About Me

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As an author inspired by the aesthetic of virtue drawn from the many esoteric works I experience and research,I seek wisdom, truth and the light that emanates from all things born of the great void... a lover of life, gnosis and my Clan Family - The People of Goda, of the Clan of Tubal Cain www.clanoftubalcain.org.uk.

Wednesday, 26 October 2011

Dia De Los Muertos

Celebrations honouring the dead are prevalent among many ancient cultures, sharing similar religious commonalities, sadly lacking in modern European religiosity. During a pilgrimage to Mexico I was privileged to witness and participate in the ‘Dia de los Muertos’ held November 1st –2nd each year throughout Hispanic America. Originally it would have been celebrated in the Aztec month of ‘Miccailhuitontli,’ roughly equivalent to the Gregorian months of July/August. Naturally, the colonising Spanish prohibited this festival and moved the greatly sanitised theme to November, supplanting it by their own Feasts for All Saints and All Souls. Despite the obvious Catholic overlays, this festival remains primarily Mesoamerican, revealing many indigenous celebrations of death and ancestry.

Preparations begin in early October with the cleaning and repairing of family tombs. When festivities finally get underway, the 1st of November is dedicated to ‘los angelitos’, the little angels: the souls of departed children. Flowers and candles adorn the gravesides as the family hold their evening vigil, storytelling and singing until dawn. Native Creation accounts maintain a frequency of stories relating to the first human couple as the ancestors of mankind. These are honoured today in the tales told to their descendants during the ‘Dia de los Muertos’ celebrations. As dusk falls, the 2nd of November is dedicated to ‘Los Muertos’ the dead adults to whom food, tequila and cigarettes are offered alongside ritualistic flowers of the dead -‘cempazuchitl’ (marigolds) whose perfume blends perfectly with copal, burnt upon graves and altars throughout Mexico. Mariachi bands accompany masked dancers, whose grinning skeletal faces gleefully mock death in this ceremony that celebrates our mortality as a beginning rather than an end of life. This evocative pageant to Death expresses intense devotion and veneration of Death itself whose final deliverance is deemed to come almost as a saviour from the toils of life. Fireworks and folklore drama full of sexual innuendo complete the carnival atmosphere. Children pull playfully on skeletal marionettes of death, the stark reality of which parallels every day. There is no Catholic duality here, no fear of death, just a dynamic unity in opposition.

Colour pre-dominates the scene as fire and candles illuminate the night glowing orange, the colour of the flower of death. Fruits, costumes and masks appear in abundance decorating the doorways of shops and houses everywhere. It is still believed that flowers given as sacrificial offerings are at the behest of Quetzalcoatl who instructed his people to give only these and butterflies in lieu of human flesh. Upon entering the many Cemeteries throughout Mexico,  everyone is offered steaming bowls of rich, dark hot chocolate and ‘pan de muertos’ (bread of the dead), which is a shared consumption between the living and the dead.  After blessings, these ‘dumb’ suppers are removed from ‘offrendas’ (private altars) for the public in what anthropologists recognise as the ancient tribal activity of ‘re-distributive’ feasting.
Spectacular, imposing shrines line the quadrangle of tombs, dedicated to past dignitaries and revered members of the community. Constructed of arched reeds and sheaves of corn, the shrines are adorned with garlands of tangerines and flowers. Water too is set out to slake the insatiable thirst of the dead. Immense national pride and civic prowess among competing teams guarantees a magnificent display, mindful of disqualification for the introduction of foreign elements i.e. pumpkins and cauldrons.

Candles illuminate photographs of all persons honoured and are often accompanied by ‘Calaveras,’ poignant yet satirical eulogies extolling pertinent virtues and vices of the deceased. Delicate lacy paper patterns of figures and symbols relating to death also decorate these shrines in honour and remembrance of intricate paper hats worn by ‘Mictlantecuhtli’ the Aztec Lord of death (synonymous with the Mayan ‘Ah Puch’). Marzipan and candied fruits sit among sugar and amaranth skulls, symbols of the gods of death, highlighted with red and black spots, redolent of putrefaction, convincingly depicted in decorative coloured icings. Hundreds of years ago, during the months of ‘Panquetzaliztli’ (approx November) and ‘Toxcatl’ (approx April), amaranth seeds of the ‘huala’ plant were finely ground and mixed with blood and honey to form a stiff dough. Shaped into deific skeletal figurines, primarily of ‘Tezcatlipoca,’ but also ‘Huitzilopochtli’, they were hung high upon the Xocolli tree and worshipped. Finally, they were taken down and consumed by ‘tecuelo’ (meaning quite literally - god eaten) participants, a ceremony with such a startling similarity to the Eucharist, it was suppressed by Spanish missionaries.  

