The Rebirth of the Voladores Ritual
Directed by Bruce “Pacho” Lane
The 2000 year-old Los Voladores (flyers) ritual is still performed today by the Totonacs of East Central Mexico. The ritual is sacred to Quetzalcoatl, the “Feathered Serpent” culture god, whom Mexican Indians identify with Christ. Hence it is usually performed in conjunction with Christian religious events. The ritual is a visual representation of the central concepts of pre-Conquest Mexican Indian religion – and is seen by the Totonacs as central to their cultural identity.
In 2006, Ivan Aparicio, a Totonac high school student, had a vision in which God told him he must revive the ritual. Ivan asked Salvador, the old leader of the Voladores, to teach him and his friends (the “chavos”, or “kids”) the ritual.
In the ritual, after preliminary dances on the ground, five Voladores climb an 80 foot (25 meter) high pole. On the tip of the pole is a hub, through which four ropes are threaded. The hub represents Ollin, the animating energy of the Sun and of the universe. The pole represents the Flowering Tree (“Tree of Life”) in the 13th heaven. There we are imagined (“conceived”) by Ometeotl (“dual god”), the creator god-and-goddess. After we have been imagined, we live as flowers (souls or “hearts”) on the Tree until Ometeotl decides it is time to descend from the Tree to be born into this world.
The Capitán (leader) sits on the hub, while the four others are seated on a square suspended from the hub. The Capitán leans back until he is horizontal, and salutes each of the Four Directions, while offering his heart as a sacrifice to the Sun. He then stands up and dances on the hub, 15 inches (38 cm) in diameter, East-North-West-South-East, following the path of the Sun through the solar year.
The other Voladores, attached at the waist to the four ropes, then fall back off the square and “fly” head down, arms spread as wings, while the ropes slowly unwind through the hub. They represent warriors who died in battle or were sacrificed on the altar, and who were reincarnated as hawks or eagles to follow the Sun on His journey from dawn to the zenith. Then the bird-men descend to earth to bring the Sun’s blessings – and to carry the offerings on the altar back to the Sun.
The film starts with Ivan’s story of his vision, and Salvador’s agreement to teach the chavos. With Salvador’s son, Cruz, and his family, we first visit El Tajin, the ruins of the ancient Totonac capital until around 1000 AD, where Father Mario Pérez shows how the Voladores ritual continues the same cosmology seen in the ruins.
After visiting the tree Ivan plans to use in their “flight”, Salvador teaches the chavos the steps and music of the ritual, and explains the meaning of the ritual. Salvador and the chavos, with the help of other Totonacs, raise a 30’ practice pole, and the terrified chavos make their first, hilarious, flight.
After more training, the chavos are ready for their first flight on the real 80 foot pole. At the midnight mass on Christmas eve, the priest blesses the new Voladores, and invites them to dance around the altar. The next morning they climb the big pole, accompanied by Salvador, and “fly” to earth before an admiring crowd.
A Totonac elder ends the film with a story. Once upon a time the hub lifted off the pole, and the Voladores flew away. The mayor had the pole chopped up for firewood, so that when the Voladores returned four days later, they could not land. They flew away once more, then returned a third time as hawks, but since there was still no pole, they flew away to heaven, to live henceforth in the Flowering Tree.
Warriors of the Sun Intro