Let's be frank. If you are not familiar with the Hispanic (though mostly Mexican) tradition of the Day of the Dead, or Dia de los Muertos, these images of decorated sugar skulls are just plain disturbing. Maybe even creepy. If you live in a place with a lot of Hispanic heritage, as I do, you'll see all kinds of references to the Dia de los Muertos during the month of October. There are special displays in the grocery stores, bags are printed with these images and on Halloween, it's not uncommon to see teenage girls wearing makeup just like the skull. In fact, my parish sponsors several Day of the Dead display tables in the narthex of the church each year, where parishioners are invited to bring in photos of their loved ones.
It is unsettling. And that's a good thing. For what is at the heart of this celebration is a wonderful tribute to life. In the words of St. Paul, we proclaim that
"Death is swallowed up in victory.
Where, O death, is your victory?
Where, O death, is your sting?”
(1 Corinthians 15:54-56)
Simply put, if we truly believe in the faith we profess, then death has already been defeated and we look forward to eternal life with Christ. So it is enormously appropriate and healthy to go to visit the graves of loved ones who have gone ahead of us, to remember them in prayer and fondness. They are not dead, but are enjoying (or soon will be) the fruits of their faith in Jesus. Praying for the souls of the dead is one of the Spiritual Works of Mercy. It should not be an after thought or considered trivial. It is one of the most important works of charity we can do.
As Catholics, we believe that no one who is part of the Body of Christ stands alone. Ever. Including even to the other side of the grave. We remember them. We pray for them. We celebrate the victory over death with them, until we will one day be rejoined with them, never to be parted.
For an introduction to Dia de los Muertos, watch this video from the Hispanic Cultural Center:
Cookie Cutter Halloween
I really like this ornament. I know I've said I usually don't care for witch ornaments, even cute witches, because of bad experiences with real witches but this ornament reminds me instead of Little Red Riding Hood. There's the young girl, (albeit a young mouse) carrying a basket of love and goodies (aka the jack-o-lantern) on her arm, about to knock on Granny's door after her dangerous journey through the woods. You can see the similarity to the story.
This ornament speaks to me of being a "Wounded Healer," to use the phrase from both Carl Jung and Henri Nouwen. Jung said, essentially, that those who seek to heal others (pastors, therapists, even sympathetic friends) do so out of a need to heal themselves. That's really pretty brilliant. Think about that - you can help yourself if you help others. Orrrr. . . in giving you receive. The way to heal yourself is to help someone else heal. That's what the young mouse is doing in this ornament, if we see it as Red Riding Hood undergoing a difficult journey for someone else - Granny. In fact, that is what this fairy tale is all about. The best interpretation of Red Riding Hood is one where the woods are the path of her life, and she is knocking on her own door, ministering to herself in old age. At the same time, she has spent a lifetime serving others (like her Granny when she was a young mouse) so that now, someone else will assist her. She has formed herself into a person of service, and in doing so has gathered a lifetime of friends who love and help her in her old age, and will love and help her into the next life.
The way to heal yourself is to help someone else heal.
I noticed this ornament right away, as did many collectors, I would guess. The colors are so unusual for Halloween, much brighter and more hopeful. In fact, this ornament is very hopeful overall.
Let's start with the symbol of the owl itself. Traditionally, owls are used as a symbol for wisdom. This comes straight out of Greek mythology, where a small owl is seen accompanying Athena, the goddess of wisdom (or her Roman counterpart, Minerva, if you prefer.) An owl could see into the dark, and fly around at night seemingly without need for the light. It's enormous eyes seemed to penetrate and stare beyond, into the world of things unknown. In other words, the personification of Wisdom.
What is a hopeful about this particular ornament, however, is that it is sitting on top of a moon, and its belly is the color of the dawn. Our Christian tradition has from the beginning connected Mary, the Mother of God, to Lady Wisdom of the Old Testament. The moon is one of Mary's particular symbols, as I've mentioned before, in that it reflects and is eclipsed by the light of the sun, just as Mary herself reflects and is eclipsed by the light of her divine Son. How appropriate, then, that the tummy of this owl reflects the dawn, the coming of the light. It may not be apparent from the photo, but the owl's front begins with dark purple and gradually moves into a bright fuchsia at the top.
What a hopeful visual proclamation for Halloween, when we remember and pray for the dead. It's as though the owl is reminding us that Mary, the Seat of Wisdom, is here, and that means that it won't be too much longer until we see the Son. Let's celebrate these days of the Minor Triduum well, then, and not be caught unaware.
Halloween Season's Treating
This one is just for fun! Follow my Pinterest board "Halloween Candy" and make your own version of this festive candy tray!
This is certainly a "stunning" spider. Its colors of royal purple and dark silver give it a regal look, and everything about it is perfectly balanced.
This spider has one of those designs called "symmetrical." If you cut it down the middle and fold it in half, both sides would match. The two large legs, the two smaller legs, even the spider's body all mirror each other. The only exception is the moon and star disc hanging above the spider, yet even this seems perfectly balanced visually.
The idea of balance and symmetry is an important one. When our lives are in balance, we can move forward. When our lives are not balanced, we get stuck. In spidery terms, if you will, balance brings about the creation of a beautiful spider web, a work of precise geometry that only a spider knows how to do. Just imagine what would happen if the spider ran one side of the web out of proportion to the others. The whole thing would fall apart. Again, in spidery terms, lack of balance means that we could get stuck in the web ourselves, instead of completing the job that should be done. And the job of a spider is an important one. After all, do we actually want MORE flies in the world?
Spiders are good images for Halloween. They remind us to ask ourselves: Am I weaving? Am I putting one foot, or one thread, after the other, following the pattern and design I should take? Or am I stuck somewhere, confused, and off balance?