Friday, October 26, 2007


Every year, I promise myself that NEXT year, I'll get my act together in, oh, late August, and make sugar skulls for Samhein. I didn't manage it this year, but for next year, I'm determined!!

It looks pretty easy, and maybe G/Son will be old enough to have fun "helping" me. I think they'd make an amazing Samhein altar, and, as Kathy Cano-Murillo from The Arizona Republic notes, a Día de los Muertos altar without sugar skulls is like a Charms Blow Pop without the bubble gum inside. Inkubus adds that: Sugar Skulls (Calaveras) are a traditional folk art from Southern Mexico used to celebrate El Día de los Muertos (Day of the Dead). This is a happy occasion in Mexico. The spirits of the dead are welcomed back . . . home with these beautifully decorated skulls as well as with altars, flowers candles, incense[,] and special foods. Families take the flowers and sugar skulls to the cemetery to decorate the tombs. Sugar skulls are colorfully decorated with icing, pieces of bright foil, [and] colored sugars[,] and usually bear the name of the deceased loved one being honored. If kept dry, the skulls can last a year .

Sure, Samhein is, for me, a holiday of Celtic origin, and Día de los Muertos originates, according to Wiki with the indigenous peoples [of Mexico and surrounding areas] such as the Olmec, Zapotec, Mixtec, Mexica, Maya, P'urhépecha, and Totonac. Rituals celebrating the deaths of ancestors have been observed by these civilizations perhaps for as long as 2500–3000 years. In the post-Hispanic era, it was common to keep skulls as trophies and display them during the rituals to symbolize death and rebirth. The festival that became the modern Day of the Dead fell in the ninth month of the Aztec calendar, about the beginning of August, and was celebrated for an entire month. The festivities were dedicated to the goddess Mictecacihuatl known as the "Lady of the Dead", corresponding to the modern Catrina. But that's what I love about modern Paganism: the chance to create a completely syncretistic religion (yeah, I know that, for some, that's a term of derision) that blends together amazing elements from all over the world. And I've always found the beliefs surrounding the Day of the Dead to be, well, pretty Pagan.

Wiki explains that: Some Mexicans feel that death is a special occasion, but with elements of celebration, because the soul is passing into another life. Plans for the festival are made throughout the year, including gathering the goods to be offered to the dead. During the period of November 1 and November 2, families usually clean and decorate the graves. Most visit the cemeteries where their loved ones are buried and decorate their graves with ofrendas, or offerings, which often include orange marigold called "cempasuchil", originally named cempaxochitl, Nahuatl for "twenty flowers", in modern Mexico this name is often replaced with the term "Flor de Muerto", Spanish for "Flower of the Dead". These flowers are thought to attract souls of the dead to the offerings.

Toys are brought for dead children (los angelitos, or little angels), and bottles of tequila, mezcal, pulque or atole for adults. Families will also offer trinkets or the deceased's favorite candies on the grave. Ofrendas are also put in homes, usually with foods such as candied pumpkin, pan de muerto ("bread of the dead") or sugar skulls and beverages such as atole. The ofrendas are left out in the homes as a welcoming gesture for the deceased. Some people believe the spirits of the dead eat the "spiritual essence" of the ofrenda food, so even though the celebrators eat the food after the festivity, they believe it lacks nutritional value. The pillows and blankets are left out so that the deceased can rest after their long journey. In some parts of Mexico, such as the towns of Mixquic, Pátzcuaro and Janitzio, people spend all night beside the graves of their relatives.

Some families build altars or small shrines in their homes.

How could I not love a holiday that has people building altars in their homes, leaving offerings of alcohol for their beloved dead, and growing marigolds all summer long in order to be able to celebrate the passage from life to death, the turning, to use a Wiccan term, of the Wheel? I've always loved the scene in the movie Frida where Diego Rivera comes, after a long and difficult absence, to see Frida in the cemetery on the Día de los Muertos and asks her to house Leon Trotsky who had fled from the Soviet Union to Mexico. It's night. It's a cemetery. It's completely festive. She grants him his wish (and then fucks Trotsky).

So, that's it. Next year, I AM going to make sugar skulls, and decorate them, and make an altar. Hail Mictecacihuatl! Hail Catrina!


Oddly, I find that more and more of my high holy days require the acquisition of plastic molds. My circle celebrates the rising of the Yule sun by banging on pots and pans and blowing whistles and beating drums (gotta wake up that sleepy sun!) and drinking strong drink in glasses made of ice that we then break upon the frozen ground (see, above, re: waking up the sun).

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

There is another way, Hecate.

Do you remember the Easter eggs made of papier mache in about third grade? With balloons?

This is similar but faster and edible.

Carefully wash and dry a standard incandescent light bulb. When dry lightly oil the outside; press a piece of sturdy thread from the silver part to the bulb's crown, and leave an end dangling.

Dip in a (cooled) simple syrup solution then roll it in powdered sugar. Let dry. On a good day (I live in West Texas) it takes about 3 hours.

Use the string as you would a "zipper" to (carefully) open the shell.
Trim edges and paint with a fine brush and food coloring to decorate.