Wednesday, November 25, 2015

A Goth Anthropologist On Cemeteries, Shrines, and Veneration of the Dead

Cemeteries are incredible places, filled with sorrows and works of art. I've always enjoyed them, but haven't been able to make myself visit ours much since my brother died. His ashes are buried near a family of four that passed away late last year from carbon monoxide poisoning. (Please people, get a CO sensor. It could literally save your life.) Their graves are stunningly personal: the eleven year old's grave is a toy train set, the fourteen year old's a Rubix cube on it's axis.

I visit my relatives buried here and often leave gifts of small stones (I don't know where I heard to do this, only that if you visit a grave put a stone there and watch the stones pile up overtime), candles, mourning cakes on Halloween, and offerings to the spirits that watch over cemeteries and gravestones. 

Even those who are not Pagan find themselves leaving offerings of flowers, vases, pictures, and trinkets. There is a child's grave I cry over every time I pass, as visitors still leave baby toys there for him or her to play with. I can't stay long with child graves- having children of my own makes me internalize and empathize far too much. (Frankly it's the same reason I don't pay attention to the news; I'm still f****d up over a few stories about children I came across.) 

I like to think this is where the process of deification began, of how mortals became demigods and then gods overtime. The catharsis was less heroic deeds and more the remembering. My brother's grave is covered with trinkets from friend and family and strangers who never knew him personally but felt his impact nonetheless. You can't see everything in this pic, as more has been added since it was taken including peacock feathers, chewing tobacco cans, and other stuff a 17 year old should probably not have been doing.

The night he died, I swear the thunder and lightening were so loud my neighbors and I were coming out of our houses to watch the sky light up bright as day. My husband remarked, "The gods have taken someone great tonight." Twelve hours later we learned about my brother. I like to think the storm was for him. In some ways, I have to believe it to make his death make even a little sense. 

I like to think he's becoming a legend, and with the nonprofit foundation we're beginning in his name, I like to think the process of deification, of ancestor veneration, has begun.

They say a man dies twice: once when his physical body dies, and again when his name is spoken for the last time. I pray that never happens to my brother. My children are being raised pagan, are being raised on ancestor worship and the importance of gods and memories. I like to think they'll keep the tradition going, that they'll never forget. 

Because of this I tend to the stones. I clean up the garbage. I vote in ways that most positively impact the life of the cemetery. I speak the names of the graves of those that died long before my great-grandmother was born so that in the smallest of ways they go on living. 

On Samhain we make mourning cakes and remembrance cookies and leave offerings at the cemetery. I may do something similar tomorrow, for thanksgiving. Maybe I'll bring him turkey and potatoes (I know the crows will eat it) and pour a glass of cider for him, and by extension, everyone in our line that has gone from this world. 

Be thankful, be kind, be true. Tomorrow you or someone you love could be gone. I'm fortunate there are no regrets between me and brother, but my grandfather's and biological father's death this year and last are filled with regret. I want to work so that I have no, or few regrets, on any deaths coming in the future. I don't know. Death is such a strange thing, even more so the more familiar it becomes.   

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