Samhain is coming up; the veil between the spirit world and the “real” world begins to thin. The Day of the Dead approaches.
For most people, spirits (if they are thought of at all) are thought of on one special holiday per year and maybe on certain anniversaries. Those people who are in mourning can’t escape the memory of the beloved, of course, and that brings so much pain that it hurts to dwell on.
We in our sanitized, death-avoiding society have managed to keep our dead as far from us as possible. We bury our loved ones in hermetically sealed coffins, or we burn them, and then we leave them in the cemetary with a tombstone and walk away. Don’t go in the graveyard, it’s a scary place, a sad place. (Many goths hang out in graveyards for precisely that reason.) Our food? We don’t see that die, either. Meat comes in packages from the supermarket. Theoretically it comes from cows and pigs and feathered things, but we never want to see those creatures die, that’s too cruel.
How long ago was it when life was different? In the middle ages and the Renaissance, people hung out at the Cemetary d’Innocents and other cemetaries in Paris and elsewhere. Vendors had stalls. the cemetary, like the church, was a meeting place and a gathering sport. It was also a place of meditation – people went there, reminded that all flesh would eventually crumble to dust, and holding on to the things of the world was vanity.
In ancient Rome, the catacombs along the Appian way were not just a place to meditate on the transience of life – it was actually very rude to neglect the ancestors, who were the divine patrons of your family. So people would take picnic lunches with them and meet their ancestors at the tombs, and chat with them about recent events. It was just like visiting your mother for lunch, except, of course, your mother no longer talked back and asked you when you were finally going to get around to giving her grandchildren.
We don’t do this anymore. I think it’s a crying shame. We have so separated ourselves from death, the dead, and the afterlife that we now live in a world that is unreal. We obsess about immortality and creatures from the spirit realm and guardian angels, but we avoid anything that might actually remind us of actual death – but what is life without death?
To misquote a saying from the SPCA, a spirit is for life, not just for Halloween. Let’s not just think about things “spooky” during the Halloween season. (Chances are that if you are reading the pagan section of this site, you probably are more open to thinking about spirits than most of your neighbors, but it never hurts to be reminded.) Why not make a weekly habit of going to the cemetary? Visit your dead grannie. Visit an interesting tombstone. The ghosts that inhabit cemetaries must get horribly lonely and depressed, since about the only people tey ever see besides the caretaker are mourners. Socialize with them. Eventually they will leave to go wherever it is that spirits go, but why not make their haunt nice while it lasts? After all, one day, you too will be where they are now.
The Grand Poobah