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.
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.
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