vs. Terrorism Story Synopsis: Where did the Spirits
of Vigilance go after the Terrorist attack on September
11, 2001? People of different faiths have different
answers--but one ancient system believes the Spirits of
Vigilance are alive and well. On the Day of
the Dead, a 3000-year-old Aztec tradition "awakens"
the Spirits of Vigilance, reminding us all of the powerful
connection between those on Earth and those whose spirits
soar. Read the fascinating story of the Vigilance
Dancers, and their tribute to those who sacrificed their
lives on Nine Eleven.
Sunday--November 3, 2002—Ground
Zero Plus 417
3000-Year-Old Vigilance Dancers
Death Over Life
Editor, New York City Combat Correspondent News
GROUND ZERO, New York
City, Nov. 3 --Last night I danced with life over death. I
celebrated the end of a dream and the beginning of reality in a
3000-year-old ceremony where the dead are honored.
We danced in front of Engine 33 in New
York City's East Village to honor over 348 firemen who died in September
11 Terrorist attack on the World Trade Center. We danced for
all those who died that day, police, fire, emergency workers, and hundreds
of innocent people caught in the holocaust. We danced
especially for all the unnamed who died on Nine Eleven, the immigrant
workers who were not officially recorded, who were anonymous because they
had no paper trail, no evidence of their existence in this country.
Then we headed to the New York's
famous Marble Cemetery on 2nd Street, between 1st and 2nd Avenue where
some of the most famous people in New York City history are buried beneath
ancient tombstones and danced for all the dead--especially the women and
children, and those who have struggled for their freedom and died in the
process, some not so famous as others. We danced for the
revolution of human spirit.
The event started at 6p.m. last night in front of
the Indian Cultural Center on Lafayette. My wife had
pinpointed the event in our weekly copy of Time Out New York, a
magazine listing the countless events that happen in this city of more
than eight million culturally diverse beings.
It was the final night of the Day of the Dead,
Dia de los Muertos. It was time for death to come to life.
We arrived a few minutes early.
A small group of people waited in the chill. A young man named
Joe stood with a candle and his face slightly painted to represent death.
His mother had recently died. He was there to dance for her death,
to honor her by remembering her spirit lives, and according to ancient
Aztec beliefs, that life is but a dream and death is the reality of life.
Joe's hobby he said is fire juggling. He had marched in a
number of Dia de los Muertos parades from San Francisco to Brooklyn,
juggling fire. Tonight, however, he held a candle and white lilies
to honor his mother's passing.
Then there was Senor Caballero. He looked like a
great grandson of Poncho Villa. He boasted his heritage just as
loudly. He wore a hat laden with silver icons, weighing over 20
pounds. They glistened on his head as he extolled the plight
of Mexicans struggling for their freedoms, and the oppression of both the
Church and state upon his culture. In the middle of his hat's
crown was a black widow spider, embraced on either side by sacred
jaguars--ancient guardians of Aztec mythology. The feathered
serpent's head rested on a ring of gold as he explained his hat was an
altar to the living and the dead--a ceremonial example of his belief that
the struggle for justice in life was far from complete.
As he bent my wife's ear, I took a host of
pictures, trying to capture the life and meaning of his icons studded into
his hat, reminding all who viewed it he was walking history.
Then the dancers appeared.
They were dressed in ancient Aztec garb of 3000 years ago--replete with
elegantly long pheasant feathers forming the spires of the sun above their
heads. Their faces were painted with black and white, representing
the dividing line between life and death, the yin and yang of existence.
Around their ankles were strapped leggings laced with nut
shells that chattered when they moved, making all aware they were coming
and providing a symphonic harmony when they danced as one to honor the
afterlife. A clay pot of incense was lighted to purify
the air, and the beat of a drum echoed as though a great heart was
throbbing in the chilled night, reminding all that they were but a
heartbeat away from being a celebrant.
The sounds of taxi horns blared. Fire engine sirens wailed in
the distance. Car alarms joined in. Crowds of people weaving
up and down the streets stopped to gawk as the procession made its way
through the Bowery--once a place where the near-dead went to die, now an
upscale playground for the young and mobile.
Our first stop was
FDNY Engine 33, a few blocks from the Indian Cultural Center.
Ten firefighters from the station had died on Nine Eleven.
The Aztec costumed ancestors of history, young indigenous men and women,
began the ceremony.
FDNY Engine 33
Front of Engine 33
They faced the station and prayed, then began to dance to
the beat of the drum, the sounds of the nut shells chattering around their
ankles. A young woman invoked a number of prayers both in
Spanish and English, to allow us the privilege of knowing what the
A deep chill rushed through me as I
watched them honor the dead. They were not only dancing for
the heroes whose names made the list of Nine Eleven victims, but also for
the nameless, the undocumented victims who had made their way from Mexico, El Salvador and Guatemala to work in the United States. They
danced for the anonymous, bringing their faces to life, celebrating their
unsung heroism that factual history had no way of memorializing.
