The dab of holy water was starting to dry on Hannah’s hand. Curling her fingers, she subtly rubbed the itch away on the side of her thigh. “So a tlahuelpuchi is something that can curse you?”
“A tlahuelpuchi is cursed.” Abuela Rosa pulled Will’s callused hand under the light as she continued. “Cursed from birth, although the curse might not show up until she’s a little older. Around, ah…” Abuela Rosa searched the air above her head for the word. “Christina, how do you say cambiañera?”
Christina shrugged. “I just say cambiañera. Around the time they start shifting, I guess.”
– Devil’s Den
I love the idea that shapeshifters would have their own spinoffs of cultural traditions. So what happens when your family is from Mexico and you’re turning 15? You don’t just have the quinceañera party, honey. You’re having a cambiañera celebration, and that’s that.
Because turning into a wolf or rabbit or bird isn’t just a great adult responsibility. It’s also a fantastic excuse to party.
Of course, I’m sure there would be some sort of historical record of these traditions, right?
Enter Daniel Dearborn (1882–1958), American cultural anthropologist and shapeshifter.
Born in California, Dearborn spent much of his academic career traveling in the Mexican states of Oaxaca and Veracruz. Fascinated by the cultural and social rituals in American shifter communities, Dearborn also recorded detailed field notes on the cultures of Mexican shifters, known locally as cambiantes or metamórfos. The surviving records offer a rare glimpse into private societies, ones that tend to be shrouded in mystery even to this day.
The following is an excerpt from Dearborn’s notes on the cambiañera, a coming of age celebration for girls with shapeshifting abilities.
At the Velázquez home since Tuesday. The father, Antonio, is the foreman at the local small-scale brickworks (ladrillera), while his wife Lupita keeps the home. The family has invited me to stay for their daughter’s cambiañera celebration. From Lupita’s description, the celebration is a curious mixture of Static and shifter traditions.
Many histories describe the quinceañera tradition, a girl’s coming of age celebration held on her fifteenth birthday. The practice stretches back to the Aztecs and Mayans, and was later adapted by conquering Spanish Catholics. While various records hold signposts pointing to the development of the quinceañera, the ceremony has undergone unique — and far more hidden — developments in shifter culture. It is the celebration of this “changing” — the cambiañera — that I hope to learn more about during my time here.
Lupita’s explanations have already shed some light: a girl’s fifteenth birthday symbolizes not only that she is ready for womanhood and marriage, but also that she has embraced her other shape and all of the powers entailed within. For this reason, shapeshifters in Oaxaca refer to the cambiañera, a girl who is of the age to shift.
After breakfast this morning, Lupita called me to take note of the tapestry she is preparing for her daughter, Marta. The tapestry consists of a broad, linen panel, split top to bottom to allow the cambiañera to make her entrance from behind the curtain.
“When the girl passes through the tapestry,” Lupita explains, “it shows that she is passing from her girlhood to her fully grown shapes.” Lupita pauses before adding, “In the old days, a girl would actually change to her second shape, surrounded by her court. But many girls are particular about their hair, and emerging from behind a tapestry allows them to ‘transform’ without losing a single hairpin in the process.”
The hand-stitched elements on the tapestry indicate a strong Nahuatl influence. See sketch and jottings below.
Crow: the cambiañera’s other shape
Crown: indicates that the cambiañera is the princess, the daughter of God
Open beak: indicates wisdom and speaking truth
Heart with flame: indicates a still-human heart, shining with divine light
Spiraling columns: indicate wind/air. (Common on avian shifter tapestries.)
Lightning: symbolic of either the sky’s power or the power of the Holy Trinity.
What do you guys think? If you got to invent your own coming-of-age celebration, what would you include?
Sequins and sociology,