Monday, October 31, 2011

The Day of the Dead - Día de los Muertos

Mariachi Wedding from All Soul's Procession, Tucson
© dominic arizona bonuccelli | AZFOTO

Dia de los Muertos 

Because I live in the Southwest, the Day of the Dead is widely celebrated, and Tucson is no slacker, with it's famous Day of the Dead Procession.  I felt like sharing a little article about it.

Día de los Muertos is on November 2nd, with celebrations beginning on November 1, (Día de Muertos Chiquitos--The Day of the Little Dead) ( also All Saints Day) and continuing on November 2, (All Souls Day). It is a joyous occasion when the memory of ancestors and the continuity of life is celebrated, and a beloved holiday in Mexico and South America.

Dia de los Muertos Altar I made in 2009 for Wesley Seminary

It was believed that at this time of the year the souls of the departed can return to visit the living (the "veils are thin"). It is not a time of mourning since, as the Latin saying goes, "the path back to the living world must not be made slippery by tears".

Celebrations for the dead originated in indigenous Mexico before the Spanish conquest. Following the Spanish conquest of Mexico during the 16th century there was a blending of indigenous customs with the new Catholic religion. All Saints' Day and All Hallows Eve (Halloween) roughly coincided with the preexisting Día de Los Muertos resulting in the present day event. Although the skeleton is a strong symbol for both contemporary Halloween and los Días de Los Muertos, the meaning is very different. For Días de Los Muertos the skeleton is not a macabre symbol at all, but rather represents the dead playfully mimicking the living.

Very often, a large community altar may include many small personal shrines, such as this simple "box" shrine.

Or here are some personal shrines made by artists.


Preparation begins weeks in advance when statues, candies, breads and other items to please the departed are sold in markets. A sweet bread, pan de muerto, with decorations representing bones is very popular, as are sugar skulls made from casts. All sorts of art objects and toys are created. This gives the economy a boost in much the same way as our Christmas season does. Alters ofrecetas (offerings) are set up in the home with offerings of sweets and fruits, corn and vegetables, as well as the favorite foods and beverages of the deceased. It's not unusual to see a good cigar and whiskey bottle beside a photograph of a loved one. These offerings may later be given away or consumed by the living after their "essence", and the loving remembrance, has been enjoyed by the dead. Marigolds are the traditional decorative flower.

The particulars of the celebration vary widely. On November 1, Día de Muertos Chiquitos, the departed children are remembered. The evening is sometimes called la Noche de Duelo, The Night of Mourning, marked by a candlelight procession to the cemetery. On November 2, Día de los Muertos, the spirits of the dead return. Entire families visit the graves of their ancestors, bringing favorite foods and alcoholic beverages as offerings to the deceased as well as a picnic lunch for themselves. Traditionally there is a feast in the early morning hours of November 2nd although many now celebrate with an evening meal.

There are sugar skulls and toys for the children, emphasizing early on that death is a part of the life cycle, and the importance of remembering those who have passed on to another kind of life.
From Tucson's All Souls Procession (photo by Dominc Bonuccelli)

Sunday, October 30, 2011

The Spiral Dance

Web Weaving at Tucson Spiral Dance (2000)

Weaver, Weaver, weave our thread
whole & strong into your web
Healer, Healer, heal our pain
in love may we return again

We are dark and we are light
we are born of earth and light
of joy and pain our lives are spun
male and female, old and young

No one knows why we are born
A web is made, a web is torn
But love is the home that we come from
and at the core we all are one

Of life's  Spring may we drink deep
and awake to dream and die to sleep
and dreaming weave another form
a shining thread of life reborn

Weaver, Weaver, weave our thread
whole and strong into your Web
Healer, Healer, heal our pain
in love may we return again

~~~Starhawk, (from "The Spiral Dance")

Blessings at Samhain to all as we celebrate the year passed, and remember our Beloved Dead.

My first "Spider Woman" performance (1999)

The Wheel of the Year has turned again to a new Spiral Dance.  Samhain, Dia de Los Muertos, the Witches New Year, the last Harvest Festival, and Halloween (once known as "Hallowed Eve") is almost here, and I remember the Spiral Dance.  I've posted about this beautiful ritual before, and wanted to do so again. 

I looked up "The Spiral Dance" on UTube, and was surprised by two things.First, up came a picture of my former roomate, and inspirational mentor, Judy Foster.  Judy was much loved in the Bay Area, as one of the founders of  Reclaiming, and also one of the founders of Food Not Bombs in the Northern California.  She passed away in 2000, and when I brought the Spiral Dance to Tucson that year, with the help of Macha Nightmare, who came to facilitate the ritual, we had a place of honor for Judy on our North Altar, the altar of the Beloved Dead.

Judy Foster  (1997)

Hecate Mask made from Judy Foster's face (2001)

There is no footage of the years I participated, assisting in the "Invocation to the Goddess" with my collection, THE MASKS OF THE GODDESS (they didn't allow photographs until 2008), but I see friends in the video - Macha Nightmare, Evelie Posche, Starhawk, Kala, Drissana Devananda and  others. I wish I could attend this year, and I thank in spirit the many people I knew there.

The Spiral Dance Ritual

 **Starhawk has released an important book recently, which I also feel like sharing.  For more information, visit:  The Empowerment Manual