Visions of the Virgen de Guadalupe
When the Spaniards first entered what is now Mexico, it was inhabited by the Aztecs—a civilization of intense mythology. The Aztec cosmovisión, or worldview, consisted of a variety of deities—all with equal and opposite counterparts. It was a religion of balance, layers and cycles. The Spanish introduced their Virgin Mary, and it became superimposed on the Aztec goddess Tonantzin—a mother goddess of the tension of opposites. Birthed from this combination was the Virgen de Guadalupe.
As the legend goes, an indigenous girl came to a Spaniard, speaking the native language Nahautl, and asked a church to be built in her honor—in honor of the Virgin Mary. The Virgen de Guadalupe is a powerful image throughout México, representing the mixed culture of the region.
Like the Virgin Mary, there are countless tales of her appearance, physically, as well as in dreams.
Everything was concrete in El Carmen and the surrounding Mexican villages. Street after dusty street in El Carmen was lined with painted concrete houses. In the mornings, children walked from those houses to the secondary school each day for their classes. I watched their faces from the car window when my mentor Gena and I drove each morning to the new library that I came to Mexico to help build.
Every day, we worked in the sun, creating a system to document and shelve hundreds of donated books. In the harsh heat and concrete of the valley, it was easy to forget the nearby metropolis of Monterrey with its old brick and cool stone and shade—only the far-away lights over the desert landscape at night reminded me that there was such a thing as skyscrapers.
Feeling that sun on my shoulders, I shifted the novels in my arms as I approached the gap between the staircase and the floor of the new library, spanned only by a foot-wide wooden board. Carefully, I maneuvered over the railing, across the wooden board, and onto the small cement ledge. One shuffle at a time, I made it into the cool dimness of the room, not yet connected to the rest of the second floor of the secondary school. My eyes widened at the sight of the hundreds and hundreds of books waiting to be shelved.
“How’s it going?” asked Gena, coming up behind me with her own armful of books. I turned, smiling in response.
I clutched at the mental picture, refusing to let it flutter away in my memory with the desert wind.
We surveyed our handiwork for a few moments, admiring the shelves laden with Spanish and English novels and reference books. After a few minutes, my new friend Lily called up to us from the ground floor of the secondary school. I jutted my head out of the open doorway over the gap to peer down at her.
“We’re leaving!” she said in Spanish. I barely heard her. The image of her—crouched in the windowsill, halfway through the act of climbing out of an empty classroom, her long black hair falling in her face, her eyes both serene and animated at once—bloomed in my mind, and slowly coming into focus was its similarity to an image I saw in a dream. I clutched at the mental picture, refusing to let it flutter away in my memory with the desert wind.
“It’s her,” I told Gena.
Weeks before, on my first night in Mexico, I woke up in the middle of the night, hearing men’s voices and footsteps on the breezeway that connected my rented room to the rest of the second-story coffeehouse. Their shadows fell over my bed as they passed the windows, and I was scared.
I pulled the sheet to my face and willed the footsteps to go away. I didn’t move, keeping my half-lidded eyes on the windows. The men never entered the room, and I was drifting back to sleep when I met the eyes of a figure crouched in the far window. There was a woman, her long, dark hair spilling across her face and blocking the moonlight, looking at me. I stared back, unable to move or speak. I didn’t feel threatened, but there was someone in my room, and she was watching me. She kept watching me until I fell back to sleep.
The morning after the dream, there was no sign of anybody. The windows were locked. I spent the morning letting the memories fade into the half-real recollections of a dream.
That afternoon, I learned Gena had dreams about a dark-haired woman from time to time, and I recounted the story of my dream, watching her face closely. When I got to the part about the woman in the window, her eyes focused on me intently, and she put down the graduate school manuscript she was editing.
There was a woman, her long, dark hair spilling across her face and blocking the moonlight, looking at me.
“I’m interested by your dream,” she confessed. She seemed to be holding something back. “Will you let me know if you ever see her? I mean, in real life, if you think you recognize her.”
“I will,” I promised. She went back to her manuscript, and I went back to sorting through boxes of donated books for the library.
Weeks later, peering out of the library door, I saw Lily in the window of the classroom, and there was no doubt that those serene eyes belonged to the woman in my dream. I couldn’t undo the superimposition of the woman in the window onto Lily, no matter how I tried to shake it from my mind.
“Are you sure?” Gena asked, the intent look in her eyes again.
We carefully crossed the wooden plank to the main walkway of the school’s second story, hurrying down the concrete stairs to the car.
Gena rolled down the windows to let out the stale heat that had been accumulating in the car all morning. We wouldn’t feel any effects of the air conditioning for at least fifteen minutes.
“Lily is a dream visionary,” Gena explained. “It doesn’t surprise me that you would see her in a dream of your own.”
I breathed in the hot air, taking in Gena’s words with it, enchanted and calm. After weeks in this place, the mystical felt as natural as wind in my lungs.
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Visions of the Virgen de Guadalupe photo credit: pixabay and Megan Boedecker.
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