Two perfect Halloween parties over the weekend demonstrated the ancient alchemist maxim, “As above, so below.”
Local Color hosted its third annual 31 Skulls silent auction, transforming its basement offices into a goth dungeon underneath the Valley Title building at First and San Carlos, while the heroes at Mexican Heritage Plaza filled their entire property with Avenida de Altares (Avenue of the Altars), its annual Day of the Dead celebration. As above, so below.
One enters Local Color, a women-powered arts nonprofit, via the back of 300 S. First St., that is, from a parking lot left over from when San Jose smashed a bunch of structures decades ago. As I made my descent in the rickety elevator and emerged into the basement of the worn-out office building to attend an art auction of hand-painted ceramic skulls, I was already contemplating Hermes Trismegistus, aka Thoth in Egyptian circles.
Hermes Trismegistus, at least in Egypt, was the initiator of alchemy, a process that uses laboratory terminology to implement various internal and spiritual changes, all with the goal of achieving serenity and perfection in each and every moment. Hermes Trismegistus is often cited as the one who concocted the Emerald Tablet, which proclaims, “It is true, certain and without falsehood that whatever is below is like that which is above and that which is above is like that which is below.” Over the centuries, this has been shortened to “As above, so below,” meaning, the macrocosm mirrors the microcosm. The laws and processes that operate within the human body have a symmetrical relationship with the laws and processes of the universe.
This can apply to many scenarios; for example, if one understands how suburban hick-town bureaucracies work, then one can better approximate how county-level bureaucracies work. When any of this is out of whack, one applies the steps of alchemy as an aid to harmonizing the polarities, fusing the opposites, either within one’s psyche or in the world at large. As above, so below.
At Local Color, I emerged from the elevator in a less-than-perfect mood, yet as soon as I stepped into the party and saw everyone dressed up in goth-style duds, my temperament improved in dramatic fashion. Nearly everyone wore black. The 31 amazing, hand-painted skulls were displayed on tables for patrons to make their bids. Misfits lyrics ran through more than one person’s head, for sure. I wanted every one of the skulls on my wall.
The goth duds made me feel like I was hanging out at One Step Beyond in 1988, which immediately depressed me into feeling old, but as soon as I centered myself in the present moment, Hermes Trismegistus reminded me that every instant was perfect. There was no need to rehash the past or rehearse future thoughts. The past and the future expanded and contracted like a rubber band, snapping me right back into the here and now. Ram Dass would have been proud.
On the following night, the Mexican Heritage Plaza was off the hook. Avenida de Altares filled the entire theater lobby, both upstairs and downstairs—both above and below—with gorgeous altars, elaborate altars, in some cases even interactive altars. Aztec dancers performed on the outdoor stage. Vendors hawked their wares. Seemingly a thousand families poured in from all over the city.
One altar was dedicated to lowrider history, the Mayfair neighborhood, Cesar Chavez, the cannery workers and more. Another featured various images of Frida Kahlo and a famous quote from Octavio Paz’s The Labyrinth of Solitude, often used during Dia de los Muertos: “For the inhabitants of New York, Paris, or London, ‘death’ is a word that is never spoken. … The Mexican, in contrast, frequents it, marks it, caresses it, sleeps with it, celebrates it; it’s one of their favorite toys and their most permanent love.” I agreed. Wholeheartedly.
Other altars were strategically constructed on the sidewalk along Alum Rock, between King and 101. Forget Sidewalks of New York. We got the sidewalks of Alum Rock. While exploring the whole shebang, I could not stop repeating the alchemist maxim in my head: As above, so below.
In the end, I celebrated life and death and achieved nothing but perfection.