There is a saying in Mexico that when you die you must cross a river and so you should always be kind to your dog because he or she will be there to help you get across. A variation of this myth is that depending upon how you treat your dogs (or other animals) in this life they might help you cross the river or they might not. I have always wondered about this crossing of the river and where the idea comes from. I don’t think it is a reference to crossing the Rio Bravo (Rio Grande) to get to the United States and it would really have surprised me (and a lot of other people) to find out that this river is the same River Styx of ancient Greek mythology or Dante’s river of boiling blood. At last, however, I think I have come across the answer to wherein lies the origin of this Mexican belief.
The story goes way back in time to Pre-Hispanic Mexico. The peoples of long ago had observed that Nature repeats itself uninterruptedly in a cycle of death and rebirth and they thought that the same cycle is experienced by human beings. Eternity, they believed, like life on Earth, is inextricably linked to the destiny assigned to us from our birth. A warrior who died in battle or who was sacrificed on the altar was converted into a “Companion of the Eagle”, a chosen one of Huitzilopochtli, the sun god, and after four years was reincarnated as a beautiful hummingbird or a butterfly. There was a similar dwelling in the realm of the sun god for mothers who died during childbirth. The poor souls who were drowned, struck by lightning, or died from some disease belonged to the realm of the god Tláloc and enjoyed a joyful and tranquil existence in a garden paradise forever. Anyone who had not been accepted by either Huitzilopochtli or Tláloc went to a place called Mictlán, the place of the dead. In order to get to Mictlán the spirits of the dead had to go through a series of hard ordeals so when people died they were given a dog as a companion to help them through their ordeal and this dog was killed and cremated alongside them. The spirits of the dead, both human and dog, had to wander together for four years in a subterranean underworld and cross a river in order to finally reach Mictlán. There in Mictlán they took their place among the dead who had gone before them and where they encountered eternal rest.
I like dogs and I have always been kind to them, even when they bark at me. When I die I am going to need all the help that I can get to make it to Paradise and if I can get a good recommendation from the dogs it may not help but it surely couldn’t hurt. So please give your dog (or your neighbor’s dog) a pat on the head and a doggie treat and tell them that it is from Mexico Bob. You never know.