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The Therapeutic Power in The Narrative of Gloria Anzaldúa: Coyolxauhqui's Myth to Heal.

This article delves into the intricate relationship between myth and trauma as depicted in Gloria Anzaldúa's literary work Light in the Dark/Luz en lo Oscuro: Rewriting Identity, Spirituality, Reality. 2015. Anzaldúa employs the theoretical framework of Autohistoria-teoría, which integrates elements of memoir, myth, and history. This approach allows for the revisitation of traumatic events as a means of healing, achieved through the creation of new narratives. Hence, the central focus of this article revolves around Anzaldúa's utilization of the Meso-American myth of Coyolxauhqui, which serves as a powerful narrative device to illuminate the experiences of loss and frustration chronicled throughout her memoirs. Anzaldua takes the role of an auto-fictional narrator that revisits some autobiographical narratives. By sharing her personal testimony, Anzaldúa confronts not only her own psychological distress but also endeavors to bring light to the experiences of marginalized individuals while simultaneously challenging prevailing societal identities.

1. The Coyolxauhqui Imperative and Identity Formation.

Anzaldúa poses that embracing a new definition of the self is a difficult transformative task. She resorts to the myth of Coyolxauhqui, the moon goddess of Aztec culture, which symbolizes the feminine battle against the established order. Anzaldúa and Coyolxauhqui stray from conventional gender norms and perform courageous activities. The goddess involves herself in a rebellion against her mother as the result of her displeasure with the pregnancy, acting accordingly with her convictions. As a result, her brother Huitzilopochtli beheaded and dismembered her. Coyolxauqhi and her image scattered into pieces are always present in Anzaldúa´s narrative as symbols of the outcast because she herself wandered perpetually around the margins of society as a subject who was incapable of fitting in a fixed cultural and social reality, which is regarded as the system from which these marginal identities are formed. Therefore she states:

You examine the contentions accompanying the old cultural narratives: Your ethnic tribe wants you to isolate, insisting that you remain within race and class boundaries. The dominant culture prefers that you abandon your roots and assimilate, insisting that you leave your Indianness behind and seek shelter under the Hispanic or Latino umbrella. The temptation to succumb to these assimilationist tactics and escape the stigma of being Mexican stalls you on the bridge between isolation and assimilation. But both are debilitating. (Anzaldúa, 2015, p.140)

The quote above states that fighting to reconcile both ends of the spectrum is extremely difficult since she feels within her the pressure to either assimilate or isolate as she cannot opt for just one side. This painful journey becomes necessary to initiate a conversation that is essential for redrawing her personal self, which is characterized by the conflict between her Chicano culture and her North American nationality. Both sides coexist in her being in continuous tension. Thus, Anzaldúa tries to come to terms with trauma by bonding her indigenous Mexican side with her internalized Anglo-Saxon vision. To achieve that and: “To pass over the bridge to something else, you´ll have to give up partial organizations of self, erroneous bits of knowledge, outmoded beliefs of who you are, your comfortable identities (your story of self, tu autohistoria). You´ll have to leave parts of yourself behind.” (Anzaldúa, 2015, p.13).

Figure 1: Silhouette Photo of Woman (Akyurt, 2008)

Nevertheless, she makes clear that the transformation of the self may only be triggered by wandering in a state of perpetual psychological, social and cultural transition throughout life. She resorts primarily to her Chicano cultural inheritance to embrace a spiritual perspective. Hence, to start this healing process, she must embrace her responsibility of having assumed the previous labels that other people had imposed on her to write them again: "Te entregas a tu promesa to help your various cultures create new paradigms, new narratives. Knowing that something in you, or of you, must die before something else can be born, you throw your old self onto the ritual pyre, a passage by fire" (Anzaldúa, 2015, p.138)

She devotes her efforts to developing new paradigms and narratives in her quest to support varied cultures. By letting go of her former identity and shedding parts of herself, she realizes that some aspects of her existence, the identities imposed on them as women of color and later internalized, are socially manufactured fabrications and they can ultimately be turned upside down. In order to resolve her psychological restlessness, she turns to myth intending to propose a greater identity category. Hence, she grasps her parental origins and clasps everything that is Mexican in her soul to come to terms with her life: “I stare up at the moon, Coyolxauhqui, and its light in the darkness. I seek a healing image, one that reconnects me to others. I seek the positive shadow that I´ve also inherited.” (Anzaldúa, 2015, p.10).

