A Reflection on Scorpio Season and the Day of the Dead

by Sarina Romero

I was asleep when the scorpion stung me. In my dream, a hot, sharp needle pierced deep into my finger, all the way to the bone. The pain woke me; I remember yelling. I remember something crawling across my right shoulder, down my back.

Scorpions are predatory arachnids. They belong to the same family as spiders. They have eight legs. They have a pair of grasping pincers. Their tail is narrow, segmented, and curved. At the end of that tail, a stinger.

Their story began 435 million years ago in the desert. But it doesn’t end there. Now, they can be found on every continent except Antarctica. I was in Oaxaca, Mexico, when it happened. It was 2022. The Scorpio eclipse on May 15th had taken place a little less than two weeks earlier.

Most websites insist that a scorpion’s sting is not unlike a bee’s. That it feels similar to being burned by the end of a cigarette, one said. Or being slightly electrocuted, another offered. Their venom-laced tail is used for offense and defense. But most don’t pose a threat to humans. In fact, only about 25 species have venom that’s capable of killing a human. That’s fewer than 1% of all scorpions.

I’m not sure which species stung me, though the internet seems to agree that the scorpions in Oaxaca aren’t deadly — unless you are an infant, have a compromised immune system, or are allergic. “These ones pack a big punch,” someone wrote on Reddit in response to a video of a scorpion in Mazunte crawling up the wall of someone else’s room.

The poison that’s released from a scorpion is full of neurotoxins, and my reaction to the venom wasn’t typical. Within an hour after being stung, my muscles felt like they were constricting from the inside out. Numb tingling pushed across my body, pulsed, changed direction, increased, and radiated out across my face, my neck, my back, my arms, my torso, and my legs. An incredible weight compressed down onto me. It was difficult to lift my head, or lean forward. Though I eventually managed to rise to my feet, I had trouble walking.

As intense as the symptoms were, from the outside, nothing had changed. As the poison worked its way into my nervous system, I sat at the kitchen table icing the finger that felt as if it’d caught fire. Panic didn’t feel like an option. I was so afraid, I was lucid. Calm, even. The concept of choice was out of reach — the sensation so totalizing that it demanded I focus solely on it. That I follow it, as if it were a path that would eventually lead me back out to safety. I had to resolve to make it through.

***

In astrology, scorpion stingers — like other piercing things, such as cacti, plants with pointy edges, and blades — are ruled by the planet Mars. So it’s no surprise that Mars rules the sign Scorpio. This means that Mars is at home in this sign and able to do what it does best there. But Mars is also the planet of sharp, decisive action. It’s dogged, and determined. It’s focused and courageous. And it’s unafraid to ruffle feathers to get what it wants. Since Mars rules Scorpio, these Martian qualities are an intrinsic part of the sign, like a strand of DNA.

Scorpio is a fixed water sign as well. This fixed nature lends it a quality that is undeniable. It carries a feeling akin to walking into a tunnel and realizing you’re as far in as you are out. It’s deeply rooted, persistent, and sometimes stubborn. Not easily shakable. And its element makes it undergirded by emotionality — it views feelings as both a tether and a tool. Yet unlike Cancer’s flowing fresh water and Pisces’ buoyant salt water, Scorpio’s emotionality is like the water found in the depths of a frozen lake.

Because I’ve grown up in the Northern Hemisphere, Scorpio season has always aligned with the time of year when what leaves remain on the trees are brown and on their way out. Most branches are bare. The air bites. The birds are quiet. And every day is shorter than the one before it. This period spanning from around the end of October to the end of November holds a sense of spareness. It prompts us to pare back, until we reach our foundations. In this season, fall no longer feels like a cute pumpkin. You can’t just throw on a scarf and call it a day. And if you’re north enough, it’s cold. Actually cold. Coming off of Libra season’s pleasantries, Scorpio cools down the people-pleasing — a welcome relief after a period that feels, sometimes, like one giant, hapless networking event.

In Scorpio season, we’re met with the sign’s willingness to spend time with what’s otherwise feared or avoided, and reminded that death is part of the bargain of life. So it makes sense that this season houses not only Halloween, but numerous ancient traditions that honor, in one way or another, the thinning of the veil between our world and the spirit world.

My own tradition is no exception. Every November 1st and 2nd, my family and I celebrate the Day of the Dead. These 48 hours are ones in which we invite our ancestors back into our homes to spend time with us. We light candles and burn copal over coal. We sing them songs in Spanish and in the older languages. We put up their pictures in frames. I say their names out loud. I say thank you to the people I come from, to the ones I know, and the ones whose stories and names I don’t.

