Amazingly on this trip I discovered a secret. I discovered what appears to be the reason or idea behind las animas, the spirits. Interestingly enough the spirits are not the product of catholic syncretism nor are they necessarily the product of pre-Hispanic culture (although las animas quite probably existed then).
And the spirits are not a literary creation; although it is the literary arts that keeps the tradition alive in the public conscience.
No, none of these things. Las animas exist because they – the spirits – are called into existence.
Let me explain. My new friend, Maria told me on Wednesday that her father sometimes spoke to his deceased father while driving, inviting ‘papa come sit on the seat beside me’.
That same day she told me that she often speaks to her [deceased] grandmother and grandfather, sometimes praying asking advice, sometimes just telling them she loved them and missed them.
Is any wonder that both of them have visited her in her dreams?
So think about Juan Rulfo for a minute. He was the product of the same upbringing as Maria and her father. Don’t you think he was told by his mother and father to pray to God about his ancestors? Don’t you think he prayed to them when he needed advice? And that he often thought of them and told them he loved them much like Maria?
Of course he did. Furthermore, I posit he heard all the stories from his mother, father, aunts and uncles and grandparents (especially the God fearing women) concerning all the rites and rituals (my words) about respect, love, honor and duty to the ancestors.
It stands to reason why I personally haven’t been visited by the spirits of my deceased love ones. It’s because I’ve never called to them. I’ve never opened that door in my mind to them.
Let’s make a note here. When I used the phrase ‘open my mind to them’ I said that pointing in two different directions. The first one is that the subconscious mind is powerful. You think about something (or worry) enough in the conscious mind and you’ll find that image or worry eventually being acted upon by the all powerful unconscious mind. That is the mechanism by how all or most dreams start.
The second direction I was pointing at with the phrase ‘open my mind to them’ implies the true spiritual realm. If people can summon and consort with demons why not other more benign spiritual entities?
I personally do not believe that the dead talk. But I most sincerely believe in las animas. Why? Because people see them. I am not interested in debating anyone – least of all someone who has been visited by the dead – how that transaction came about. The important thing is to concur it did. In a dream? Who cares? The mechanism is not as important as what is delivered.
The conclusion to all of this is how las animas came to be the central theme to Juan Rulfo’s otherworldly literary masterpiece, Pedro Páramo and I postulate the following. Juan Rulfo wrote from what he knew. He did not set out trying to write a masterpiece (don’t believe what the professor told you in your Lit 101 class). No. He wrote from his experiences. He wrote what he saw. What he heard. What he was taught. The spirits in his book were real to him. And that’s what he wrote about. Plain and simple.
Hemingway wrote from his experiences. Even his style evolved out of the terse brevity of WWI era war reporting delivered via intercontinental telegrams. Again, don’t believe what you learned in Lit class. All those lit professors conjured up meaning after the fact when there really was none. But then again how can you teach writing style when all there is really to say about is that all style is highly personal?
Think about it. Juan Rulfo couldn’t write Hemingway nor could Hemingway write Juan Rulfo. Both wrote experientially. And because their personal experiences never even remotely overlapped then neither could their subject matter or their writing styles for that matter.
PS – Now writers like Saul Bellows, Luis Borges, Gabriel Garcia Marquez (and others) are/were entirely different. They wrote from imagination. For example, Saul Bellows wrote Henderson the Rain King without ever having set foot on the continent of Africa.
Note: Prior to release of that novel in 1959 Bellows wrote a piece for the NY Times advising readers not to spend too much time looking for symbols in literature.