Friday, October 25, 2013

Don't Be Afraid of the Dead

This time of year, for me, is as sacred as it is festive.

I still recall my first trick or treating rampage when I was nine or ten after moving to the United States.  I was in complete awe.  This was the mid eighties and my cousin's neighborhood was the place to be if you were a kid.  It was all families.  Ever watch E.T.?  That's what it looked like back then, a neighborhood full of people who worked in Hollywood and they all had children.  All houses gave candy and the streets were alive with every kind of costume imaginable.  Times were good and we got a ton of candy.  I couldn't believe it.  You go to people's door and they just give you candy, just like that.  It was unlike anything I had ever experienced.  I had been indoctrinated into the mass consumerism that was America and it left a long lasting impression on my inner child.

I have taken my family trick or treating in that very same neighborhood.  Some of those people still lived there but they were old and their children were grown.  Not all houses gave out candy anymore but it's still fun.

The day after Halloween, I usually go to the Dias De Los Muertos festival to relieve my cultural itch. Sometimes my pagan friends do a ritual for Samhain. Once, my druid priest friend let me join his group for an ancestral regression where I spoke to my long dead family members, shortly after my grandmother died. From the Mexicans, to the Pagans to the Catholics all over the world, we all have one thing in common. We set aside a special place and time to commune with the dead.

In the Philippines, we don't eat candy at this time.  We go on a procession with the family to the cemetery and pay homage to those loved ones who have passed away.  The cemetery was never scary to me.  All of the silly American lore that makes people scared of the dead means nothing to me.  The cemetery is a sacred place where we lay the bodies of our ancestors.  It is a place of peace, a home, a place to go when you are lost.  This is what All Hallows Day is about.

Later on, I moved to Australia and attended Catholic school there.  We didn't congregate at the cemetery but went to church.  Our ancestors were in a grave in the Philippines anyway.  I recall the Priest talking about a place called Purgatory and my parents explained that it was a middle ground between here and heaven and hell.  We prayed for the souls stuck in purgatory and hoped they would go safety into the afterlife.  The Catholic church gets a bad rap these days.  Well, all religions get a bad rap due to the conflict people have raised over them but that is only because we have forgotten the rituals that connect us with what is important.  Many have forgotten what these rituals were truly about.

Later on in my life, I became very curious about my psychic powers.  I dreamed the future and just knew things that scared people.  I made friends with others who shared the same talents and they taught me about the old religion that came before Christianity in Europe.  Most of my Pagan friends are Irish which is funny as I have some Spanish-Irish on my mums side.  There were a few times where I participated in the Samhain rituals.  It is very sacred and it should take place in a graveyard but often takes place in someones backyard or in a nature spot and once in a Unitarian church.  These rituals were very similar to the ones we did in the Philippines during All Hallows (or all Saints) Day.  I learned, that many Catholic holidays such as Easter and the Yule Tide have their roots in Paganism.

When I take my family to the Dias De Los Muertos festival, we eat some great food from the booths and the kids do some wonderful art projects and went on some fun rides.  There are alters for lighting candles, performances on stage by our local Latino musicians and lots of community outreach work going on.  My favorite part about the festival is looking at the chalk art.  I took some pictures once, and I'd post them but I'm very bad with retrieving photos.  the art is sometimes about the holiday, great colorful works of people with flowers and decorated skulls.  Sometimes  you see a random work of art that has nothing to do with the holiday.  Then there are a few beautiful depictions of people the artist loved who had passed away.  They are usually drawn in black and white.  

My two favorite chalk drawings were of these.  One showed two faces in black and white.  In between them was a large flame of what looks like the top of a candle.  The light that comes from it is rendered beautifully.  Above them is a round and serene face looking down on them.  Underneath them it said something about remembering my father and brother.  I wondered what the face on the top depicted until I passed by again and realized that it was the face of the artist.  Another painting in black and white shows the face of a girl and that is it.  I fell in love with it because you could see so much depth in that face even thought the work is in black and white.  I could see her soul in the drawing.  I think people who draw out of love, transfer their soul into the work and it is such a shame that eventually the chalk washes away.  There was a sunny picture of a dog with a hat on, probably a dog that had passed and one of Michael Jackson.

There is always a  parade at the end or an Aztec drum dance.  I love the half naked Latino men and the well dressed Latino women dancing to the live drums.  Once, while watching the parade, I noticed that they were lead by a cross and people in robes and that many people followed their dance with a solemn walk, heads bowed and candles in their hands.  The Catholic church was usually good about mixing religions with indigenous cultures if they were willing to adapt.  Here we have the Catholic holiday, intermingling with the indigenous holiday of the Mexicans.  People often put down living in the city but I love that all of us here have such varied cultures and can still find ways to relate. I can't help thinking how alike we all our.  From Europe, to the Philippines, to Latin America, we all share a common need, the need to remember the loved ones who have passed.

So after your thrill of Halloween and and scary spooky stories has died down, remember the dead for what they really were, people we once loved.  One of the things that separates humans from animals is the ability to think in terms of past and future.  They say it is a bad thing as it prevents us from living in the present.  Yet, it also helps us learn from the past and if we do not listen to the voice of our ancestors; if we do not take heed of our own history, we are doomed.  The voice of our ancestors are everywhere.  When they die, they never truly disappear as their memory and the result of their deeds always live on to affect the future generations. Here's to you, for my two grandmas and my too grandpas. Maybe you can hear me now that the the veil between your world and mine is thin.

1 comment:

  1. I enjoyed this read very much Lacey, learning of some your experieces and travels as well as your perceptions of the sacred and festive time of year. I really do need to get your two books, The Enlightened Ones and Fireflies. They both sound like good reads. Happy Halloween and Day of the Dead.