Each year I am struck by the increasing popularity of Halloween and Dia de Los Muertos. Weeks before October 31, yards are lit up with orange lights, huge blow-ups of pumpkins, ghosts, ghouls, and projected images that cover garage doors, etc. In my daughter’s neighborhood with dozens of young families, there will be games and haunted houses for the children on Halloween night. The celebrations seem to be getting more elaborate by the year
Dia de Los Muertos (the Day of the Dead), is also more prevalent these days with skeleton figurines of everything from Elvis playing his guitar to smiling cats and whimsical dogs sold prominently in even discount stores. The movie “Coco” has reinforced remembering the dead with catchy songs and brilliant animation. Colorful ofrendas (altars dedicated to dead relatives) with their sunny marigolds and papel picado (perforated paper) appear not only in churches but also in many homes and yards.
What continues to capture our imagination during these days in the waning of October? When these traditions began, the primitive world was trying to figure out the proper attitude toward death and the possibility of an afterlife. From the earliest dawning of civilization, there have been rituals and celebrations for those who have gone before us. Eventually, Christian culture reinvented these celebrations with the Holy Days known as All Saints Day (November 1) and All Souls Day (November 2). Catholics consider these days sacred and still observe them by attending Mass and praying for the dead.
The veneration of the saints has always been confounding to many Protestants and non-believers. They think Catholics are being superstitious or even worse, idolatrous, when we invoke our holy ancestors, asking them to pray for us or fix some troublesome situation. Many ask us why we pray for the dead when there are only two final places, heaven and hell, beyond our influence after death. While it is true that some of us may be superstitious or prefer to remain dualistic about the spiritual world, there is another layer to this connection between heaven and earth worthy of consideration.
In my view, when remembering and venerating the dead, we are simply searching for spiritual muses to inspire our lives. The witnesses of remarkable holy people can fascinate and sustain us through the tough realities of ordinary existence. They stoke the embers of faith inside our needy souls. Some even light the fires that change the course of history centuries later. Think Joan of Arc, Francis of Assisi, Mother Teresa, Desmond Tutu, Dorothy Day, Nelson Mandela, Pope John Paul II, and countless others. I think we need these spiritual muses to mentor us in Wisdom’s ways. While their bodies have departed this world, their presence flows through us and provides the needed inspiration for a better life.
Perhaps some of you are thinking that our current celebrations of Halloween and the Day of the Dead are a far cry from what I am proposing here. I am not naive–I know very well that loads of money will be made from all the decorations, costumes, and candy sold. Nonetheless, as in all of the outer trappings of capitalism, there is a divine thread that connects superficiality with a deep well of meaning. That is where I choose to abide. Enjoy these coming days dedicated to those who have gone before us and may you be inspired to become a spiritual muse for future generations!
One thought on “Spiritual Muses”
Love love this Donna! You captured and eloquently gave us this meaning to all who have gone before us, either saintly or ordinary, along with our connectedness spiritually.
I, too, have been intrigued with the Dia de Los Muertos and the cultural and deep rituals it carries. I have my ‘ofrenda’ always present but will begin to add the cultural rituals this season!