THE DOGS OF MEXICO
Mictlanteculhtli by Jesus Lopez Vega
Jesus Lopez Vega is a local artist.
When in Mexico, do as the Mexicans do. That’s what I told myself, but I don’t have a dog (anymore). Dogs figure prominently in the little town where I live. They roam the streets or hover around the neighborhood, waiting for the garbage to be put out, or for a resident to put the leftovers by the street for them. They are a different breed from the pets that we see in Canada. Most of these dogs are no pets in that same sense. They often fend for themselves. They may be adopted by residents and given food, but there is little sentimentality involved. Most dogs are working dogs, and there are some that spend their lives on top of the roof—roof dogs—as guard dogs. Of course, there are also pet dogs that are pampered, just like the pets of Canada. There is an intensive action (mostly driven by the gringos that live here) to take better care of the roaming dogs, have them sterilized, and get them medical care when they need it. When I try to be friendly to the dogs on my street, they are not eager to respond and keep a safe distance, weary. They expect that people cannot be trusted.
Most kids here grow up knowing about dogs. I see the kids on my street deal with the dogs. If the dog is a big one and eyes their treat or follows them, or they want to dog to leave, they throw rocks. I have seen adult women do that too, to be sure, not with an overhand throw with power behind it, but with an underhanded throw in the air. The rock will come down on de dogs back, with a little luck.
As most Canadians know, dogs can run in packs and can become more like wolfs than the pets we know and love; they can start hunting wildlife or cattle. It would be good to know for kids how to defend themselves against a pack of dogs. Bigger kids might be meaner than the small children (who play unsupervised in the street), but I haven’t seen that yet, although I am told it does happen. I have seen a grown man in a car let his dog run behind the car through the length of the street and not let the dog in the vehicle: the love for dogs is fickle, and can be cruel. The dog is a man’s best friend they say; that dog deserved better. In San Miguel de Allende I heard that dog fighting is a thing. My host there had rescued one of her 4 dogs from that ring.
The history of dogs in Mexico is very long and predates American society. In Aztec beliefs, dogs are thought to be the intermediary between the bad spirits/god of the underworld—Mictlanteculhtli—and humans.
“Mictlanteculhtli was 6 feet tall and was depicted as a blood-spattered skeleton or a person wearing a toothy skull. Although his head was typically a skull, his eye sockets did contain eyeballs. His headdress was shown decorated with owl feathers and paper banners and he wore a necklace of human eyeballs, while his decorative plugs in his ears were made from human bones. He was not the only Aztec god to be depicted in this fashion, as numerous other deities had skulls for heads, or else wore clothing or decorations that incorporated bones and skulls.
In the Aztec world, the skeletal imagery was a symbol of fertility, health, and abundance, alluding to the close symbolic links between life and death. He was often depicted wearing sandals as a symbol of his high rank as Lord of Mictlan. His arms were frequently depicted raised in an aggressive gesture, showing that he was ready to tear apart the dead as they entered his presence. Mictlanteculhtli is often depicted with his skeletal jaw open to receive the stars that descend into him during the daytime and was associated with spiders, owls, bats, the eleventh hour and the north, also known as Mictlampa, the region of death. He was one of the very few deities held to govern over all three types of souls identified by the Aztecs, who distinguished between the souls of people who died normal deaths (of old age, disease, etc.), heroic deaths (e.g. in battle, sacrifice or during childbirth), or non-heroic deaths.
Mictlanteculhtli was the god of the day sign Itzcuintli (dog), one of the 20 such signs of the Aztec calendar, and regarded as supplying the souls of those who were born on that day, joining the sun god Tonatiuh to symbolize the dichotomy of light and darkness.
This dog has one bad eye.
According to the Aztec creation myth, the sun god demanded human sacrifice (my addition: as a symbol not so different from the Christian tradition—the crucified Son of God) as a tribute, and without it would refuse to move through the sky. It is said that 20,000 people were sacrificed each year to Tonatiuh and other gods, though this number is thought to be inflated either by the Aztecs, who wanted to inspire fear in their enemies, or the colonizing Spaniards, who wanted to vilify the Aztecs—the latter were fascinated by the sun and carefully observed it, and had a solar calendar similar to that of the Maya. Many of today’s remaining Aztec monuments have structures aligned with the sun.”
“A common belief across the Mesoamerican region is that a dog carries the newly deceased across a body of water in the afterlife. Dogs appear in underworld scenes painted on Maya pottery dating to the Classic Period and even earlier than this. In the great Classic Period metropolis of Teotihuacan (outside of present-day Mexico City) 14 human bodies were deposited in a cave, most of them children, together with the bodies of three dogs to guide them on their path to the underworld.”
The Xoloitzcuintli is a hairless dog from Mesoamerica. Archaeological evidence has been found in the tombs of the Colima, Mayan, Toltec, Zapotec, and the Aztec peoples dating the breed to over 3500 years ago. Long regarded as guardians and protectors, the indigenous peoples believed that the Xolo would safeguard the home from evil spirits as well as intruders. In ancient times the Xolos were often sacrificed and then buried with their owners to act as a guide to the soul on its journey to the underworld to the underworld. These dogs were considered a great delicacy, and were consumed for sacrificial ceremonies – including marriages and funerals.” So far the excerpts from Wikipedia.
This one is the size of a large mouse.
Most of the people here may not be aware of this long history of their dogs, but one thing remains: that there are many dogs and they roam everywhere, having the freedom to go wherever they go, unless of course, they are stuck on a roof, or behind a fence as guard dog and are barking their heads, off when they sense an intruder. They come in all sizes, shapes, and mixes. Recently there have been reports that somebody is intent to get rid of them and they are being poisoned. I fear this may be the beginning of the end of the freedom for dogs. My neighborhood dogs have for a good part disappeared. I saw that the four bigger dogs are kept at night behind a gate that used to be open at the end of my privada (private road), but now the gate is closed at night.