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Archetypal Rites of Passage in Rudolfo Anaya’s Bless Me, Ultima
In Bless me, Ultima Rudolfo Anaya tells a classic coming-of-age story in rural New Mexico near the end of World War II, combining the ritualistic traditions of the Catholic Church with ancient world symbolism, particularly nature archetypes. These symbols are bound together with such historical force that together they give depth not only to Antonio Marez’s story of growing up in the Southwest in 1944, but to a tale that reaches back to the beginning of time and becomes a universally archetypal motif. for humanity.
Sun and Moon
Although all the characters contribute to the entirety of the novel, the story concerns Antonio, who is seven years old when the story begins, and Ultima, the curandara who attends Antonio’s birth and now comes to live with his family. in his remaining years. Although Antonio or Tony has two older sisters at home, he also has three brothers who served their country overseas in the war and returned home. Tony’s father is Marez, a man whose traditions are rooted in the land, the llano, a vast grassy, almost treeless plain where a man can ride his horse and enjoy the company of his friends who roam this open country in search of freedom. His wife, Luna, is from a family of farmers who love the tradition of living by the rich soil of the river, roots and the cycles of the moon. The sun and the moon have come together, but is this a holy marriage of heaven and earth?
Influence of the Feminine Principle
Tony’s father wants him to follow the Marez ways, but his mother prays every day that Tony will become a farmer-priest and follow the path set by the Luna family. Her mother, Maria Luna, embodies the feminine principle associated with her name, true to the power of cyclic time, and her source of power comes from the Virgin de Guadalupe, Queen of the Lunar Heaven, before whose statue she kneels every day. The Virgin is the Moon Goddess, the weaver and spinner of the thread of destiny, and Mary pleads for her son’s destiny in the Catholic Church. It is no coincidence that St. Anthony is the patron saint of the poor, as Maria Luna prays that her son Tony will also be destined to become a priest worthy of holiness and beyond praise. When Ultima arrives, the matriarchal influence that surrounds Tony is intensified.
Interrogating the matriarchal world
As soon as Antonio enters their home with Ultima, he establishes a relationship with her, addressing her by her first name instead of being respectful. Grande, and his mother scolds him for this transgression. But Ultima recognizes this connection between them and takes Tony with her every day to collect plants and herbs to use in her treatments. He learns from her as he talks gently to the plants he picks up, explaining to them why he has to pull their roots from the ground. It teaches him that all nature has spiritual life and existence. As Tony develops in this matriarchal world of his mother, the Virgin de Guadalupe, and Ultima, he begins to question his mother’s spiritual beliefs, as well as Ultima’s, between which is the true faith, and then he learns from his friend Samuel the spiritual existence of a golden carp.
Fishing for large carp, which are washed downstream by summer floods, is a failure. Like a big fish fighting upstream to reclaim its habitat and avoid being trapped, Tony is fighting for the evolution of the soul. Samuel tells Tony the story of an ancient god who loved the people of Earth so much that instead of killing them for their sins, he turned them into carp. As the story develops parallel to his Catholicism, he learns that the god who loves the people turns himself into a fish, a golden carp, and takes care of his people. Tony is confused as to who is right – God, the Virgin or the golden carp.
As Tony witnesses 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, Tenorio fears that one of Trementina’s daughters has been cursed for stumbling upon his witchcraft, and the family asks Ultima to use her powers to heal him. Medicine and the Catholic Church did not succeed. They accept Ultima’s premise: When anyone violates destiny, a chain of events beyond their control is set in motion. They must be ready to accept this reality. They do, and the grandfather pays Ultima $40 in silver to heal his son Lucas.
Good is Stronger than Evil
Ultima’s requests for supplies and tranquility are met, but she also needs Tony’s help because, she says, her first name is Juan-John, as in Saint John and John the Baptist, a name that means favor from God. Tony watches her rituals, bathing her dying uncle, burning incense, taking herbal potions, and waiting for long hours. He knows that he is in evil, but he is not afraid. Ultima calms her fears: “Good is always stronger than evil. The smallest good can stand against all the evil forces in the world and it will win.” Tony will strengthen the good he can do because he is favored by God, a concept consistent with his Catholicism.
