Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Santa Fe’s Zozobra

Every September for 89 years Santa Fe, New Mexico has burned a huge effigy called Zozobra. Santa Fe, known as the city different hosts this event during its Fiestas de Santa Fe, which celebrates the 1692 reconquest of the city by Spanish Colonists. * Thousands of people watch each year as “Old Man Gloom” is engulfed in flames. This colorful event gives everyone a chance to burn his or her troubles and worries away, literally.

Zozobra is a Spanish word meaning roughly “anxiety” or “anguish” or "gloom". This traditional scapegoat ritual * was started in 1924 by Santa Fe artist Will Schuster. ** 

When New Mexicans burn this 50 foot tall wood and cloth clown dressed in a tuxedo it represents the releasing or burning of people’s woes or bad memories from the year before. This large marionette puppet is stuffed with thousands of bits of paper etc. that have people’s troubles or worries written on them. Some examples: paid off mortgages or eviction notices, an unworn wedding dress or divorce papers.

One of the original Zozobras
The crowds at this event become impatient and start to chant, “burn him, burn him”. All the while Old Man Gloom moans in protest--an actor portrays these sounds over a loudspeaker. His jaws flap; his head twists, and his red glowing eyes dart back and forth. One downside to this ritual is it sometimes scares young children. 

As Zozobra continues to protest a possession of ghost or gloom children prance at his feet. They are then chased away by a Fire Spirit Dancer who taunts Zozobra in a blur of red.

Finally, as his groans reach a fever pitch *** and the crowd heckles and whoops Zozobra’s long flowing skirt is torched by the Fire Spirit Dancer. The crowd cheers as the flames engulf him and their problems--doom and gloom--go up in smoke. 

Fireworks and smoke effects are used throughout especially as he burns to the ground. This sublime spectacle provides satisfaction--even if it is just for a moment. I have included a video of the 2013 celebration below.

* Will Schuster was inspired by a ritual practice in Mexico by the Yaqui people known as the “Burning of Judas”. Paper-Mache sculptures are made called, cartonenia. These represent Judas and the villains who were crucified on Good Friday. These sculptures are burned on Easter Sunday.

**  Scapegoat rituals are where the blame for a perceived evil is laid upon a single source. Many cultures over the years have used effigies-- Zozobra is a modern version. The North Indian Festival of Navatri uses effigies. The Druids of Gaul used effigies called “Wicked Man” to house human sacrifices in order to appease their Gods. In the Czech Republic, Poland and Slovakia they burn or drowned a female effigy named Marzanna who is the Slavic goddess of death. 

In England, Guy Hawkes Night is where effigies of this anarchic hero are burned in bonfires to celebrate his failure to blow up the British Parliament House. In Nevada the “Burning of Man Festival” is another modern version. The school campus ritual of burning items in a bonfire before a football game to gain victory is yet another modern variant.

*** For years both of Zozobra's hands gave the crowd the finger. They have disguised this recently. The construction of Zozobra takes over 3,500 volunteer hours. This event is run by the Kiwanis Club of Santa Fe and is used as a fund-raiser for local charities.

* Here is an update for the 2014 burning the decision this year was to move the burning up to the Friday before Labor Day--which is August 29th. This was a good decision on the part of the organizers because they have had record ticket sales so far. I also heard the tickets are half price this year.

Here is the link to the virtual Zozobra where people can submit their problems to be placed in Zozobra for 2014.

Here is the 2013 Burning of Zozobra. If you do not want to watch the whole event, which lasts about 17 minutes -- marker 15:58 is the start of the burning. 

No comments: