11 September 2007

Speaking for the Dead

Her name is La Doncella. She has been asleep for over 500 years. Look at her. See the way her legs are crossed, her arms are wrapped around her tummy to ward off the cold. She looks as if she could awaken at any time, but she won't.

La Doncella was 15 when she went to sleep in a cave high in the Andes Mountains, along with a boy, 7, and a little girl, 6. They were willing, human sacrifices.

The best we can tell, the Incas needed guardians for their villages. Children, often the children of nobility, made great candidates. They were innocent, pure, almost godlike. They would be buried alive on a 22,000-foot peak overlooking the city of Salta, Argentina. They would join their ancestors, and their spirits would watch over their surviving kin.

The children were well dressed. They carried with them many artifacts to take into the afterlife. Their mummified remains show no signs of struggle. They squatted as the cave was sealed up, wrapped their cloaks tightly around themselves, and closed their eyes, never to awaken again.

What fascinates me about La Doncella and her tiny friends isn't the perfection with which they have been preserved at 22,000 feet: it's the unseen part of her--the spirit that allowed her to willingly offer up her life to be a guardian of her people, the spirit that cannot be found among the artifacts of her burial.

I know a little about the spirits and personalities of 15-year-old girls, and I wish that hers could be coupled once again with her body--to wake up, and see the world through Incan eyes. In some ways I hope her spirit can't see her remains, moved to a museum in Salta, and kept at 0 degrees Fahrenheit in a glass cylinder. From what I know, I doubt she would care anyway.

Our spirit is the only part of us that is eternal: it was created in the Mind of God before we were formed in our mothers' wombs. It is the only thing that will remain after our remains have rotted away--unless we can arrange ourselves a burial on one of those Andean peaks!

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