- a collection of essays on Neodruidic Studies
- a journal of Post-Reconstructionist Neopaganism

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

A Neopagan DAY OF THE DEAD ?

We almost universally identify Samhain as a time of year for Pagans to be honoring the dead. Certainly we can establish an option for the members of our community to come together in a meaningful and time-honored method to celebrate the memory of their departed loved ones. Borrowing some basic principles from the Mexican Day of the Dead, Chinese folkways and Japan’s Shinto, without appropriating their motifs, we can move from the realm of good intentions to that of establishing legitimate, albeit new, religious traditions.


In my estimation, current trends in the popular expressions of Hallowtide range from embarrassing to deeply disturbing, and as a result serve our souls less and less with each passing generation. The Mexican Day of the Dead though stands as one of the few exceptions, with its rich imagery, actual devotional content, and perhaps most important of all, its remarkably healthy underlying approach to human mortality (a quantity sorely lacking in the broader WASP-based American culture). Yet virtually everywhere else, we find Western Culture exhibiting a profoundly mal-adapted relationship with the basic facts of its own mortality, forever caught in a cycle made of one part dread and two parts denial. This very conundrum may lie at the foundation of our country’s unrealistic and dangerously casual attitude toward death which manifests itself in everything from the perversity of our video games and horror movies to the cavalier handling of our international policy leading to “Peace-Making” efforts which achieve their goals with carnage on a genocidal scale.
Although the Mexican expression is a rich and instructive model for us to follow, for non-Latin Pittsburgh Neopagans to co-opt their ostensibly Catholic traditions into a region of the US with such a peculiarly thin Latin population would be inappropriate and disrespectful at the least. Yet, as thoughtful creators of a new world religion, based on the best aspects of many faiths both ancient and modern, we deserve something in our sacred year as wonderful as having our own “Day of the Dead”. 

NO. Let's not co-opt their unique style and folkways...  
That would be wrong in so many ways...   Let's come up with our own.

HOW?   Objective/Methodology:

ONE MODEL would be to first create a networking effort to map the cemetaries in the greater Pittsburgh area which hold the remains of relatives of the members of our Pagan community. Then, for them to be able to fix a date and time close to November 1st for the members of the community to meet-up on site with others from the community who have relatives in the same cemetaries. As is common in the established non-pagan cultures, these folk can arrange a collective gravesite visitation with groups travelling from site to site within the graveyard until all the persons with relatives buried there have briefly placed flowers or offerings, led a prayer or given a thumbnail bio of the deceased to the group at the grave site.

It might take several years to even see if we could get a community-wide Samhain event like this rolling. If we could get two or three small cemetary visitations started we might just have planted a seed which could become a sustainable local tradition. Unfortunately many of the folks who might otherwise like to participate just don’t have any relatives in -local- cemetaries so we’ll have to do a pretty good sales job within the local Pagan community to find out who our workable candidates are.

ANOTHER MODEL, one more immediately realizable, would be starting here and now, to begin heavily promoting the custom of personal Samhaintide cemetary visitations as the good, solid pagan custom it is (or could be). 

SO, for a start, please,


...As part of your own sacred Pagan year-cycle, make it a personal or family custom to visit the family gravesites at least once a year and make Samhaintide (perhaps the Sunday closest to Hallowe'en?) your target on the calendar for the doing so.

We don’t have to do it just as a “crowd” – why the Mexicans don’t have to organize group excursions, certainly not outside of their immediate families, no, their cemetaries are teeming with hundreds of people at this time of year, happily picnicing and decorating the graves and eagerly sharing their family lore with all of the other families they encounter.

Someday we too could share a similar blessing to theirs.

This is not morbidity, it is a celebration of Life!

Whenever I get started talking about this stuff I get overcome with a sense of the awesome potential it has for doing our part in healing the seriously damaged relationship our society has to death. We just need to start – and once it starts happening a little here and a little there I’m sure the process will carry us along under its own natural set of motivators.

- Earrach, 2005, 2012

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