Tag Archives: ancestors

Day 7: Holidays

Slowly but surely we’re chugging along with the 30 days of Paganism meme, and this is one of my favorite topics to talk about!!

I love personal calendars, especially when you start seeing how they evolve according to one’s environment and home culture. Mine is no exception, as it’s a blend of Pagan and Catholic traditions from the ancestral lands carried into the US. Due to my currently solitary nature, continuous research, and the fact that changes in life are prone to happening, my calendar is tentative rather than being hard and fast (despite having specific dates listed), and is not entirely religious in nature.

Winter

wordpress winter

  • Feast of the Dead (October 31-November 2)
    • A mixture of US Halloween festivities and the more solemn ancestor worship of European All Soul’s Day, where ghosts and spirits are awoken and the ancestors return. The growing season has officially ended.
    • Honors: Ancestors
  • Harvest Celebrations (Late November)
    • These are usually several family-oriented days (including US Thanksgiving) that center around gratitude for the last of the harvest. Usually by this point all the native plant species have gone dormant for the winter, and the migratory birds have past. Deer hunting season traditionally occurs this time as well.
    • Honors: Nagy Boldogasszony
  • Krampus Night/St. Nick’s Day (December 5-6)
    • A fun little Christmas holiday where the kids leave out their clean shoes in anticipation of some goodies from St. Nick. A holdover from family traditions.
  • Green Sunday (1st week of December)
  • Copper Sunday (2nd week of December)
  • Silver Sunday (3rd week of December)
  • Gold Sunday (4th week of December)
    • These Sundays are a holdover from Advent, as mini-celebrations in anticipation of Karascunt and the Rough Nights. Due to the names I also use the days to reference a corresponding Magyar deity (Copper – Hadúr, Silver – Szélkirály, Gold – Napkirály)
  • Karascunt (December 21/22)
    • Winter Solstice festival full of fire, drink, and merryment to celebrate Csodaszarvas carrying the Sun over the river to begin the year anew and overcome the darkness. First day of the Rough Nights. Spinning stops by this night.
    • Honors: Csodaszarvas
  • Bertchten Day (January 5-6)
    • This day ends the Rough Nights and the new year begins. The sun finally overcame the darkness and the light continues to grow in strength. Spinning chores resume. Also known as Twelfth Night (evening of Jan. 5)
    • Honors: Fra Berta/Lutzl (though she is also associated with all 12 of the Rough Nights)
  • Day of the Bear (February 2)
    • Midwinter celebration in anticipation of the season’s end. The Bear awakes and bring with it the first hints of life and hope in a time where patience and food stores are wearing thin. “Spring cleaning” and purification processes occurs at this time. Winter expulsion begins.
    • Honors: Szélkirály
  • Zöldágjárás (usually mid-late March)
    • First hints of life appears in the trees and shrubs, and the initial bits of greenery is brought inside to continue the purification process. Boughs of greenery are formed into arches and wreathes for women and children to dance under, and boys splash water on girls (purity and fertility rite, most likely). Birds are migrating back at this time.
  • Fruit-grafting day (March 25)
    • Fruiting tree branches that are starting to bud are grafted and hopefully successful. Several traditions regarding death and fertility surround this day as it is also the Catholic holiday of Mary’s conception of Jesus.
    • Honors: Nagy Boldogasszony
  • Walpurgis Night (April 30)
    • Winter expulsion ends, compelling the ghosts and ancestors back to sleep. Most migratory birds have returned and begun their breeding season.

Summer

wordpress summer

  • May Day (May 1)
    • Summer begins. The fields and markets are readied for the growing season.
  • May Crowning (May, usually mid-to-late May)
    • Fields are cleared and sown, and seedlings transplanted, as the risk of frost is gone by this time. First harvest occurs around this time (depending on what plants are growing). Leaves have returned to the trees. Flowers are offered to the Queen of May by young girls.
    • Honors: Nagy Boldogasszony
  • Szentiván-éj (June 24)
    • A summer solstice celebration of fire, successful crop growth, and remembering the ancestors. Peak growth and first major harvests are occurring around this time. Apples are served to the fire and to the graves.
    • Honors: Csodaszarvas
  • Goldenrod Days (late September-early October)
    • A completely made-up period surrounding the autumn equinox to mark Summer drawing to a close. The Goldenrod flowers are in their full, yellow bloom, as if they absorbed part of the sun and took away some of its vigor. Apples are harvested at this time, and the birds are undergoing their fall migration.
    • Honors: Volos/Zomok

*Deities and their associations here will be discussed further in later posts of this meme. Some associations are traditional, some are not. Those with / between two names refer to the same being.