Pulque, a milky alcohol, likened to the mothers’ milk, fermented from the sap of the maguey (Agave) cactus, is still consumed as a ceremonial drink in place of ritually revered traditional hallucinogenics such as datura and morning glory. Magnificent sand ‘rugs’ decorate the stone slabs of the courtyard satirically portraying skeletal brides, bandits, dancers and musicians: death here, is a welcome inevitability. Included in these intricate designs are the images of butterflies and humming-birds, reflecting the Aztec belief in the immortal soul returning from the Underworld, now visually celebrated in the Autumnal return of the monarch butterfly in from Canada and the USA. For the Aztecs, the Underworld, though fraught with trials and tribulations was no Catholic Hell. After a harrowing journey and judgement, Mictlan was the final destination of nine levels in the Land of the Dead with many Classic funerary pyramids constructed of nine levels reflecting this.
Laying to the West, Xibalba, the Land of the Dead could also be entered through caves and bodies of water known as  ‘cenotes’, sacred water cisterns, places of ritual sacrifice to the Lord and Lady of Death - ‘Mictlantecuhtli’ and ‘Mictecacihuatl.’ Bodies were buried with grave goods of Jade beads, food and chocolate to be offered as payment upon reaching ‘Mictlan’, the final level of the wandering soul.
People reflect and embody regenerative process and so death is perceived as a cyclical symbiosis, from which life evolves. Moreover, the regenerative life cycle is connected to that of the maize, which is seen to spring from the ground nine days after the seed is planted. Mirrored in the emergence of life from the nine fleshless realms of ‘Xibalba,’ death was thus viewed as a descent into the world of spirit.

Skeletons as powerful symbols for new life are depicted in many art forms, more commonly as masks where skeletal faces are drawn back to reveal the fully fleshed life latent within. Bones, like seeds are cyclical; hence life comes from death and is not to be feared. Complex cosmologies emerged woven around the life giving maize, life from the earth and the fertilization of blood spilled upon it by the first couple and the creator gods. Ancestor worship in Meso-America is celebrated in Classic Mayan art, filled with scenes of priests and rulers offering back their blood and other sacrifices to the honoured dead.
Paralleling these ancient concepts clearly evidenced within ‘Dia de los Muertos’ celebrations is the recent rise in popularity of the ‘Cult of Santisima Muerte’ (Saint Death) who has subsumed the role of ‘Mictecacihuatl,’ the Aztec Lady of Death. As a robed female skeleton she is unashamedly called upon for all kinds of material comfort - in life. Reflecting the rise in neo-pagan/Hispanic syntheses over recent years, various commonalities prevail. Candle magic and colour correspondences dictate votive offerings for use in ‘requests’ to her; cloaks worn may for example, be black for power and vengeance, or red for affairs of the heart. Household shrines to her are lit daily with relevant flowers, food, water, tobacco and even where necessary, liquor. An evening kiss secures her good favour and fortune throughout the night. Her popularity is fast exceeding even that of the Virgin of Guadalupe in Mexico City, with thousands buying water and holy incense dedicated to her, though she is not, of course, recognised by the Catholic Church. There is even an annual ceremony for worshippers to celebrate her birthday.
Its depth and poignancy provides an insight into our real heritage as human beings, from mysteries of our creation to the power of death, reflecting a faint gnostic perspective. In a spiritually blanched society such as ours it, I think that sometimes in order to understand what we are doing here and where it is taking us, we have to remember the immortal words of Robert Cochrane that: ‘all ritual is prayer.’

Text extracted from Chpt - Dia de los Muertos: Tubelo's Green Fire by Shani Oates.
All photos credit and copyright of Shani Oates.

Monday, 10 October 2011

The White Poppy

The White Poppy.

