Archetypal initiation rites in Bless Me, Ultima by Rudolfo Anaya

On Bless me, Ultima Rudolfo Anaya tells a classic coming-of-age story interweaving the symbolism of the ancient world, particularly the archetypes of nature, with the ritual traditions of the Catholic Church in a New Mexico town near the end of World War II. These symbols connect with each other with such historical force that together they give depth to a story that becomes not only Antonio Marez’s story of growing up in the Southwest in 1944, but also one that stretches back to the beginning of time and is universally becomes an archetypal motif. for the humanity.

The sun and the moon

Although all the characters contribute to the cohesion of the novel, the story belongs to Antonio, who is seven years old when the story begins, and to Ultima, the healer who was present at Antonio’s birth and who has now come to live with his family. . in the years that remain. While Antonio, or Tony, has two older sisters at home, he also has three brothers who have been serving their country abroad during the war and are returning home. Tony’s father is a Marez, a man whose traditions cling to the land, the plain, the great grassy, ​​almost treeless plain, where a man can ride his horse and enjoy the camaraderie of his wandering friends, seeking freedom in this open field. His wife is Luna, a family of farmers who love the rich land by the river, the roots and the tradition of living according to the cycles of the moon. The sun and the moon have come together, but is it a sacred marriage of heaven and earth?

Influence of the feminine principle

Tony’s father wants him to adopt the ways of Marez, but his mother prays every day that Tony will become a farmer-priest and continue on the path traced by the Luna family. His mother, María Luna, embodies the feminine principle associated with her name, clinging to the power of cyclical time, and her source of strength comes from that Queen of the lunar Sky, the Virgin of Guadalupe, before whose statue she kneels every day. The Virgin is the Goddess of the Moon, the weaver and spinner of the thread of destiny, and it is she whom Mary implores for the fate of her son in the Catholic Church. It is no coincidence that Saint Anthony is the patron saint of the poor, as María Luna prays that the destiny of her son Tony is also worthy of holiness, a priest beyond all praise. The matriarchal influence surrounding Tony grows even stronger when Ultima arrives.

Questioning the matriarchal world

Antonio develops a bond with Ultima the moment she enters his home, and addresses her by her first name rather than out of respect. Bigand his mother scolds him for this infraction. But Ultima recognizes this connection between them and takes Tony with her every day to collect the plants and herbs that she will use in her cures. He learns from her as she speaks softly to the plants she takes, explaining why she must pull her roots out of the ground. She teaches him that all nature has a spiritual life, a presence. As Tony thrives in this matriarchal world of his mother, the Virgin of Guadalupe and Ultima, he begins to question his mother’s spiritual beliefs as well as Ultima’s, torn between what the true belief is, and then discovers the spiritual presence of the carp. gilt from his friend Samuel.

The golden carp

It’s bad luck to catch the big carp that the summer floods wash downstream. Like big fish fighting against the current to regain their home and not get trapped, Tony fights for his own evolution of spirit. Samuel tells Tony the story of an ancient god who loved the people of the land so much that he turned them into tents instead of killing them for their sins. As the story evolves towards a parallel to his own Catholicism, he discovers that the god who loved people turned into a fish, the golden carp, in order to take care of his people. Tony is confused about who is right: God, the Virgin, or the goldfish.

Ultima, Healer

As Tony sees Ultima healing his family with her magical cures, he wonders if she too is stronger than the church and its saints. When Maria’s brother, Lucas, suddenly falls seriously ill, fearing that he had been cursed by one of Tenorio Turpentine’s daughters for tripping over his witchcraft, the family asks Ultima to use her power as a healer to heal him. Medicine and the Catholic Church have not been successful. They accept the condition of Ultima: when someone manipulates destiny, a chain of events is set in motion over which they will have no control. You must be willing to accept this reality. They do so and the grandfather pays Ultima $ 40 in silver, once again typifying the lunar feminine principle, to heal his son Lucas.

The good is stronger than evil

Ultima’s requests for supplies and reassurance are fulfilled, but he also requires Tony’s help because, he says, his first name is Juan — as in Saint John and John the Baptist — whose name means graceful by God. Tony observes his rituals, his dying uncle’s bath, the burning of incense, the ingestion of the herbal potion, and the long hours of waiting. He knows that he is in the midst of evil but he is not afraid. Ultima calms their fears, “Good is always stronger than evil. The least of the good can face all the powers of evil in the world and will come out triumphant.” Tony will strengthen the good that she can do because he is graced by God, a concept that is aligned with his Catholicism.

