Mexican Skulls

Although at present, the Mexican skulls respond to a religious feeling, it is important to note that the popularity of these, was rising during the period of Benito Juarez, a stage where the republic is consolidated, and where the “upper” classes sought to resemble the great elites of Europe in their clothing and behavior.

Origin of the Mexican Skulls

The mexican skulls appear in Mexico in 1949, during the “Socialist” period, just when they began to offer, certain epitaphs called literary skulls, honoring a certain real or fictitious character, who behaves in a hypocritical way, and usually was related to wealth or material goods. Likewise, these skulls of a literal nature, come with some illustrations, which were skeletons, which were dressed in an elegant way and which were surprisingly always cheerful.

This gesture was criticized by the press, specifically by the newspaper called “de combate” that belonged to the leftist court, where they usually saw ladies, who were dressed in the manner mentioned above. It is on the part of José Guadalupe Posada who definitely emphasized the “garbancera skull”, highlighting a skull that used French clothing to attend high society events.

extending its allegorical concept to the point that it reached the most humble households trying to live in wealth. For his part, in 1947 the painter Diego Rivera created a mural where he changed his name from Calavera Garbancera to Catrina, but maintaining the meaning of the previous name, which was that of a person dressed in luxury.

In the 1960’s in Veracruz, from a previous cult, the birth of the Holy Death arises, which has the appearance of a Christian virgin who wears a cadaverous face, however this cult is associated, to money, and to petitions that have to do with love and health, and is for many, considered as a deity that imparts justice, in addition it is venerated by those who usually put their lives at risk with constancy.

It is decorated, just as a catrina is decorated, and both enjoy great popularity throughout Mexico. It is worth noting that although Santa Muerte is considered a Catholic cult, Christians reject it as they see it as something diabolical.

Mexican Skull Controversy

The origin of the skull is certainly well established, but there is no evidence as such to determine if it corresponds to a feeling already existing in the people of Mexico, and if it is true, if it is purely Mesoamerican, or if it is influenced by European customs.

There are those who say that its origin, that the cult dedicated to death, is purely Mexican, and that it dates from the time of the Goddess Mictecacihuatl, who is known as the “Lady of Death”, who was the one to whom the ancient Mexicans paid tribute when they gave tribute to their dead relatives. It is worth noting that the Day of the Dead in Mexico coincides with the day celebrated in Europe, and the way of celebrating it is very similar, so it is difficult to say for sure where this festivity originated.

The origin of the skull is certainly well established, but there is no evidence as such to determine if it corresponds to a feeling already existing in the people of Mexico, and if it is true, if it is purely Mesoamerican, or if it is influenced by European customs.

At the same time, it is worth noting that many experts opt to give a syncretic origin to this festivity, alleging that these celebrations are mixed by pre-Columbian and European cults, so this cult needs both to be what it is today.

Meaning of Mexican skulls

Although it is understood that the skull phenomenon in Mexico is an ancestral tradition, the fact is that it is a relatively recent tradition even though it has its roots in pre-Columbian culture. We can then affirm that it is of recent creation, although this does not deny the popularity of the Day of the Dead Festival which has even been awarded the title of Masterpiece of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity.

Today, Mexico’s calaveras continue to grow, diversify and become more popular. Proof of this are the exhibitions of alfeñique skulls that are held every year on the eve of the dead. These are fun skulls made of cane sugar that bear the name of the person loved, who is normally alive, on their foreheads, as a way of mocking and defeating death.

Besides these sweet skulls, there is also the phenomenon of literary skulls that have presented a new way of using verse. These light but subtle epitaphs complete the phenomenon of these celebrations. They are written for family or friends using a concrete structure where the fundamental thing is their ironic tone and their mention of death. The one he calls bony, reaper, the calaca….etc.

Within this phenomenon it is worth mentioning Catrina as the most popular and symbolic element about the way of seeing death in Mexican culture. For this purpose, figures, costumes, make-up, paintings, posters, banners…. are used to go out into the streets and celebrate the day of the dead in an original way. Far from anything that might seem sad, the streets are filled with colors, laughter and games.

But if there is a place worth visiting, that is the town of Aguascalientes. It is the birthplace of José Guadalupe Posada, creator of the Catrina. A festival that is celebrated every year under the title of Festival de las Calaveras. Exhibitions of skulls, fun contests, regional dances…

There is no doubt that the image they offer the world about these skull parties make Mexico a very attractive place on these dates on the eve of the dead. Already many are beginning to call Mexico “The country that laughs at death. In the style of Freud… How to beat death? By twinning or laughing at it to defeat it.

The cult of the Mexican Skulls

Where does the cult of the Skulls originate? It is possible to think that this cult derives from the traditional cult of the dead in European cultures but the forms of worship are very different. But the cult of death is not only in Europe. Since ancient times in different civilizations great importance has been given to death. And it is in this part of the planet where one of the most striking phenomena of the celebration of the dead takes place.

For example, in Mesoamerica, it is one of the most ancient places where the most ancestral peoples began to venerate the bones of their ancestors. And it should be noted that the skulls were a special element for this. Because it was the part of the body that they related to communication with the world of the dead. The same thing happened on the other side of the world when the Aztecs or Mexicas also offered a special cult to the skulls. They were often associated with the symbols of power.

In fact it has been found in the Tzompatli temple, rows of heads formed in vertical stakes that belonged to enemy skulls. Also in the Toltec capital, up to 60,000 human skulls were found by the conquerors. Although these practices were abolished over time.

Despite this, the cult of skulls has been maintained for a long time. Especially in those small towns that managed to stay away from civilization. And undoubtedly, this influence came to manifest and popularize from the mid-twentieth century to the present, although with different nuances.