Over the last few weeks I’ve been fiddling with constructing my family tree on ancestry.com. (Thanks to my old high school friend Georgie for getting me hooked.) I managed to trace one line back as far as Torvild Ljøstad, my great great great great great great great great great great great great great great great great great grandfather (that’s 17 greats) who was born in 1370 in the Norwegian county of Aust-Agder, possibly at the site of present-day Vegårshei.
I take that with a grain of salt. The further back you go, obviously, the more chances for error. I haven’t double-checked every link in that lineage. Still it’s interesting to think about.
At the same time I was playing with that, I seemed to find myself making more trips to the local graveyards, which led me to contemplate the untimely demise of a young woman named Virginia. I even started actively searching for certain graves. And generally I have just been enjoying the cemeteries.
We also discovered the shrine to Santa Muerte — Saint Death.
Sheer coincidence? Perhaps. But this is, after all, the time of year associated with such matters. The Day of the Dead, All Souls Day, All Saints Day, Hallowe’en, Samhain — many names, many cultures, many traditions, but sharing a common theme of remembrance and reverence for ancestors, those who have come before, those who are no longer with us.
Fittingly, Persephone had the idea that she wanted to be a ghost princess. That led to a costume idea for the whole family.
We attended a Samhain ritual. It was focused on remembering ancestors, and it was quite beautiful — or at least I think it was. I was distracted by a certain toddler who was getting antsy. The “Samhain for Kids” celebration was fun, even though our girl was the only child there, but by the time the full grownup ritual was underway, well, it was just too much, too long, for a two-year old, and we were not familiar enough with the surroundings or the proceedings to really cope effectively as parents. I hope our daughter’s behavior was not too distracting to the other celebrants. It became more of a “learning experience” than a spiritual one for me. I wish I could have been more fully present, but in this case I guess you could say my descendant trumped my antecedents.
Nevertheless I got a good snippet of video from before the ritual began.
Here’s the moment I want to hold in my memory of that night: dancing barefoot on the grass with my wife and daughter dressed in ghostly white robes while a dead geisha played the drums by a bonfire. That was magical.
We cut out early and got back home in time to receive several troupes of trick or treaters. I was surprised by the number of kids making the rounds (under adult supervision) despite the big Saints game underway at the time. But the all the kids were home by the time the second half began, and that was a much more exciting half as it developed.
And so yesterday morning, on the Day of the Dead, Persephone and I visited the shrine of Sante Muerte.
When I posted about the shrine to the Mid-City discussion group, a neighbor reacted as follows:
I’m don’t really want to judge any religious beliefs but just so people know, the SANTA MUERTE (Holy Death) is considered almost devil worship by most of Mexico. It is used by most criminals in the narco trafficking, kidnapping, & underground Mexican world to legitimize their activities. It is why the country of Mexico has not recognized it as a legitimate faith. Like all religions or political idealogies, extremists can twist anything to legitimize their activities. Just thought people would want a little perspective. For Americans who don’t know better, in Mexico, it would be similiar to glorifying Islamic terrorists & their warped string of Islam…. I travel to Mexico a lot & enjoy studying the history & culture of the country. But I admit, the statues & shrines are pretty weird & cool.
I’m not sure what to think of that reaction. I do know that I misquoted the sign when I wrote about it the first time. It actually says, “Welcome! To the Shrine of La Sante Muerte and the Dead.” I had forgotten that last part, “and the Dead,” but it’s crucial. Clearly, whoever erected the shrine is thinking about the same thing as the Wiccans who devised the Samhain ritual we attended and the Catholics we saw at the cemetery whitewashing the family tomb.
We left three satsumas.
I wonder what Torvild Ljøstad would have made of it.