Monday, November 2, 2015

Day Of The DEAD!


Signs and symbols of decay and death are all around us at this pivotal time of the year, here in the temperate regions.  Trees drop their leaves, plants die back to their roots, seeds are scattering and plants are drying up, either shifting into their dormancy phase or completely dying, only to return through one of their seeds sprouting next spring.  The intense shades of green are slowly shifting through a rainbow of colors to the various shades of brown that surround us in the depth of winter.  

It is a natural time of year to honor the Ancestors.  Not only do the natural signs remind us of the reality of cyclical death, but also the harvest culminates at this time in the form of those plants that will store through the winter and provide for us during the cold and apparently barren months.  As the life force of the plants around us recede to their roots, the internal life force of the living is more easily perceived, and the Ancestors step closer to be honored and for profound communication.

Every year our Ancestral Honoring ceremony, which occurs variously any time between the very end of October and beginning of November, is very different.  Sometimes it is inside one of our Munansos or Bohios, sometimes it is outside.  Sometimes it is under a tree, sometimes it is in a wide open Batey.  Here we share images from our Day of the Dead / Ancestral Honoring Ceremony this year (2015).

Preparations for the Day of the Dead begin weeks in advance, as the space is cleared.  The very process of cleaning and preparing the space is a vital part of the Ceremony, and brings blessings and teachings.  We begin here with a Batey that is between two of our Conucos.  The conucos are both covered with various weeds, including magical plants such as Datura, Poke weed, Amaranth and grasses.  Cleaning the Conuco allows us to look at what the plants are telling us about the condition and fertility level of the soil of the Conuco, guiding us to important decisions about how to care for the Conuco over the winter, and what to plant in them next spring.   We pull up deep tap roots from the Poke Weed and the extensive gripping root system of the Datura.  The upper Conuco also hides potatoes within it and further along, many perennial flowers.  Before any action is taken in the clearing process, various herbs and resins are burnt, pulling the Ancestral spirits and Natural spirits closer, alerting them that we are preparing space for ceremony.  A staff is placed in the Earth, along with medicine, machete and hoes are also placed centrally, as the cleaning of the space is ritual and not mundane in nature. 

With the machete all the large plants are cut to the root, and then using the hoes the roots are removed from the Conucos, symbolically removing debris, clearing away the old, recycling the dying, drying plants.  It is a large Batey and this process takes days.    The burning of resins and herbs continues.  The plants that are cut down represent the sacrifice that removes obstacles, that clears pathways, that opens roads.  Our sweat is also the sacrifice as it falls to the Earth, it is the testament of the Actions that lead to progression and positive growth.  It is uplifting to see the space cleared and feel the spiritual energy building.  
As the space is cleared, the Ancestral focal points is cleared and built.  This year it is in front of an Elderberry shrub, a very important plant for us here.  Where the Ancestral offerings will be placed is a Cemis under the Earth, or in other words a Bilongo under the Earth.  The details are not shared here.  It is a space that has been spiritually worked already.  As we clear it, the energy quickly builds, becoming palpable.  

The hoes and other tools that we use to clear the Conucos have been spiritually consecrated, since these are tools that we use for our Sacred Conucos.  Our Taino Ancestors used the Koa (Digging Stick).  Although we have a digging stick present (it can be seen with a gourd on it, we are very grateful to also have metal hoes,  machetes, files to sharpen them, as the work involved in clearing the space is intense.

Slowly various Ancestral Staffs, and Nkisi and Cemi are brought to the Ancestral Focal Point and placed firmly in the Earth. The burning of resins and herbs continues, especially tobacco and sage that we have grown.

The preparation of the space continues over weeks, and all the staffs, Nkisi, Cemis are given fresh adornment using not only cottons and raffia but also decorations from the many plants growing all around.

In front of Guatauba Maquetaurie (Lord of the Dead), the many food offerings are placed.  These include many things grown here, such as the corn, gourds, grapes, peppers, as well as apples, various drinks, and more.  
There is a total of nine staffs representing the many Ancestors, known and unknown.  We always acknowledge all those Ancestors who lived on this land before us, including Indigenous, African and European.  We acknowledge those Ancestors in the Cemetery right on our driveway. We remember our neighbor who passed a couple years ago.  The Ancestral Honoring Ceremony is about ALL the Ancestors, not just direct biological ancestors.  

Among the offerings is Elderberry wine that we made from last years harvest of Elderberries.  We are very grateful to be able to give the Ancestors wine that we made from the land here.  Also present is rum which has been soaking with the jalapeƱo peppers that we have grown.  Of course coffee, cigars, candles and water is also offered.  The corn from the Conuco is a rainbow that we are also so happy to be able to offer the Ancestors.  We include a bouquet of flowers picked from the gardens, including horsetail, rattlesnake master, aconite, agastache and lavender and of course echinacea.

This year our daughter baked a chocolate cake to be presented.  It was spiced with cayenne pepper and cinnamon and adorned with cayenne peppers that we grew this year and dried.  She was delighted to be given this important responsibility.
Central to our yearly Ancestral offering is the traditional roasted pig head presented with various root vegetables (yucca, jautia, batata, name) and green bananas topped with bacalao and red onion and saturated with olive oil.  Many cigars are placed all over the food for the many Ancestors who are attracted to our offering.  All the cigars have been brought by those whom the Munanso has helped.
Honey is also an important element of attraction that we include in this offering.  Two cigars from the jungle, brought by a Yayi of the Munanso in gratitude, are placed with honey for communication.  The aromas of the hot food, tobacco and sage and sweet grass (all grown here) and the many resins, fill the air as we each make invocations to the Ancestors.  

The various images of the Ancestral Staffs, Cemis and Nkisi evoke the many and various expressions of the Ancestors.  Every year it is different, yet every year we are blessed with the abundance.

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