Our body may decay but the soul lives on, alive and in communion with the minds still rooted in this mortal plane.
A procession of countless white skulls stretches into the darkness ahead, their way lit by flickering candlelight and ushered on by swelling brass and thunderous drums. The eerie midnight parade whoops and hollers its winding way towards the cemetery on the outskirts of town where the graves of those gone before come alive in the moonlight, bedecked with flowers and rich with the vices of the life left behind, cigarettes, sugar and alcohol. The night is drunk on the heady scent of incense and marigolds and the revellers, children, adults and spirits alike, are buoyed up by memories and music.
Borne of an ancient Aztec festival honouring the goddess of death, Mexico’s Día de Muertos (Day of the Dead) celebrates the annual return of their ancestor’s spirits to the land of the living. Contrary to the solemn connotations of death widely held by most of western society, Mexico uses the occasion to focus on the joyful times of lives once lived. Hordes flock to the cemeteries to dance round the graves of their deceased relatives, present them with gifts of sugar skulls and sweet bread and to talk and laugh of lost times over mezcal and beer. The streets of the dead awaken for the night, their residents shaking off their deathly slumber to carouse with the living once more.
In the ancient pine forests of Michoacán a unique phenomenon coincides with Día de Muertos. Millions of monarch butterflies arrive having made their annual migration south in search of the protective warmth of the Mexican forests to overwinter far away from the chilly climes of the Canadian borderlands. For the villagers of Michoacán, the butterflies host the souls of their ancestors returning to the mortal plane in their own yearly migration. So strong is this belief that it is forbidden to snatch a butterfly out of the air before the night has passed lest you hamper the spirits’ journey.
The Day of the Dead festivities perpetuate the ancient belief that there is no terror in death, it is but another step in the cycle of existence. Our body may decay but the soul lives on, alive and in communion with the minds still rooted in this mortal plane.
Why offer tears at the graveside of a loved one, when laughter heals the soul?