What is the "presence" of the river that is mentioned in Bless Me, Ultima?

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Throughout the novel, water is used as a symbol of purity and innocence. Under the traditional belief systems embodied in the character of Ultima, features of the natural landscape such as rivers, forests, rocks, and trees are invested with a life all their own. They have a presence in just...

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Throughout the novel, water is used as a symbol of purity and innocence. Under the traditional belief systems embodied in the character of Ultima, features of the natural landscape such as rivers, forests, rocks, and trees are invested with a life all their own. They have a presence in just the same way that a human being does. The river isn't just a body of water; it lives, and by living, it forms the very lifeblood of the town.

It also acts as kind of gauge of the town's moral health. The river has been ritually polluted by the blood of Lupito, so much so that the Golden Carp, a pagan god, steadfastly refuses to swim in it. Like all features of the natural world, the river has a virginal purity, but as in this case, it can so easily be defiled by the actions of humankind.

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The novel Bless Me, Ultima is an incorporation of everyday reality with mythology, visions, folklore, and magical traditions, as best represented by the curandera, Ultima, she who can heal and remove curses with great power and whose soul and life are bound up with the owl that represents her.

In native belief systems, there is a life force to trees, rivers, the earth, the wind, etc. that must be respected and may be called upon by the initiated few to assist or harm humanity--for good or ill. The "presence" of a river refers to this life force that imbues (saturates) inanimate elements of the planet with spiritual qualities and the capabilities of imitating action through volition (choice of will).

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