There’s a simple Venezuelan legend with an important message that I remembered recently. It is a short and fairly direct story about the power of traditions, especially those that are carried on the earth, those that are related to the place where we are and the respect due to the past: the legend of the Hachador Perdido (“Lost Ax-man”), an enraged soul that punishes those who make the same mistake that condemned him.
Some time ago I was talking to a friend and she told me the story of a man from San Casimiro, in the state of Aragua, who went to work on Good Friday and was cursed for it. The reason for his departure varies depending on the version that is read, but all agree on the general aspects: an ax-man decided to go out to look for firewood in the forest to make his own urn during Good Friday, although custom dictated otherwise for that religious date, and he was punished by his god for eternity to torment those who did the same.
According to what my friend told me, and as I have been able to corroborate in readings and traditional songs, one of the signs that this spirit is near is the constant sound of axes, increasingly loud. The person must pray the Apostles’ Creed and turn around on the spot, retracing their steps, to prevent the specter from killing them with his weapon. There’s a popular song that speaks of this:
If at night a lament is heard riding in San Casimiro,
the shadow of your memory is painted,
if it is that you find yourself grieving in the mountains of time,
with pleasure, Hachador Perdido, I will pray your creed.
As I say, it is a short legend, but very direct with regard to its moral: respect the customs and beliefs of the place where we are. It is a sample of humility, and I see it as a way to share in a harmonious way with the spirits of a place, as well as the history that runs under the earth, in the wind, and inhabits its flora and fauna.
One of the first things I learned when I discovered the world of Witchcraft and Paganism is that nature is sacred and deserves due respect for being both our mother, our home, and place of last rest (metaphorically speaking – I do not mean to exclude those who they prefer different options to being buried). It is not so different from what Genesis 3:19 says: “By the sweat of your brow you will eat your food until you return to the ground, since from it you were taken; for dust you are and to dust you will return.”
For days I have been leaving offerings of water to all the powers and entities with which I work: gods, ancestors, guides, and more. For me it is a way of respecting where I am, of showing my admiration, of showing that my practice is not limited only to the cycles of the moon or the wheel of the year. I’ve been as consistent as possible, and I correct on the spot when I say something I shouldn’t or get confused for whatever reason.
Days ago I confirmed that this work has not been in vain, and that someone – at least one – has been listening to me and knows that I’m honest in my actions. I was on a bus reading a novel on my phone that had me trapped. I was concentrating to the point that the real world seemed like an illusion. I felt like the characters were there with me, but a few shots took me out of reading in a second.
Being a person with autism, I don’t always know how to react to unforeseen events. It has happened to me in common situations; once I had to answer the questions of more than one person when I was working in a library, and my mind went blank for a second and my body stopped completely. It wasn’t the first time, and I doubt it will be the last, but I do always react after a second. This time it was not like that.
I thought someone was banging on the vehicle’s windows, but then my mind made a sharp turn as I realized many people on the bus ended up on the floor, including the driver. I was paralyzed without knowing what to do; I was listening to more and more blows, more and more blows, until I no longer heard anything. It happened in a matter of seconds, but I saw all the passengers terrified, and I didn’t understand what was happening – until I heard someone say, “they were shooting at the bus.”
I panicked. My hands shook; my mouth went dry; my senses clouded. My whole body felt cold. No one had fallen, but they were taking cover from the bullets fired from outside, and I had been exposed. My life had been on the brink and I didn’t even know until several seconds had passed. It was the first time I had experienced something like this, but still I asked myself: “How could I be so irresponsible?”
It was difficult for me to regain my calm, return to the present and be aware of what had happened. I suddenly remembered the offerings of water and prayers that were already part of my routine, and I was about to cry. I took a deep breath and thanked tirelessly the one or ones – whoever it was – that protected me. After several hours I was able to put the episode behind me and go on with my day to day, but the memory remains alive in my mind.
I am far from believing that my soul will be condemned to punish irresponsible people, as happened to the Hachador Perdido. Each legend is a metaphor for reality; I am aware that humans are not the owners of the planet. We cannot do and undo as we please because everything falls under its own weight.
I know that the power that contains the land and the traditions that have been carried out in it is real. I know it was those same powers and their guardians that protected me when I didn’t know I should do it myself, just like when my father protected my brother when he needed it. I have been an eclectic Witch for a long time, but even in eclecticism there are traditions and customs that are difficult to break. And as I heard somewhere at some point, there is power in repetition.