**The inconsistency of the names is due to some English counterparts being too vague to be a useful label, so the source culture’s holiday words are used instead to refer to their specific traditions that I observe (i.e. “Karascunt” in place of “Winter Solstice”). Exception being Zöldágjárás since there is no English counterpart in existence.

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Ch-Ch-Chaaaangeees!

Kudos if you know the song reference 🙂

It has been so seasonally perfect lately, I can’t remember the last time I had a visually stunning Fall/Autumn like this. The colors of the trees are blazing amongst the remaining green that is mostly attributed to pines. The temperature has dropped to a high of mid-40 (Fahrenheit) and I’ve already busted out the winter gear in preparation (long johns, boots, wool socks, coats, etc.). A weekend visit back home in Chicago has given me a sharp contrast, as it’s much drabber and more green still there.

This beauty combined with my love for winter has helped much in adapting to living in a new place, and I’m starting to like it here. I’m very much looking forward to what festivities NE Wisconsin will produce for the holidays, starting with Halloween. Living out of my parent’s house has also helped in exploring my own traditions more, and what I want to keep and/or develop.

Some Neopagans call this time of year the “Dark half”. which coincides with the common Asatru depiction of this being the “Winter” half. I’m lucky enough to live in a location where the seasonal changes match quite closely to the old European calendars, so I’m easily able to incorporate my heritage’s traditions into my daily life.

Let’s start with Halloween, for example.

Like some, I treat Halloween as a secular, cultural festival day, and I’m lucky to have grown up and live in places that embraced Halloween as such. Free candy, scary movies, neighborhood bonfires with cider and beer, and the costumes; what’s not to love? As far as pagan attributes go, the partying and costumes alone are pretty pagan. How many stories are there of becoming intoxicated and dressing up as something else to BE something else from ye olde days, wrecking havoc and mischief along the way? Even in our secular, “enlightened” era many of us feel the need to play and exchange roles like children, and Halloween provides a culturally acceptable time to do so. A release from the usual day-to-day social rigidity.

If certain pagan stories were true, we’d be having a zombie apocalypse every year.

There’s also the pagan attribute of all the goulies, ghosties and overall scary things coming out on Halloween, especially at night, that remains in popular stories and movies. Some Neopagan descriptions relate that Halloween/Samhain is a time where the “veil” between worlds is at its thinnest, so that demonic beings can move into “our” world. While I don’t believe in the concept of “worlds” the same way, I can agree with the sentiment. Halloween is the start of the darkness of the year for me, therefore it is also the start of certain wiht activity, such as that of the dead. They become more active, and closer to home than in the summer.

Halloween, or the end of it, also starts off a season of ritual ancestor veneration. After the parties and trick-or-treating comes the solemn side of things. I come from a Catholic family, so I kept the Days of the Dead (November 1 and 2) in my calendar observations (no, it is not just a Mexican holiday, though their ways of celebrating this time is uniquely colorful and inspiring). Instead of the “official Catholic” way of doing it, I instead keep both days for ancestor veneration. Saying hello, giving thanks to them, giving offerings of food and coffee (ideally also liquor and tobacco, but I currently don’t know what brands my great-grandparents and beyond preferred so that may not happen). Preferably this would be done by visiting their graves, but for this and next year I won’t be close enough to do so. However, photos and items on a shrine work in a pinch.

Days of the Dead in Hungary. Candles and flowers are the two most commonly used items in the cemeteries.

I’m especially looking forward to Halloween and Days of the Dead this year because of finally being able to celebrate them in peace and as fully as possible.

Now I’m sure some of you may be thinking “well, wait a minute, I thought heathens did the ancestor worship bit during Yule and Samhain was a Wiccan/Celtic thing instead”. You would be correct. Like I mentioned earlier, Days of the Dead would be like Halloween in that it’s the START of a season of such religious activities rather than the only days I do it (US Thanksgiving in November is another, in the context of being a harvest feast). Late October/Early November is when I first sense the dead and certain other wihts becoming more active, but the height of their activity would occur during Yule, particularly just after Christmas/Winter Solstice. That time of year, called the 12 Rough Nights in contemporary Central European folklore, and the days just before that, are when a lot of things happen with ancestors and wihts (like the Wild Hunt). After that, the activity slowly dies down (no pun intended) until the last of Winter is driven out (one of the Perchtenlauf themes, possibly Busojaras and related demonic parades that occur prior to Lent). Then the dead settle back into the earth as the season shifts to the Summer half and different wihts awaken or come back.

I love this time of year so much.

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Book Review: The Return of the Dead: Ghosts, Ancestors and The Transparent Veil of the Pagan Mind by Claude Lecouteux

I’ve been thinking of adding book reviews to this blog for a while, as there’s a lot of reading involved in this search. The following review is pretty much just my opinion, as I do not have any degrees or similar pieces of paper to suggest that I’m an expert reviewer.

