Festival of the Dead

I have to say it, I find traditional, “American” rituals & ceremonies inadequate at best.  Regimented funerals, commercialized holidays, insipid baby showers, & meaningless bachelorette parties are just a few examples.  At worst, the ritual is missing altogether, like Coming of Age ceremonies for our youth.  If you say, “What about prom night or high school graduation?”, you’re proving the point.  Prom night is about the dress & staying up past midnight while our graduation ceremonies couldn’t be more generic.

I’ve taken to designed more deeply meaningful ceremonies.  This week, I created a Festival of the Dead for those who wanted to honor the deceased in a non-traditional way.  I prepared an altar with a white candle symbolizing the living & a black candle symbolizing the dead, along with other symbolic items.  Participants brought photos & objects of those they wished to recognize that night.  We created a sacred space by reciting poetry, learning about death ceremonies from other cultures, & sharing personal stories about those who had passed.

People of various cultures believe the veil between the worlds is lifted at this time of year so the spirits can travel from the other world to this one.  We made space for them by leaving an empty chair, welcome them among us, & taking a moment of silence to intuitively hear what messages they may bring.  The departed can live in our hearts & minds though they are physically gone from this world.

One participant posed the question, “Are funerals meant for the dead or the living?”  Both.  When we honor the dead, we’re recognizing our relationship with that person or animal.  Naturally, a sensitively-designed ceremony must be an extension of that relationship, meaningful to everyone involved– living or dead.  Every ritual we perform should be unique.  As you plan a special event to honor a rite of passage or a holiday that you celebrate, question what you do & why you do it.  If the ceremony doesn’t resonate with you in a powerful way, change it or enlist the help of someone who can help you.

For those who have passed, rest in peace.  For those still among the living, peace to you, too.

A Symbol of Halloween… & more

Happy Halloween, everyone!  Last night, I watched a History Channel special about the origins of Halloween traditions.  Fascinating!  The part about witches was particularly interesting because it goes along with women’s study workshops that I’ve led for a few years.  These classes explore women’s contributions to the arts, religion, politics, & literature.  They’re not Religion 101 or History 101 courses… they are opportunities for women to pursue their spiritual journey while learning about women’s roles in history.  How does that relate to Halloween & witches?

In pre-Judeo-Christian traditions, women held positions of power & authority.  In fact, the earliest religions were goddess-based & influenced matriarchal societies for generations.  Women were healers, mystics, & leaders.  Back then, the terms “crone” & “hag” meant wise women.  Somewhere along the way, these terms were twisted into something negative by authorities in a changing world.  An independent, land-owning woman who could heal with herbs & perform midwifery was seen as a threat to the new “barber-surgeons” & religious leaders who were male.  The tools of their trade– cauldrons, herbs, & a broom were villiafied.  According to the documentary, even the headcovering of a peasant woman (pointed hat) was turned into a symbol of witchcraft.  All this would be ridiculous if it hadn’t led to the deaths of hundreds of thousands of women during the Burning Times in Europe & early America.

Many women feel it’s time to reclaim their divinity.  There is honor & value at every stage of a woman’s life– maiden, mother, & crone.  How this impacts each woman can differ widely.  It has definitely influenced my art & how I see my place in the world.  I feel a greater connection & sense of responsibility for the earth & all living things.  That’s why so much of my art has animals and landscapes as subjects.  How would your life be different if you saw yourself as divine?