Figure 2: Full Moon Illustration (Storm, 2014)

This narrative framework can be compared to The Heroine's Journey Woman´s Quest For Wholeness 1990 by Maureen Murdock. The main characters in this structure set out on missions of empowerment and self-discovery. It explores inner worlds and deals with internal difficulties towards emotional development. The heroine is envisioned:"...wandering the road of trials to discover her strengths and abilities and uncover and overcome her weaknesses."(Murdock, 2020, p.49). To break free from trauma a route of difficulties must be explored to unearth her inherent strengths and conquer her shortcomings in herself. Murdock describes the journey: “This period is often filled with dreams of dismemberment and death, of shadow sisters and intruders, of journeys across deserts and rivers, of ancient goddess symbols and sacred animals.” (Murdock, 2020, p.8). Both authors explore symbolism and the subconscious or unconscious mind to portray a symbol that alludes to more profound psychological processes and experiences:

I feel scraped open and raw. I look for the dismembered parts of myself---something recognizable---but there are only fragments and I don´t know how to put them together. This is unlike any struggle I´ve had before. It´s not the conquest of the other; it´s coming face to face with myself. I walk naked looking for the Mother. Looking to reclaim the parts of myself that have not seen the light of day. (Murdock, 2020, p.9)

Murdock expresses a deep sense of vulnerability and emotional turmoil in this profound statement. The use of the metaphor of being "scraped open and raw" conveys a feeling of being exposed and emotionally wounded, just as Coyolxauhqui did after her dismemberment and loss of status as a goddess. The search for the dismembered parts represents a quest for a sense of wholeness and self-recognition. However, they encounter only fragments, suggesting a fragmented and disjointed sense of identity: "This stage involves clear choices and sacrifices that to anyone with a patriarchal focus may look like dropping out.” (Murdock, 2020, p.9) Overall, this evocative expression conveys a profound state of emotional disarray and the longing for coherence and self-understanding:This journey to the underworld is filled with confusion and grief, alienation and disillusion, rage and despair. A woman may feel naked and exposed, dry and brittle, or raw and turned inside out…And each time I was chastened and cleansed by the fires of transformation. (Murdock, 2020, p.92) Despite the fragmentation or difficulties present, there is an opportunity for integration in both instances. Murdock uses the metaphor of the underworld and fire whereas Anzaldúa claims a new identity by scattering her former self into pieces to witness it and eventually reassemble it.

2. Myth as an Ordeal for Healing and Transformation.

The myth of Coyolxauhqui serves as a transformative tool to deal with trauma because she interprets her dismemberment as her broken self in construction. She highlights the ongoing process of healing and reconstruction, emphasizing that this transformation is triggered by her cultural inheritance. This type of mythical rewrite, which is a literary metamorphosis serves as an ordeal to heal up traumatic events: “Coyolxauhqui also represents the "me" tossed into the void by traumatic events (an experience of the unconscious)... She represents fragmentation, imperfection, incompleteness, and unfulfilled promises, as well as integration, completeness, and wholeness.” (Anzaldúa, 2015, p. 50) Thus, this transfiguration into a new-self releases emotional waves that are in an everlasting search for restoration. Her affliction makes her feel weak when she revisits experiences that, wound her soul.

Nevertheless, the imperative states that it is precisely what hurts that can no longer be put off sight and must be narrated. Reorganizing inner views is challenging; going through this imperative and restoring the wounds of the soul is not a simple endevour. She narrates how a lot of psychological conflicts that inevitably render her defenseless, un bounding a past that brings sorrow might unleash agony: “When fragmentations occur, you fall part and feel as though you´ve been expelled from paradise. Coyolxauhqui is my symbol for the necessary process of dismemberment and fragmentation, of seeing that self or the situations you´re embroiled in differently.” (p.19) In her own words, it is extremely hard to negotiate with memories she had put out of sight to deal with them again. They are to be addressed: “With the imperative to “speak” esta herida abierta (this open wound) before it drowns out all voices, the feelings I´d buried begin unfurling. Vulnerable once more, I´m clawed by the talons of grief.” (Anzaldúa, 2015, p.10) When she embraces her cognitive dissonances, she feels exposed and forced to revisit memories she had concealed because she could not deal with them to create a new story.

