A treasured culture

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Witches, spirits and ghosts.

That’s what Ray John dé Aragón talks about in his book, “Enchanted Legends and Lore of New Mexico,” a compilation of stories and tales from a time when superstitions were common place.

Brent Ruffner-News-Bulletin photo: Ray John dé Aragón wrote “Enchanted Legends and Lore of New Mexico” in his Albuquerque home. The book tells tales of ghosts and witches in New Mexico.

Dé Aragón’s Albuquerque home is filled with history and items of the state’s folklore, including a statue of the Angel of Death and tintypes that date back to the 1800s.

The book revisits an era around the time of Spanish colonialism when people believed some had magical abilities, such as becoming invisible and transforming themselves into other creatures.

The stories were passed down from generation to generation and are a part of the vast culture and history of New Mexico.

One story talks about two men who were accused of practicing “talismanic magic” at the pueblo of Quarai in 1668.

According to the book, the men were accused of being wizards whose black magic ended up resulting in their death. The men died after they were both killed by Apache Indians while trying to escape trial in Socorro.

Dé Aragón, who teaches professional development with Los Lunas Schools, said his mother, Maria Cleofas Sanchez dé Aragón, was a driving force behind telling untold stories of the state.

Brent Ruffner-News-Bulletin photo: “Carmelitas,” an acrylic painting by Rosa Maria Calles, is featured in the book, “Enchanted Legends and Lore of New Mexico.”

He said he remembers hearing ghost stories as a source of entertainment in the 1950s. Family members told stories since they didn’t have a radio or television.

Dé Aragón read about stories while he was at Our Lady of Sorrows Parish in Las Vegas, N.M.

“Growing up in Las Vegas, New Mexico, that was part of my family,” Dé Aragón said. “They were very superstitious. That’s the way it was back in the early days in New Mexico. (People) believed in ghosts.”

Another story involves the Merry Ghost, a tale of a spiritual figure who frequents the Tomé area. The ghost was known to dance and sing in the night and play tricks on people. The ghost is also known for its liking of wine.

The author also included the legend of La Llorona, a story of a spirit who travels the waterways looking for her children whom she drowned in the river.

The story teaches a lesson that children shouldn’t play near the water or they might mistakenly get taken by a ghoulish woman looking for her children.

“When I was a kid, you can understand what the lesson was behind the story,” Dé Aragón said. “In this book, every story has a lesson.”

Dé Aragón, who helps teachers incorporate art into classrooms at Los Lunas Schools, has used a lot of his family’s artwork and photographs in his own book.

Doña Sebastiana, or the Angel of Death, a 5-foot tall pine statue, is a piece that sits in his Albuquerque home. The piece is a symbol of New Mexico culture and is meant to remind people that death is always present and one never knows when it will come to get a certain individual.

He also has several acrylic and oil paintings that both he and his wife, Rosa, have painted.

The author uses a saying for each story in the book. He said his mother, despite having a third-grade education, used sayings to teach him lessons.

“I think our history, and in any culture, should be preserved and passed down to future generations,” dé Aragón said. “It’s not something that should just be forgotten.

“All of the stories in (the book) have a moral behind them. They teach a lesson for kids to learn from.”

The Las Vegas native said a part of his interest in New Mexico history came from collecting artifacts from his family and others throughout the years. He has items such as an instrument that was used to alert people of a prayer service and dozens of photographs from hundreds of years ago.

One item is a novel that was passed down to him that has a print date of 1838. He has items that have been passed down from friends and family members that come from the early 1800s.

He said most of the stories have taken just as long to develop. Most, he said, are known to those who grew up in the state, but not written down in books.

“It’s not something that’s taken place over night — it took hundreds of years,” dé Aragón said.

Preserving New Mexico culture could start with artwork. He tells students that everything around them is art rather than just a poster or a picture hung in a classroom.

“(Art is) every single thing that exists — people don’t look at it that way,” Dé Aragón said.

But he said the preservation of history is essential to the people of the state.

“I have an interest in it because it’s something that can’t just be forgotten,” Dé Aragón said. “It’s something that tells us who we are.”

If interested in purchasing a copy of “Enchanted Legends and Lore of New Mexico,” visit your nearest Barnes & Noble.


-- Email the author at bruffner@news-bulletin.com.