For the materialistic cultures of today, death could be a scary idea. After all we would lose the physicality of all we hold as ours including our body and our belongings. Yet our ancient cultures regarded death as a spiritual transition when we discover our spirit and let go of the body. Ghosts or spirits of the departed were not always regarded as hoaxes or horror movie material, but as our venerable ancestors with whom we can communicate and share blessings with. Here are a few traditions from around the world that can help us make peace with the concept of death:
- Samhain: Each year the end of summer or Samhain (Gaelic word usually pronounced Sow-in or Saw-ain) around the end of October to 1 November was a celebration of a symbolic death when all vegetation retreats down into earth and the final harvest is over in the northern hemisphere of earth. Death is therefore symbolized by the scythed figure of the Grim Reaper cutting off the final crops from the fields. This festival also marked new beginnings as the pagan or farmer’s new year. A time for endings and new beginnings, it is believed that the veil between our physical and spiritual realms is thinnest at this time to allow us to communicate better with spiritual forces and departed spirits, as well as to accept blessings of the harvest.
- Halloween: Hallows Eve now popularized as Halloween on 31 October, followed by All Saint’s Day and All Soul’s day is a good time to remember deceased ancestors and light candles for them, consult intuition for guidance from your angels and spirit guides and send positive thoughts and prayers to departed ones. Lighting carved pumpkins and dressing up as otherworldly beings is also a tradition for protecting homes and reducing our fears. Witches are celebrated as wise ones who can communicate with otherworldly beings and spirits to bring important messages through.
- Mexican Day of the Dead: In line with Samhain and Halloween, there is an ancient Mexican tradition for honoring dead spirits. Offerings such as incense, specially prepared food and sugar skulls are placed on the graves of the dead. Colorful caricatures and processions of death and skeletons are observed to help people be less afraid of the concept of death.
- Kali Chaudas and Diwali: Similar to Samhain and Halloween, in India the darkest night or Amavasya night at the turn of the Hindu calendar year is celebrated as Diwali. Two days before this is Kali Chaudas or Bhoot Chaudas when crematoriums are visited for blessing the dead and goddess Kali who represents death and endings is honored. The next day is Narak Chaturdashi for cleansing and purification of negativity to prevent experience of narak or hell. Finally on Diwali night of the new moon Laxmi is worshiped to let go of the old and bless the coming new year with prosperity. Lamps are lit to drive away darkness and welcome new beginnings.
- Pitru Paksha: Several days before Diwali in September-October period in India there is a tradition of offering prayers and donating food offerings for blessing ancestors or Pitrs in the form of Shraddh rituals for an entire fortnight.
- Chinese Ghost Festival: Similarly in China there is an ancient folk tradition of the Ghost month in August/ September. The front rows during festive performances is left empty for ancestral spirits during this month. Faux money and other offerings are burnt for the deceased to provide them energy for the afterlife. The fifteenth day of the Ghost month is called the Hungry Ghost Festival when deceased ancestors are believed to visit the living and accept food offerings. In whichever way you celebrate death, always remember there is light at the end of the tunnel and death is only a transition from one reality to another in our continuing journey of learning and spiritual growth from life to life.