Before forcing Ultima to treat Lucas’ throat, she sculpts three dolls from her magic oils and fresh black clay. She puts them on and lets Lucas breathe, then dips three pins in oil and sticks them into the dolls. Tony doesn’t fully understand what Ultima is doing until two of the Trementina girls are dead. His power, which is equal to his power, but greater than God’s, baffles him.
Narciso, Dionysian Life and Death
Tony’s friend Samuel tells Cico about the golden carp. When Samuel and his father go herding sheep, Cico takes Tony to see the arrival of the golden carp, but on the way they stop at the house of Narcissus, a spring drunk and a Dionysian by night. Moonlight. When she’s away and two boys break into her secret garden, Tony realizes what Chico means when she says, “The garden looks like Narciso, he’s drunk.” Tony marvels at the bounty of this moonlit garden, but out of fear, or perhaps superstition, he will not partake of the blessing.
Narciso tries to warn Ultima of Tenorio’s intention to kill him in revenge for the curse he placed on his dying second daughter. Returning home in the snow from the rehearsal for the school Christmas pageant, Tony sneaks up on her. When Tony’s brother Andrew can’t leave Rosie’s house of ill repute to help, the aging Narciso must go on his own, and Tony continues to follow. Tenorio shoots Narciso as he sleeps under a juniper tree. Although Tony is confused about his role in the Catholic Church, he makes the sign of the cross over Narciso and confesses, acting as the priest his family expects him to be. Stricken with pneumonia, Tony dreams that evil is everywhere in his village as everything in the village dies a violent death and the golden carp swallows everything and shines like a new sun.
The Gap: Where is God?
Now it’s time for Tony to study his catechism with the other boys at church as he prepares for the first date, but he still wonders if the golden carp is more powerful than the God of the Catholic Church. He wonders if Mary or the golden carp rules in the absence of God. On Easter Sunday, when Tony takes a waffle for the first time, he prays for an answer to his question: why is there evil, death and torture? He only feels emptiness. “The God I was looking for so eagerly was not there,” he thinks, and later admits to his teacher that growing up is not easy. He tells her: “Ultima says that a person’s destiny should open like a flower.”
Tony witnesses Ultima’s healing power again while performing rituals to remove the curse from Tellez, a friend of Tony’s father. That night, Tony still did not receive any communication from God. He asks what is really the power of God? Cico tells him he has to choose between the god of the church and the golden carp. As they watch the majesty of a god-like carp swimming in the river, they decide that their friend Florence failed their first date because she didn’t confess her non-existent sins. himself. When they go to find him, they discover that he drowned in a swimming accident under the Blue Lake.
Tony dreams again, and in this dream, everything he believes in dies – even Ultima and the golden carp. Frustrated, he is sent to his uncles in Los Puerto to learn about farming. Before leaving, Ultima says, “Life is filled with sadness when a boy grows up to be a man.” Tony asks his father if he can start a new religion. Tony’s father, Gabriel Marez, explains to his son that understanding does not come from God. It comes from living life and it takes a lifetime to gain this understanding. She understands Tony’s confusion, especially about religion and healing, and tells him that Ultima has nothing to fear because “she has empathy for people, she’s whole enough to touch their souls and heal them.” Tony grows stronger from everything that happens to him that summer.
Ultima and the Owl: Antonio’s Blessing
However, Tenorio’s second daughter dies and, deranged, he first tries to kill Tony, who runs away from him, and then travels to Guadalupe to find and kill Ultima. Instead, Tenorio shoots the owl, and when he points the gun at Tony, Pedro, Tony’s uncle, kills him with his pistol. Ultima, whose life depends on the life of the owl, dies. He whispers to Tony that he is like an owl, “taking wing to a new place, a new time.” He asks for her blessing before dying. “His hand touched my forehead, and his last words were: “In the name of all that is good, strong, and beautiful, I bless you, Antonio. Love life and if despair enters your heart, look for me in the windy evenings. it is mild and owls sing in the hills. I’m with you…”
Tony buries the owl under a moonlight juniper tree, the symbol of his mother’s family. He covers the owl with the soil of the llano, his father’s home and symbol. Tony was deeply influenced by the feminine archetypes of the moon, the three destinies, the river and the fish, whether or not he had the maturity to realize the totality of blessings as well as the evils that accompanied his rites of passage. the owl and the juniper and the cyclical changes around him so that as he grows to manhood he will remember with greater insight and wisdom Ultima’s admonition: “Take life’s experiences and draw from them strength, not weakness.”
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