The signs of the changing season are many and plentiful: there is a new crispness in the air, the days grow shorter, the leaves begin to fall, pumpkin spice flavoring has been injected into every consumable, and the yearly barrage of educational outreach posts from the Pagan community are making the rounds.
I used to do a fair bit of that myself. The confluence of Pop-Culture Halloween and Pagan Samhain makes for a pretty tempting public relations opportunity. Watch as we slide a little truth in there between your fun-sized Snickers and your yearly viewing of The Great Pumpkin.
I gave it up though, because mostly people don’t want to be bothered with it.
And of those who do show some interest, trying to explain Celtic Ancestor Night traditions to someone who’s cultural understanding of death is rooted in Western Christianity is a serious undertaking.
There’s just no easy way in.
Except that is for Dia de Muertos.
The growing popularity in the States, of the Mexican ‘Day of the Dead’ has, on several recent occasions, given me something a little more tangible to point to.
But still, the conversations tend to go something like this…,
Me: “It’s like ‘The Day of the Dead’ but without the Sugar Skulls.”
So, it seemed like the best thing to do was to just give up again, when suddenly this…,
It came out in 2014, and I’ve just now watched it.
How did I miss this movie?!
It is without doubt, the best representation of a modern cultural rite of honoring the dead, that I have seen on film. The movie is cute and funny, even while treating the subject with a particular reverence, and most importantly, it is rich and beautiful to look at.
In a time when the rotting flesh and gnashing teeth of the zombie has become a year round staple of popular culture, it is nothing short of miraculous to see the dead depicted as beings of both whimsy and grace, who care for their living descendants as fervently as we should care for them.
Do not be fooled by the corruption of the grave.
That is not death.
Death is not something that happens to us, it is something we become, and in so doing, we carry away all that is beautiful within us into that next realm. How could what we find there be anything other than glorious to behold?
Watch the movie. Smile and laugh at the story, even as you catch a momentary glimpse of a truth beyond our mortal reach. Do that, and maybe you’ll understand the things we do.
We dress the graves to honor them.
We kindle the fires to light their way home.
We share with them offerings of food and drink.
We remember them to each other in the stories that we tell.
And we pray that we will be remembered when we have passed beyond the vail.
Do not fear the grave. Death becomes you.