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The Return of the Dead: Ghosts, Ancestors, and the Transparent Veil of the Pagan Mind by Claude Lecouteux (ISBN 1-59477-318-1)

The title of the book is a bit misleading. This is not a book that focuses on the “pagan” mind, but instead is almost exclusively focused on Germanic literature, traditions and folklore from the Viking era to the Middle Ages. Geographically, that means modern-day Scandinavia, Iceland, UK, and Northern-Middle Germany. Scattered throughout the book are bits and pieces of other locations and cultures, such as Ireland, Hungary, Bavaria, and France as comparisons to Germanic traditions. Something different from the usually Greek (and to a lesser extent, Roman), and Egyptian focuses on pagan concepts of death and the dead.

There are 12 chapters organized into 4 parts. Part I sets you up with an introduction to the Germanic view of death by first looking at the (mostly Christian) concepts that still exist today, and going back in time to where the syncretism originated. Part II goes into detail on the dead themselves, and going over the different folkloric forms the dead have taken. While doing this, he analyzes what is modern and/or Christian, vs. what was typical to the heathens. That’s why Part II is divided into the “True Revenants” and “False Revenants” chapters for comparison.

Part III takes what was discussed in Part II and analyzes the placement of the dead in the world. The concept of an afterlife (or the lack thereof), hauntings, souls, and the spirits/gods that are associated with all that are discussed here. Near the end of Part III the author starts segwaying back to modern-day via noting the changes the dead take on over time. He goes through the decline of ancestor worship and changes in the importance that the dead take in the lives of the living via the change in attitudes shown in the lore.

For a book with 229 pages of content, it is packed with sources. Unfortunately, some of them only get a vague sentence of reference, and the quoted sections are only a paragraph or two at the most of whichever saga or legend he translated to show a point. This is not a book to get if you’re looking for the stories and traditions themselves, nor is it going to sit well with you if you expect every argument the author makes to be with solid support. Additionally, most of the sources in the bibliography are not in English, so it will be difficult for some to access them for further information.

That’s not to say he does a bad job of backing himself up however. It’s one of those books that has different chapters supporting each other and intertwining. The author also assumes you’ve read the preceding chapters, because he builds upon each one with the next. It’s a book best read in order rather than flipping around.

Now the quality of the book really depends on your reading level, scholarly background, and your interest for obtaining this book to begin with. I’m used to (and prefer) reading dry, dense, academic books, and I already had a basic understanding of the lore beforehand, so this was not a difficult book to read. For those that are only used to the metaphysical section of the bookstore, or for those that hated history class in high school, are going to have problems. I’m also able to see where he is coming from when he presents his interpretations without direct citation and he’s often spot-on (though obviously don’t take my word on it).

My gripes with the book are minor and come from being a heathen that uses historical sources for her information and inspiration. He speaks from the modern, Christian-influenced worldview, so he sometimes slips into that during interpretating and labeling. That mostly shows up in the afterlife and soul sections, and it’s subtle, so for most other readers this is not going to be noticeable. He’s not necessarily WRONG, I feel that he is just not clear enough in his definitions of the afterlife, other realms, souls and spirits. He uses those terms in reference to heathen concepts, when they are words heavily associated with Christian ideas, so some readers may be mislead.

For example, he regularly translates the “landvaetter” (or land wights in english) as tutelary spirits or genius loci, which suggests a non-corporeal, supernatural, otherworldly form. From a modern perspective, that’s not a problem, but from an ancient, heathen perspective, that doesn’t fit. A landvaetter could be the tree, the bird in the tree, or even a human buried on that land. A corporeal being that can be touched, seen, and heard, in other words. The “other worlds” are not some far off place in the sky or space, or located in another dimension, they are here on Earth. For the Miyazaki fans out there, “Princess Mononoke” illustrates that perfectly. The guardian of the forest is not a ghostly spirit, it’s a solid being that can live and die, that resides in a physical forest on the Earth.

Otherwise, I enjoyed reading this. The style of writing is conversational (and you can’t even tell that it was translated from French), so it’s accessible to those that aren’t academia-oriented, and it also keeps the text from feeling dry. There is also no religious agenda or orientations to the text, it’s purely focused on intellectual understanding. From a historical perspective, this book offers a good introduction to the culture of death and provides a means in understanding why the heathens behaved and believed the way they did. There is a lack of accessible books that allow the reader to get into the old worldview, and “The Return of the Dead” is helpful for that (despite my earlier complaints).

