Speaker for the Gods: The Mekhá Godmother

Introducing me to Armando was likely a deliberate move by Albín, for the student climbed the nearby hill to his house, to bring his grandmother to meet me. The aged lady entered the long house, cane in one hand, her grandson's hand in the other. Her hair was wound, packed, and gray like one of the storm clouds overhead; and she wore a long white shift, an avatar of Grandmother Earth. Albín led her to a plastic chair near the center of the long room. I sat near the digital voice recorder, streaming to the laptop on the table where I'd just eaten.

Albín had invited the elderly woman to interview with me because she was a ritual "godmother," a role I'd only read about in passing. Like many of the older women among these villages, she spoke solely Otomí, so Albín translated between us and commented on her remarks. Listening in were Armando, Memo, and Rosa, Albín's wife.

Though the godmother was also a curandera, she didn't cut the paper souls, but she was effective in her own manners of cleansings. As a godmother she also had a unique relation with the spirit world, for she spoke as its oracle. If she would eat the dried shreds of the white Santa Rosa plant, its hallucinogenic quality would shift her perception to the sphere of wild winds and primal gods. She must then hear them with her mind.

"I'm going to tell you," she began in an old voice, "what the wind says, willing its permission to come. I already hear what it has to say, and I know that all it says begins from up there, up at the gates to the world. Aha. I'm already working with the wind, and my work is good. I work, that is, with the Spirit and the Virgin.

"Just as I hear what you say when we're all conversing, that's how I hear the wind. Mm-hmm. All I do is hear what they're talking about out there, a crowd of voices behind my back. I know then that the fortune is coming. We say by heart that the ancients, the gods of the earth, are situated there at the mountain. They'll recount to you by heart that the wind will come and what it will tell you. It'll tell you whether it will arrive here from above or below. If you believe with your heart, you give an offering to the ancients. They will give you fortune, by which you could grow beans, chili, maize. That's as it's said. The fortune speaks, around here or over there.

"You don't see the altar table at the Tlalnepantla mountain, where the world itself speaks. The cross up there speaks. Mm-hmm. You set the offering at the cross's table." It was the godmothers themselves, carrying the copal, who led the procession to the mountain and petitioned to the chthonic gods there.

"When the musicians play, I'm ready to discern whether the voice is the wind's or an ancient's and what it has to say. Without the music, I can't hear. The music will tell you there." Thus the beldam sorts out the bedlam.

"You don't see the Grandma up there. You don't see that it is the great first world from which we were all born. You don't see that we've since grown." Here she was likely alluding to a primordial time found again and again in mythology worldwide, a time before all living things differentiated into the many species of the natural and supernatural worlds.

When the recording session finished, I thanked the godmother. She left by herself to the house, for her grandson remained in the room with Albín's family to hear the entire interview replayed, which I did to review its sound. I would later break this recording down into segments that better loaded and replayed than did the enormous whole.