March 23, 1999
An Ancient Sun Melts Mexico's Modern Stresses


          By JULIA PRESTON

          TEOTIHUACAN, Mexico -- The crowds, half a million people dressed in white with red
          headbands, clambered over a towering ancient pyramid and packed the broad ceremonial
          avenue below it. When the sun reached its noon zenith they closed their eyes and turned to it,
          stretching their palms upward to absorb the invigorating rays.

          "I am recharging with positive energy," said Alma Lourdes Gonzalez, a 23-year-old shopkeeper,
          who radiated calm contentment despite the huge throng pressing around her. "I am opening my heart
          and body to let out the bad vibrations and fill up with everything positive."

          To honor what they took to be the last spring equinox before the millennium, multitudes of Mexicans
          across the country flocked on Sunday to pyramids and sacred shrines of their pre-Columbian
          ancestors, communing with the cosmos and soaking in force from the luminous sun that their
          forebears venerated.

          Pained by economic crises and political scandals, countless Mexicans are responding to the
          millennium's approach by summoning spiritual reserves and turning to mystical beliefs. Many have
          mixed their deep Catholic faith with a search for modern meaning in the civilizations that arose in
          these lands before the Spanish conquest.

          By far the largest celebration took place at the stately ruins at Teotihuacan, a city founded 1,900
          years ago, which became a flourishing religious capital before fading mysteriously in the seventh

          The event here overshadowed any of the political demonstrations in Mexico in recent years. At least
          a thousand people spent the frigid night Saturday on a ledge near the top of the 200-foot-high
          Pyramid of the Sun, to be present at the all-important moment of sunrise. By midday the lines into
          the huge archeological park were so long that many thousands of people were not able to enter in
          time for the noon ceremony worshipping the sun. The highway to the site was clogged for miles.

          There were bricklayers and doctors, teen-agers and grandparents. What they seemed to have in
          common was a longing for relief from bad news about their political leaders, family pressures and the
          grind of work.

          "I'm gathering enough springtime energy to last me the whole year," said Maria de la Paz Hernandez,
          a 47-year-old lawyer who perched near the pyramid's top. "The sun comes up all over the world. It
          will help me to think positive thoughts always and to ask for blessings for all of humanity and not just
          for myself."

          Nearby, Miguel Angel Kirel Macedo, 36, a painter who said he had been drawn in recent years to
          pre-Hispanic imagery, emerged serene from an hour of meditation. "Our physical bodies activate an
          energy which is concentrated in the pyramid," he said.

          With its many enigmas, Teotihuacan is an appropriate setting for religious quest. After a century of
          excavation, it is not known exactly who lived here, what language they spoke or all the gods they

          But the Mexicans here did not seem worried about the specifics of the cultures they sought to
          recontact. Magdalena Perez, 40, a merchant, said she brought her two daughters to the equinox
          festivities "to make sure they understand our Mayan past." The Maya did thrive in Mexico, but
          hundreds of miles to the south of Teotihuacan.

          Instead of scientific inquiry, the day brought a glorious potpourri of religions and re-creations of an
          idealized past. At 6:46 a.m., when the sun burst out from behind the black hills circling the ruin, a
          group of residents from surrounding villages who called themselves Tlahuizcalpantecutli (a phrase
          said to mean "followers of the lord of the star of dawn" in some pre-Hispanic language) held a
          welcoming ceremony at the pyramid's summit.

          They blew on conch shells, held up braziers of fire and copal incense and played on drums. On a
          cloth altar they laid out amaranth seeds, corn kernels and black beans for Tonatiuh, a sun deity.

          "We make these offerings to open the doors of the cosmos and receive this great sacred illumination
          in our hearts," said Ricardo Cervantes Cervantes, a taxi driver who led the proceedings.

          A long line formed for a spiritual healer in a tall black hat who waved a cluster of feathers and recited
          prayers to cleanse his patients. Humberto Garcia Lopez, a 20-year-old student, wept after the
          purification rite. He said he hoped it would bring peace to his family, torn by fights between his two
          teen-age brothers and his father.

          At the foot of the pyramid, dancers in ostrich feather headdresses and loincloths performed an Aztec
          ritual, although the Aztecs lived in Teotihuacan. A few feet away, a determined Catholic priest
          celebrated a traditional Sunday morning Mass for a small contingent.

          In fact, the last time Mexicans gathered in these numbers was when Pope John Paul II visited in
          January. Many of the visitors here said they had also been in the streets to see the pope. They saw
          no tension between his strict Catholic teachings and their choice to spend a day garnering strength
          from the sun.

          "We were sent here by God," said Cruz Villegas Diaz, 46, a truck driver who led a delegation of
          Christians to greet the equinox. "Our Lord will spill His light down on us and fortify the outer physical
          wrapping of our bodies to deepen our spiritual faith."

                     Copyright 1999 The New York Times Company