At least 200 undocumented people are alleged to have died that day, and
their families still struggle for recognition. One man, a Hispanic
shoe shine worker, was finally given recognition for being in the World
Trade Center after
countless witnesses cited his presence on September 11. But no one
knew who he was, or where he came from. The dancers danced for
him among others.
The Indian spokesperson delighted
onlookers with folklore of the revolutionist God of Agriculture also known
as the Corn God, Xipe Totec. To stimulate the growth of nature and
mankind, Xipe Totes flays himself to offer food to humans (such corn
(maize) loses the outer skin to enable shoots to grow). After he
sheds his skin, he appears as a shining gold God. She likened him to
all those revolutionaries who strove for the betterment of the indigenous
Hispanic people - like corn they grew in sweeter and stronger -
ready for the next battle.
In Aztec belief systems, the journey to what the
Western World calls Heaven--Omeyocan for the Aztecs-- was not dictated by
how you lived, but how you died. If a person died a normal death,
his or her soul had to pass through nine levels of the underworld before
reaching Mictlan, the realm of the death god.
The journey for a wandering soul takes four
years. Many pitfalls had to be overcome to reach the ninth
level or Mictlan (the place of the fleshless). These include jaguars,
mountains, vast rivers and icy winds. Often a dog was buried with
the dead, to help guide them on the journey. Families prayed and
performed funeral rites periodically in order to assist the wandering soul
in finding Mictlan. Reaching the ninth level, your soul was released
to the universe, to become one with Ometeotl.
Tlaloc takes those
dying celestial deaths to Tlalocan "earthly paradise"
Celestial deaths, the
Aztecs believe, were sacred deaths. If one were killed by
lightning, drowning or water related diseases, they were taken by Tlaloc
to Tlalocan, an "earthly paradise" where there are plentiful gardens of
Those who died in battle or by sacrifice or women
who died in childbirth were chosen by Tonatiuh, the sun, to live in
Tonatiuhilhuicac. Female and male warriors, after four years
of accompanying the sun would be reincarnated to celestial hummingbirds
where "they would sip of all the flowers of heaven as well as of earth."
Women who died during childbirth were deified as the Cihuaeteteo (divine
women.) Children dying before reaching the age of reason would go to
Chichihuauheo--the wet nurse tree. There, they would be
nourished by milk which fell in drops from the tree.
I was sure that all those who died in the World Trade
Center were chosen by Tonatiuh, the sun god, and were now celestial
hummingbirds, sipping the flowers of heaven and earth.
And I was impressed that the woman translating the
ancient ritual for us included all those who died in their struggle for
freedom, those who braved the icy winds and mountains and "beasts of
Terror," to find their way to America to start a new life.
Hundreds of years ago the Spanish had tried to quash
the Aztecs belief in life was a dream and death was reality for it was in
major conflict with Christian belief that once one dies that is the end.
For the Aztecs, it was only the beginning of an infinite journey.
I was pleased the ritual had survived, for it was rich
in respect for those who died, and didn't wash their deaths away with
tears and sadness, but instead, offered their deaths as joyous events of
celebration and remembrance.
It helped me reinforce my personal belief that the
Sentinels of Vigilance live, that they hover over Ground Zero in constant
vigil to remind us to be Semper Vigilantes--Always Vigilant.
On September 11, when I was at Ground Zero as the
buildings collapsed around me, I sat in the ash and swore I saw the
spirits of those who had died rising from the ash, forming a Sacred Circle
of Vigilance. I saw them become one body, reminding us to replace
Fear with Courage, to restore Conviction where Intimidation crept, and to
energize our ability to take the Right Actions in the face of Complacency.
Last night's ceremony reminded
me that the Spirits of Vigilance were sacred hummingbirds, sipping the
nectar of Vigilance. They were darting around both Heaven and
Earth, alert, ready to remind the living that the dead were not gone, but
standing watch guard. Dogs are believed to have a special
connection to Mictlan and they are cremated with the deceased person in
order to guide them through their journey. In the end, all are
reunited with the creator signifying the return to the sacred circle.
I thought of Sirius, the only dog to die in the World Trade Center
disaster. He belonged to a handler in the Port Authority,
sniffing vehicles for bombs, and was trapped in the crush of the building.
I thought of Sirius up with the warriors--the men and women who sacrificed
their life to death so that others might live. I thought of
Sirius rooting out the Beast of Terror, keeping the Sentinels of Vigilance
on guard, ever watchful for the signs of Fear, Intimidation, and
Complacency that feeds the Beast of Terror.
I thought of the unborn children in the wombs of
the women who died on Nine Eleven--those innocent ones who sat under the
"wet nurse tree" as it dripped nourishment into their mouths.
I thought of the divine women who had died, the mothers of children left
on earth, and their deification.
It was an honor to be present last night, on the final
night of the Day of the Dead--the Day of the Vigilant!
click here to go to special photo page
Day Of The Dead
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