Out of the Broomcloset
And now, we return to the season of orange and black. No, not football at Princeton, though there is that. We are concerned with ghosties and ghoulies and long-legged beasties and things that go bump in the night, like ICE squads, all those things striking terror in the hearts of those snug in their beds. As you all know (yes, I’m telling you what you know) this is the season that the dearly, or not so dearly departed can come to occupy our thoughts, believe it or not. The “others,“ however you might perceive them, be they the honored dead, some echo that remains in time and space after a tragedy, some ill-defined presences manifest.
Most all cultures hold some theologies that address the belief in the survival of some aspect of self after the physical body stops working. These beliefs often run counter to whatever religious background the individual may have been raised in. While the tenets of many organized religions stress that what remains has gone elsewhere. Some of us still go off to the graveyard or columbarium with tokens of affection, to commune with something that is still connected to the here and now, that can interact with us. Let’s just call them the wanderers.
Egyptian belief was that the personality of an individual was composed of several parts, that could operate separately, or in concert, after death. So there was no problem with someone having a good time in the hereafter, while also needing someone to leave offerings of food and drink at the physical grave. They, as well as broad parts of the Greco-Roman world, shared in this belief. They suppose that the deceased may be persuaded to lend a hand in the day to day affairs of the living, to effect change, to intercede with higher spiritual powers, to physically interact in some unknowable manner here and now. All of these cultures also engage in a bit of quid pro quo, leaving messages along with offerings. They request that the dead assist in certain endeavors, be it send a dream to a less than dutiful child, or have the deities of the underworld keep someone from doing well in a chariot race, to be successful in court, they being, in effect, assistants, or consigliore. Because, you know, here, we’re all family.
Now, you may be wondering why we’re coving this ground, except for the fact that Halloween/Samhain loomes. Neighbors will have graveyards spring up overnight on their lawns (one wonders when the last time was they paid a visit to an actual one). Let the haunting begin!
As this column has discussed in the past, one way the interactions of the living and the not are negotiated are in providing a meal during this time of restlessness, at the grave, or in one’s home. In several branches of pagan practices, a dumb supper will be held. The table is set, a meal held in silence, the departed invited to share, and then to, well, depart. And be sent on their way.
Now, in many parts of our great nation, a certain political party is often accused of disturbing the eternal rest of, I don’t know, let’s call them democrats, for the sake of turning out to cast their ballots on Election Day (while the accuser’s party strives to tamp down the vote of the living).
Yes, there’s an election coming up. And it’s time for everyone to make the effort, all hands on deck, as it were (even if lacking, in a general sense, hands). It wouldn’t do to succumb to manufacturing phantom voters on the day in question. But the dead can still do their part. Simply put, if they’re already wandering around in search of a meal, and you’ve invited them in to pass some time, what harm would there be in asking them. After they have had their pleasure, suggest they then, like trick-or-treaters, go visit another house, one of the many white ones in Washington DC, or those they might find there, prick their conscience, rattle a few chains, whatever seems best.
It couldn’t hurt, if so inclined, to help tidy up a local graveyard. And while doing so, leave a coin, a biscuit, or a cup of pure water, along with a short prayer, such as; “The pleasure of your company is requested, for dinner and conversation, on (fill in the date here), at the home of (I suspect you can come up with a name, address, and time). Come as you are, stay as long as you like. At least the menu of Big Macs won’t affect their health any.
Be safe out there!