Figure 3: Coyolxauhqui Moon Goddess (Banuelos, n.d.))

The resolution of this psychic conflict entails going through a deconstructive process of disintegration, just as Coyolxauqhi was torn apart. This mythical figure activates suppressed aspects of her life with the promise of healing and, she states in her narrative that only the fracture of the old self holds the promise of healing. In her words, she can find the solution to this conflict in herself. She states that only that wound can heal her psychological distresses: “The healing of our wounds results in transformation, and transformation results in the healing of our wounds.” (Anzaldúa, 2015, p.19). She asserts that the process of healing her personal scars is in her very self. She states that healing leads to transformation while also highlighting how transformation itself serves as a trigger for the healing of these wounds to express this idea.

3. Conclusions

An exploration of the therapeutic power in the narrative of Gloria Anzaldúa has been explored through Coyolxauhqui's myth as a healing strategy. The heroine’s journey has been brought to attention to show that transformation is not a simple task but that it is an endevaour to undertake: “The journey begins with our heroine's search for identity. This "call" is heard at no specific age but occurs when the "old self" no longer fits.” (Murdock, 2020, p.5) In conclusion, Anzaldúa's decolonization strategies manifest through her embrace of the artist's role as a participant in counter-hegemonic discourse. By offering a line of action to heal internalized oppression and engaging in performative life cartography, she confronts disappointments as a border runner artist. Her theory of writing becomes a continuous exploration of identity, driven by a necessity for action and a desire to uplift and transform culture. Anzaldúa's choice to create a new narration stems from the insufficiency of the old status quo. Through a painful process of resignification, she undergoes a cycle of shedding her old self to give birth to a new narrative. Her use of the myth of Coyolxauqhi enables her to create her own myth: "As a modern-day Coyolxauhqui, you search for an account that encapsulates your life, and finding no ready-made story, you trust her light in the darkness to help you bring forth (from remnants of the old personal/collective autohistoria) a new personal myth." (Anzaldúa, 2015, p.139)

This mythical ordeal allows her to revisit traumatic events and rewrite her memories, ultimately contributing to her mental stability. Autohistoria-teoría, as employed by Anzaldúa, goes beyond a mere depiction of life episodes. It encompasses a microcosm where larger themes unfold. By assuming the role of the dissenting artist, she embraces a semi-fictional lens as a coping mechanism for living her life. The concept of the Coyolxauhqui imperative holds great significance in Anzaldúa's epistemology. It highlights the challenging process of reconciling diverse perspectives and embracing losses as integral to achieving personal transformation. Through the incorporation of the mythical symbol of Coyolxauhqui into her memoirs, she celebrates her indigenous roots. Ultimately, Anzaldúa endeavors to create a broader identity category that transcends traditional polarities, forging a path towards decolonization and liberation.

Bibliographical References:

Anzaldúa, G. (1987). Borderlands/La Frontera: The New Mestiza. First Edition, San Francisco: Spinsters/ Aunt Luke Book Company.

Anzaldúa, G. (2015). Light in the Dark/Luz en lo Oscuro: Rewriting Identity, Spirituality, Reality. Durham and London: Duke University Press.

Batalla Rosado, J., & Rojas, J. (2008). La Religión Azteca. Madrid: Editorial Trotta / Universidad de Granada.

Florescano, E. (2017). Quetzalcóatl y Los Mitos Fundadores de Mesoamérica. México: Penguin Random House Grupo Editorial.

Florescano, E. (2016). ¿Cómo Se Hace Un Dios? Creación y recreación de los Dioses en Mesoamérica. Ciudad de México: Taurus.

Lopez Austin, A. (2015). Las Razones del Mito: La Cosmovisión Mesoamericana. México: Ediciones Era.

Murdock, M. (2020). The Heroine's Journey Woman´s Quest For Wholeness. Colorado: Shambhala. (Original work published 1990)

Navarrete, F. (2018). Historias Mexicas. Ciudad de México: Turner Noema.

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Daniela Sandoval

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