By Kenneth Grahame [1859-1932]

A riot of scarlet on gold, the red poppy of our native fields tosses
heavy tresses with gipsy abandon; her sister of the sea-shore is
golden, a yellow blossom that loves the keen salt savour of the spray.
Of another hue is the poppy of history, of romance, of the muse. White
as the stark death-shroud, pallid as the cheeks of that queen of a
silent land whose temples she languorously crowns, ghost-like beside
her fuller-blooded kin, she droops dream-laden, Papaver somniferum,
the poppy of the magic juice of oblivion. In the royal plenitude of
summer, the scarlet blooms will sometimes seem but a red cry from
earth in memory of the many dews of battle that have drenched these
acres in years gone by, for little end but that these same ``bubbles
of blood'' might glow to-day; the yellow flower does but hint of the
gold that has dashed a thousand wrecks at her feet around these
shores: for happier suggestion we must turn to her of the pallid
petals, our white Lady of Consolation. Fitting hue to typify the
crowning blessing of forgetfulness! Too often the sable robes of night
dissemble sleeplessness, remorse, regret, self-questioning. Let black,
then, rather stand for hideous memory: white for blessed blank
oblivion, happiest gift of the gods! For who, indeed, can say that the
record of his life is not crowded with failure and mistake, stained
with its petty cruelties of youth, its meannesses and follies of later
years, all which storm and clamour incessantly at the gates of memory,
refusing to be shut out? Leave us alone, O gods, to remember our
felicities, our successes: only aid us, ye who recall no gifts, aptly and
discreetly to forget.

Discreetly, we say; for it is a tactful forgetfulness that makes for
happiness. In the minor matter, for instance, of small money
obligations, that shortness of memory which the school of Professors
Panurge and Falstaff rashly praises, may often betray into some
unfortunate allusion or reference to the subject which shall pain the
delicate feelings of the obliger; or, if he be of coarser clay, shall
lead him in his anger to express himself with unseemliness, and
thereby to do violence to his mental tranquillity, in which alone, as
Marcus Aurelius teacheth, lieth the perfection of moral character.
This is to be a stumbling-block and an offence against the brethren.
It is better to keep just memory enough to avoid such hidden rocks and
shoals; in which thing Mr Swiveller is our great exemplar, whose
mental map of London was a chart wherein every creditor was carefully

The wise man prays, we are told, for a good digestion: let us add to
the prayer -- and a bad memory. Truly we are sometimes tempted to
think that we are the only ones cursed with this corroding canker. Our
friends, we can swear, have all, without exception, atrocious
memories; why is ours alone so hideously vital? Yet this isolation
must be imaginary; for even as we engage in this selfish moan for help
in our own petty case, we are moved to add a word for certain others
who, meaning no ill, unthinkingly go about to add to humanity's
already heavy load of suffering. How much needless misery is caused in
this world by the reckless ``recollections'' of dramatic and other
celebrities? You gods, in lending ear to our prayer, remember too,
above all other sorts and conditions of men, these our poor
erring brothers and sisters, the sometime sommités of Mummerdom!

Moments there are, it is true, when this traitor spirit tricks you:
when some subtle scent, some broken notes of an old song, nay, even
some touch of a fresher air on your cheeks at night -- a breath of
``le vent qui vient à travers la montagne'' -- have power to ravish,
to catch you back to the blissful days when you trod the one authentic
Paradise. Moments only, alas! Then the evil crowd rushes in again,
howls in the sacred grove, tramples down and defiles the happy garden;
and once more you cry to Our Lady of Sleep, crowned of the white
poppy. And you envy your dog who, for full discharge of a present
benefaction having wagged you a hearty, expressive tail, will then
pursue it gently round the hearth-rug till, in restful coil, half-dozen
diurnal sleeps being in truth a royal amnesty.

But whose the hand that shall reach us the herb of healing? Perdita
blesses every guest at the shearing with a handful of blossom; but
this gift is not to be asked of her whose best wish to her friends is
``grace and remembrance.'' The fair Ophelia, rather: nay, for as a
nursling she hugs her grief, and for her the memory of the past is a
``sorrow's crown of sorrow.'' What flowers are these her pale hand
offers? ``There's pansies, that's for thoughts!''For me rather, O
dear Ophelia, the white poppy of forgetfulness.

images at wikicommons