Tag Archives: Day of the Dead

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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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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Filed under Festivals Rituals Holidays