlightened” world of our major world religions today, but, alas, no way.
And religious misunderstandings and closed-mindedness persist, though most Las Crucens seem more inclined toward gentle discussions than do the entrenched souls in other places I’ve lived.
Still, I’ve heard diatribes against out-of-the-ordinary spiritual beliefs, even those of fictional characters like Harry Potter (almost always from those who have never read the books and experienced their epic tales of courage in monumental good vs. evil conflicts).
I’ve overheard impassioned debates about the dangers of Halloween, the “heathen” practices of Dia de los Muertos and even charges that any interest in saints amounts to pagan polytheism. Some sourpusses are even irked by the Tooth Fairy.
American Indians dedicated to preservation of their traditions and conservation of their lands for future generations and environmentalists fighting the pollution of land, air and water have been condemned as “wanton pagans” and “godless tree-huggers.” (All too often, in my experience, by those seeking to exploit the very resources that conscientious souls are working to protect.)
I’m not sure what their official religious affiliations are, but I feel blessed to have so many people in my life who have strengthened my own faith and fortified my hopes by sharing the wisdom of their lives and cultures.
I’ll always appreciate Hector Telles, a poet with Apache heritage who shared the ecological, Golden rule philosophy that “We all live downstream.”
Dia de los Muertos celebrations have helped many of us come to terms with untimely and agonizing deaths, and to find a measure of peace with the “celebration of lives well-lived” and a gentle, sometimes humorous and matter-of-fact faith in the afterlife that is the cornerstone of most major religions.
As a God-fearing tree-hugger myself, and a big fan of Dia de los Muertos and the Pueblo Indian traditions I’ve been privileged to share, I am grateful to live in New Mexico, where a spirit of open-mindedess, tolerance and a genuine enthusiasm and appreciation for diversity and new experience results in a rich multicultural environment that makes life more creative, interesting and fulfilling for us all.

S. Derrickson Moore can be reached at; (575) 541-5450. To share comments, go to and click on Blogzone and Las Cruces Style.