The Day of the Dead adapted around and in spite of Catholicism. It’s what remains of an Aztec tradition that honored the dead for the whole month of November. Long before the Spaniards arrived, my ancestors invoked the goddess of death (Mictecacihuatl), who oversaw the underworld (Mitlan) alongside the god of death (Mictlantecuhtli). This tradition was reorganized by the church to land on November 1st and 2nd to sync up with All Souls Day. Like so many effects of colonization, what we celebrate today comes from an ancient practice, forced assimilation, and the birthing of new traditions, over hundreds of years, that morphed into what we now call Día de Muertos.

There’s nothing quiet about the Day of the Dead. Streets shut down. People dress up. Cemeteries transform. Thick-petaled marigolds crowd altars and cover every surface. Flower garlands and paper cutouts swoop and crisscross overhead. Everywhere: candles. Everywhere: sugar skulls and skeletons. The skeleton is the human body stripped of everything but its foundation — a rather Scorpionic notion — and the Day of the Dead celebrates this. It makes the bare bones beautiful. Over these two days, skeletons are everywhere — from massive paper maché sculptures to miniature figurines — doing everything a person might. They’re dancing, drinking, eating, preening in mirrors, lifting their skirts, waving flags, playing music, and walking skeleton dogs in between plates of food, candles, pan de muertos, and pictures of loved ones. Throughout this celebration, bones and faces bounce candlelight off one another. And altars serve as physical, sacred spaces that you can decorate and re-make every year. In this way, the holiday is about honoring the dead and the holiness of doing, assembling, and arranging something impermanent — such as our lives.

***

Scorpio, not unlike a scorpion’s sting, strips us of pretense. It doesn’t have patience for posturing. And as a result, it clarifies what’s fundamental. It persists. That’s what fixed water does: It gets to the bottom of things. And it beckons us to follow.

The one clear-headed thought I had the night I was stung was a simple one: Either I will be fine, or I won’t be. The closest ambulance was hours away, so a taxi driver and his wife drove me and my partner 30 minutes inland to the nearest hospital — a squat, two-room brick building.

I remember the hushed nurses and the bed they set up in the hall. The old woman in the bed next to me, breathing in short, shallow bursts. My IV and antivenin dripping. And machines in the room beside us working all night, whirring and beeping while connected to the other people — all of whom were dying.

***

It’s been more than a year and a half since the sting, and still, I keep returning to that moment. It has ignited a hunger in me — I want to understand it. I keep wanting to tell and retell the story to make sense of it. To get to the “meaning.” But it makes a fool of me. It taunts my insatiability. It forces me to ask myself why, and what I want to understand. I was afraid for my life. And then I was safe.

Something was stripped from me that night, but I am not sure what. “When you’re back home, we can talk about the symbolism of what it means to get stung by a scorpion,” my friend’s mom, who had also been stung once, texted me. But when I returned, I never followed up with her. I couldn’t bear the idea of lifting into the abstract. I couldn’t square the physicality of my experience to representation. When I tried to tell people the story, I didn’t recognize the facts. The descriptions felt off.

Much like my experience in Oaxaca, Scorpio forces us to face our frailty, our inner reserves of strength, and ourselves. It’s unafraid of the hard parts. I was afraid of the hard parts. I didn’t think I could face my own humanness. Then, I had no choice. Unrelenting is the word I like to use when I think of Scorpio. This sign doesn’t mind mucking through the swamp; looking under the hood; edging further into the deep, dark cave; becoming the ashes and what’s born from them; or pushing through the long night. Instead, it thrives on the challenge. Its energy is penetrating, ceaseless even. Its underlying motivation is to seek out every question, and to treat each answer as a bridge to more questions.

***

This year, I wonder if I can’t also include the scorpion sting on my Day of the Dead altar, or who I was before it. In the poem “One Art,” Elizabeth Bishop writes, “I lost two cities, lovely ones. And, vaster,/ some realms I owned, two rivers, a continent./ I miss them, but it wasn’t a disaster.” While this loss may not have been catastrophic, necessarily, she still names what’s gone. She commemorates her loss by tacking it onto the page. If the Day of the Dead offers an annual space to honor those we’ve lost, if it offers a space to bear witness, then this year, I’d like to include the losses that weren’t a disaster, but which still pierced me, changed me, and organized time into clear befores and afters.

Scorpio season reminds me that it’s okay to be afraid. To not know. To grieve. It thrusts my living back at me. The trees are empty. The light slants. Absence is made tactile through absence itself. But I am alive. This year I don’t want to only honor loss; I want to make room for it. I want to make it radiate.

Sarina Romero is a writer from Oakland, California. She holds an MFA from New York University, and her work appears in POETRY, The Yale Review, and elsewhere. She is also an in-house astrology writer at CHANI app and is at work on her first book. To view more of her writing, visit sarinaraquelromero.com.

 

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