For those that are looking at this book from a Neopagan perspective (rather than a historical/cultural interest), this can be both rich in material to work with, and disappointing. The gods don’t really care about you unless you’re a king or hero, there’s no peaceful or magnificent heaven-like realm to go to, Nature is not considered a peaceful, pretty place, and there’s little reincarnation occurring. That is what the book reveals about the heathen minds of old. For those that aren’t bothered, the stories and interpretations can lend a unique perspective on the “dark half of the year” (as that’s when the dead are most active, especially around Yule) and the idea of ancestor worship.

Reconstructionists, especially seasoned ones, aren’t going to get anything new out of this though. Those that are testing the water in the recon pool, however, may find this book a good place to start. The ancestors and the dead were a big part of the European’s (and much of the world’s) old worldviews, and had remained so for quite some time after Christianization. Up to the 18th and 19th centuries even in some places.

4 zombies out of 5.

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Honoring Ancestors- Reconciling Their Past With My Present

Ah, Spring. The birds have come back (so nice to hear Red wings and Robins again), nests have already been started by the Sparrows, and the temperatures are gradually rising to more comfortable levels.

So I’m going to talk about dead people today.

I know I said earlier that I was going to make a focus on the activities and ideas surrounding Spring traditions, but this has been on my mind for the past couple of weeks.

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For most cultures, at least in the past, the family unit is the smallest social unit possible, and comes before the individual, even in parts of America where individual gratification is a part of our stereotype.

Course, this becomes a problem for those that seek to break away from their family’s, and sometimes their entire community’s, beliefs regarding religion and society. This was a problem for me when trying to figure out how to be true to myself while at the same time honoring my family and ancestors that got me here to begin with. They’re all Roman Catholics, probably for the past 1000+ years now, so that’s quite a few generations to skip and people to ignore if I choose to honor only the pre-Christian ancestors that I’m seeking to regain a heritage from.

Some people find justification in honoring people in their own beliefs and rituals, but this feels akin to an Evangelical walking up to me and saying they’ll pray for my soul because Jesus loves me too. I have no desire to be a part of any of their ideas, and akin to that I highly doubt my Catholic ancestors want anything to do with my non-Christian beliefs.

The thing about honoring ancestors though, is that it’s not about you. It’s about them. The funerals and mourning processes are about the living that are left behind, but even then those activities are supposed to be done according to the deceased’s specifications. So when the (usually) less tearful periods of honoring the deceased come around, it makes sense to acknowledge their beliefs and wishes during those times too.

It took me several years to come to this way of thinking. Before I was shifting between no activity at all and doing some in the guise of a typical neopagan ritual. It wasn’t until recently that I finally found myself comfortable enough in my beliefs to let some Catholicism back into my life for them. In retrospect it wasn’t as hard as I thought it would.

Popularly thought of as having a pagan origin (among Neopagan circles at least), the days where Catholics spend the most time (officially) praying for and remembering the deceased is October 31st, November 1st, and November 2nd. To Americans, the first day will be more commonly recognized as Halloween, which has been absorbed somewhat in popular Catholicism as a day to start remembering the souls that are in hell or purgatory. It is not an official day of remembrance, however, but rather a religious twist on a secular favorite to make it more acceptable. The other two are known as All Saint’s Day and All Soul’s Day, respectively. The most famous and colorful examples of these day’s celebrations come from Mexico (Dia de los Muertos), but variations exist throughout the Catholic world. Other days of commemoration exist, but these are the most prominent.

The rituals I do are rather simple and straightforward. I do not attend the masses that the Church holds during these time (mainly out of not being able to, but I may in the future), but instead recite prayers at home on the rosary. If the weather is not too harsh, a visit to the graves nearby with Chrysanthemums (also known as mums, a group of flowers associated with death) is in order, and I’ll do the praying there.

What I recite is the Eternal Rest Prayer:

“Eternal rest grant unto them, O Lord; and let perpetual light shine upon them. May they rest in peace, Amen”

This replaces the usual Fatima prayer on the rosary, done after the 10 Hail Marys and a Glory Be.

The point of praying is not just to honor their beliefs, but to bring healing words to wherever their souls might be, just in case their souls really are “out there” somewhere in contrast to what I believe. I may not have “faith” in God, or believe in a Heaven/Purgatory/Hell system, but as I said before, this isn’t being done for my benefit. It’s being done for theirs. A small token of favor for the crazy people that busted their asses so that their children could gain better lives. If it weren’t for them, I wouldn’t have been able to go to college.

So long story short…respect the dead.

 

Addendum:  While I won’t delete this, my views have changed over time and will continue to be modified probably until I die. Take this as how I felt at the time, but I have made changes in my practices since then.

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References

Fish Eaters-Praying for the Dead                                            http://www.fisheaters.com/prayingforthedead.html

Parts of the Catholic Rosary- Image                                      http://www.catholiccompany.com/How_to_say_the_Rosary2.jpg

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