Before Ultima forces the cure down Lucas’s throat, she sculpts three dolls out of her magical oils and fresh black clay. You dress them up and let Lucas breathe on them, and then he dips three pins in oil and sticks them into the wrists. Tony doesn’t fully understand what Ultima has done until later, when two of Turpentine’s daughters die. He is confused by his power which appears to be one with God’s and yet greater than him.

Narcissus, Dionysian life and death

Tony’s friend Samuel tells Cico about the goldfish. When Samuel goes to herd sheep with his father, Cico takes Tony to see the arrival of the golden carp, but on their way, they stop at the house of Narcissus, a Dionysian figure who gets drunk in the spring and plants in the morning. night in the garden. Moonlight. When he is outside and the two children slide into his hidden garden, Tony understands what Cico means when he says, “The garden is like Narcissus, he’s drunk.” Tony is amazed at the fruitfulness of this garden grown in the moonlight, but out of fear or perhaps superstition he will not partake of the reward.

Narciso tries to warn Ultima of Tenorio’s intention to kill her in retaliation for the supposed curse that has been placed on his second daughter who is dying. Tony, who is returning home in the snow after rehearsing for the school’s Christmas contest, secretly follows him. When Tony’s brother Andrew is unable to escape Rosie’s disreputable home to help, the elderly Narcissus must leave himself and Tony continues to follow him. Tenorio shoots Narciso, who is dying under the juniper. Although Tony is confused about his role in the Catholic Church, he makes the sign of the cross over Narcissus and takes his confession, acting like the priest his family hopes he will become. Tony, who succumbs to pneumonia, dreams of the omnipresence of evil in his village, as everything in it dies a violent death and burns while the golden carp swallows everything and shines as bright as a new sun.

Empty: Where is God?

Now is the time for Tony to study his catechism with the other church children in preparation for his first communion, but he still wonders if the golden carp is more powerful than the God of his Catholic Church. He wonders if the Virgin Mary or the golden carp rule in the absence of God. On Easter Sunday, when Tony takes the host for the first time, he prays for answers to his question: why is there evil, death and torture? Just feel an emptiness. He thinks, “The God he was looking for so eagerly was not there,” and then confides to his teacher that growing up is not easy. He tells her: “Ultima says that a man’s destiny must unfold like a flower.”

Once again, Tony witnesses Ultima’s healing power as he performs rituals to lift a curse from Tony’s father’s friend, Tellez. That night Tony still hasn’t received any communication from God. He asks, what really is the power of God? Cico tells him that he must choose between the God of the church and the golden carp. As they observe the majesty of the divine carp swimming in the stream, they decide that their friend Florence, one who was unable to take her first communion because she would not confess her non-existent sins, has earned the right to witness the golden carp for himself. However, when they go looking for him, they discover that he has drowned in a swimming accident under Blue Lake.

Tony dreams again, and in this dream everything he believes in dies, including Ultima and the goldfish. Distraught, he is sent to his uncles in Los Puerto to learn about agriculture. Before leaving, Ultima says: “Life is filled with sadness when a boy becomes a man.” Tony asks his father if a new religion could be made. Tony’s father, Gabriel Marez, explains to his son that understanding does not come from God. It comes from experiencing life, and it takes a lifetime to acquire this understanding. She notices Tony’s confusion about religion and healing, in particular, and tells him that Ultima is not afraid because she “has sympathy for people, so complete that she can touch their souls and heal them.” Tony gets stronger that summer because of everything that has happened to him.

Ultima and the owl: Antonio’s blessing

But Tenorio’s second daughter dies and in her madness, she first tries to kill Tony, who eludes her, and then goes to Guadalupe to find and kill Ultima. Instead, Tenorio shoots the owl and, while pointing the rifle at Tony, Pedro, who is Tony’s uncle, kills him with his pistol. Ultima, whose life is related to the life of the owl, is dying. She whispers to Tony that she is like the owl, “flying to a new place, a new time.” Before he dies, he asks for your blessing. “His hand touched my forehead and his last words were: ‘I bless you in the name of all that is good, strong and beautiful, Antonio. Love life, and if despair enters your heart, look for me in the evenings when the wind’ ‘. It’s sweet and owls sing in the hills. I’ll be with you- “

Tony buries the owl under the juniper in the moonlight, symbol of his mother’s family. Cover the owl with the land of the plain, home and symbol of its father. Whether or not Tony has the maturity to understand the fullness of the blessings as well as the evil that accompanies his rites of passage, yet he has been deeply moved by the female archetypes of the moon, the three destinies, the river. and the fish, owl and juniper, and the cyclical changes around you so that you remember Ultima’s advice with greater understanding and wisdom as you grow into a man: “Take life’s experiences and build strength from them, not weakness. “

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