As birds court the earth with their love songs, and we renew our vows of change and new life with the earth, I wish to share a special word and spirit with you: duende. It seems so many people are talking about immense change, upheaval, and confusion in their lives. Yet, maybe, this simple, yet powerful word, duende, can give insight into what’s happening, and inspire us to truly see what’s possible in our lives.
The famous Spanish poet, Federico García Lorca, once said that duende is “the spirit of the earth” that one must awaken in the remotest mansions of the blood. He went on to say that duende both breaks us and is the constant baptism of new life. It is that transformative spirit from which all great art and performance stems, and which brings with it an almost religious enthusiasm. The duende doesn’t arrive or awaken within us, though, without a battle, or work, or without letting go of the old, warned Lorca.
This Spanish poet’s words seem appropriate at this time of great change. Yet, how do we awaken duende, this spirit of the earth that is within us, and that is our authentic self? How do we let go of what we have learned to be, and allow our full spirits to be embodied, to be duende, to be dueño de, “owner of,” this temporary house that is our body?
I had been writing about duende for years as part of my recently published novel, Child of Duende, and had done so through the eyes of my magical protagonist, Duende, who carries the spirit of the earth within her. When writing, I connected deeply to Lorca’s idea of duende, and still do. But it was only recently that I finally experienced and learned to embody this energy.
About a year ago, I met a Dutch woman on a plane who told me that she had encountered a duende. Until that plane ride, duende had only been a concept, an idea, a feeling. But this woman, who claimed she had never seen spirits or believed in them, told me that an actual duende—a nature spirit or goblin that, in Latin America, is seen as protecting the earth and rain forests—had arrived with a strong wind, and was so real and fierce, it alarmed her.
I went home that night, changed. The next morning I woke up with a sudden anxiety, but then remembered what she had experienced. Duende, I realized, was not just an idea or a transformative energy. It was a being that protects the earth and a spirit that is within each of us. Like the character in my novel, I realized that I too was this duende, and that the anxiety I had carried was unnecessary if I chose to walk in the world with this fierce, protective love that honored the spirit within me and the earth.
Michelle Adam is an experienced writer, teacher, and healer. She recently published her novel, Child of Duende, after twenty-plus years as a magazine and newspaper writer. Her articles have appeared in The Hispanic Outlook in Higher Education Magazine; Hibernia Magazine, an Irish magazine; Vista Magazine, a Hispanic insert of major national newspapers; and multiple other publications.
Michelle has also been a photographer and artist; has taught middle school students Spanish for the past dozen years; and has worked as a healer and shaman. Michelle has created healing and teaching circles of song and sound, assisting others in awakening the spirit of the earth, “duende,” within them, and creating a space for the celebration of life.