Day of the Dead

We are creeping up on Halloween, so why not work with that theme this week?

The significance and timing (end October) of the observance itself has been a Christian tradition for so long, that the possibility that is was originally a non-Christian observance is now in doubt, even though a traditional Gaelic festival was observed at the same time of year.

Dia de Muertos

In Mexico, the Dia de Muertos tradition definitely began as an observance connected to Aztec tradition and beliefs. Everyone in Mexico knows this. However, it was not traditionally observed at this time of year, but rather at the beginning of summer. When the Spaniards came, this eventually got shifted so that this observance coincided with what we know as Halloween.

In most earlier religions or spiritual systems, the spirit was believed to survive death in some manner. Most religions believe that the spirit “goes somewhere,” but can return to “visit” for various reasons. Though there may have been some societal need fulfilled by this belief system, it is also possible that these ideas came from actual experience, as our best data indicates that the spirit does indeed “leave” and then “come back.”

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In the case of the Mexican tradition, it was taught that this day, or these days (two or three special days may be observed) are somehow set aside for the spirits of those you loved to come back and visit. Little (or not so little) alters of offerings would be set up for those who we hoped would come visit, to make them feel welcome and more comfortable. Note the modern Californian add-ins to this alter display from last year’s celebration in Old Town.

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The circular arrangement of little white bags and oranges (I think) depicted above is not understood by me, but was certainly quite noticeable.

The Devil’s Motorcycle

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I had to find some excuse to include an image of this impressive bike I found parked outside Folsom Winco.

In the fantastical comedy film Raising Arizona, something close to a real devil rides such a machine. I have seen several films that have used the motorcycle as a sort of symbol of approaching danger.

Spooky Butterfly

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This insect is called the “Buckeye,” and the patterns on its wings are called “eye spots.”

Kinda spooky!

Death in Popular Lore

It is surprisingly difficult for most of us to remember what happens when we die. This memory loss has advantages both for us and for the managers trying (never very successfully) to keep us all under control. For us, it means we can end a lifetime by shedding all responsibilities for what we did or didn’t do during it, and “start afresh” every time we get born. For the managers it means we are less likely to realize that we are immortal beings and should hold in contempt any effort to control us by threatening us via our bodies (with torture, death and the like).

As a result, our ideas about what it means to die and “come back” are a bit off base, kooky, and unrealistic. Some think of the departed rising from their graves as animated skeletons. Others think of returning spirits as a bit demonic, tormenting us with swirls of smoke or dust in the shape of bodies and playing tricks on us that are frightening. Some think that they can leave something around to remind you of them.

We could see “trick or treat” I suppose as sort of a dramatization of our attempts to appease the departed so that they won’t continue to bother us. That we in the U.S. use little children to play the role of the returned ones is ironic.

As a part of this whole tradition, those of us who have houses and can afford the time and expense will “dress up” their front yards in keeping with the “spirit” of the season.

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This could be seen as a playful and creative pastime, I suppose. However, the scariest front yards I remember as a kid were the ones that were actually small forests that you had to walk through (or creep through) to get to the house. Spooky!

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The bright orange pumpkin is a great way to decorate the yard as winter begins to turn it brown. Of course, in Sacramento, most of the yards never do actually turn brown…

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I can only imagine this to be the house of a doctor. How else would he have access to so many (classroom) skeletons?

The Vulture

A lurking, dark and nasty-looking bird is a great symbol for spookiness. In Poe’s famous poem, it was The Raven. Well, I didn’t find one of those, but I did find this vulture.

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The dead tree he (or she) is sitting on really adds a dramatic touch, doesn’t it? But I thought I’d try to push it a little further with the color adjustments available in my image editor.

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Now we have more of a night time scene, with the bird in silhouette on a moonlit branch.

My Halloween Project

I always try to squeeze in a project at Halloween time. Though I didn’t have as many LEDs as I really wanted, I’m going for an animated electronic jack-o-lantern.

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Hope I finish it in time!

 

 

 

 

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