The Daily

Posts Tagged ‘superstition’

Letter from Mitla

November 10, 2015 | by

Visiting the altars for Dia de los Muertos.


All photographs by Shona Sanzgiri.

Thirty miles from the city of Oaxaca is San Pablo Villa de Mitla, where, according to Mesoamerican lore, the dead go to rest. It’s a small town surrounded by mountains and distinguished by an arid climate, which has preserved relics up to ten thousand years old and attracted archaeologists from all over the world. During the days around Dia de los Muertos, Mitla transforms into a gateway for the deceased lured by the town’s many altars, built by their loved ones, still living here in this world.

The ornate displays are abundant with ofrendas, offerings of food and drink. Pyramids of fruit, bursting marigolds, packs of Marlboros—or Camels or Chesterfields, depending on one’s preference—ripe plantains, candles of all sizes, meticulously decorated loaves of pan de muertos, and clay gourds of mescal and water (even the dead suffer from hangovers) comprise most offerings. Pictures of the deceased, typically unsmiling, feature in the center of the room, encircled by votives and depictions of different Catholic saints and apostates. The room often smells of woodsy black and white copal, an incense made from tree resin. Read More »

Morituri te Salutamus

March 13, 2015 | by


Address of Chief Ruler Daniel Wolff, delivered at the First Annual and Thirteenth Regular Meeting of the Thirteen Club, 1883.

Even in its heyday, the Thirteen Club didn’t do much. While the society may have boasted five presidents among its (at any given moment) thirteen members, the fact that it could only meet when the calendar cooperated—the thirteenth—meant that its activities were necessarily somewhat curtailed. In any event, the Thirteen Club’s existence was always more important than its specifics: it had been established as a blow against superstition, friggatriskaidekaphobia, and the prevailing prejudice that’s existed toward Friday the thirteenth since (depending on who you ask) the Last Supper or a certain fateful dinner in Valhalla. The founding friggatriskaidekaphile was one Captain William Fowler. Fowler had attended P.S. 13; he built thirteen structures, fought in thirteen Civil War conflicts, belonged to thirteen clubs, and, whenever possible, did significant things on the thirteenth of any month. In 1882, he decided to make this enthusiasm official. Read More »

Lucky Thirteen

January 2, 2013 | by

My apartment building on Manhattan’s Upper West Side is of the standard prewar varietal, with the faint chicken-soup-in-the-stairwell smell familiar to any New Yorker and an elevator that goes up to fourteen. And by fourteen, I mean, of course, thirteen. In this respect it is standard too; the elevator, made by Otis (I paused to double-check as I was writing this), indulges our collective superstition and forces those on the top floor to live a peculiar quotidian fiction.

In taller buildings, of course, everyone above twelve is technically living a lie, albeit of the white sort. This is a bit of magical thinking that never fails to delight me on even the darkest day. Read More »