Our abuelos have shown us the forms of remembering the ones who come before and the living lineage that runs through our bones and living blood. When I was a child, I remember my house having an altar during the month of October where I could go and talk to my ancestors, my grandparents, and the ones who came before me. We lit candles and gave offering of their favorite food and drinks. It wasn't until my Abuela was exalted through the passage of sacred death, that I realized how important continuing the relationship was. I honored her by lighting a candle, by giving into silence when I see her photograph, by writing letters to her for her spirit to feel. I hear her voice when I need advise and dream with her when I need to be held by her.
This sounds unusual- especially in the society we live in. As Ma-Kalam, cross-cultural psychologist, explains “From a Western point of view, we think of death as the annihilation of all we hold dear in our hearts. But (from an Eastern perspective), when you are reminded of your own death, it can serve as a reminder that right now, you have a wonderful, glorious life to live, and you should make the most of it before it comes to an end.”
“Mortality is so universal, but the ways we cope with mortality may be culturally specific,” she said, noting that East Asians are taught early on to look at the world in terms of yin and yang. From that philosophical perspective, life and death are inseparable; death would mean nothing without life, and vice-versa.
In Mexico we are taught that our ancestors remain alive in our memory as we reverently commune with them. They say we have two deaths: One where your spirit leaves your body and you become one with the earth, and the second is when no one says your name anymore- when no one remembers you. I still have a relationship with my abuelos. I remember them and they remember me.
By having an intimate relationship with our ancestors, we are able to connect with them and little by little lift the veil between us. The word intimacy means to be in contact from my interior to the interior of another. In relation to your ancestors, this can vary. Maybe your way of being intimate with your ancestors is through cooking their favorite meal and bringing them into your thoughts, maybe it is even digging into your ancestry, or writing them letters. Or maybe it's by an action you do that reminds you of them.
Lifting the veil through Intimacy, Altars, and Offerings
In my culture, we have a time in our year where we are promised the chance to have ancestor reverence. This is called Día de Los Muertos. It is a day where we put up altars for our elders who have passed, and celebrate their life. The root of the Day of the Dead dates back to 3,000 years ago to rituals honoring the deceased in Pre-Colombian Mesoamerica. The Aztecs and other Nahua people had a cyclical view of the universe and viewed death as an integral part of life.
Honoring the dead was traditionally taken place in August - September because it was said that the veil between this world and the spirit world was the thinnest. Family members provided offerings or Ofrendas, such as water, food, and tools to aid the deceased on their journey to Chicunamitlan, the land of the dead.
Cempazuchil, a type of Marigold flower native to the southern regions of Mexico, was used for its strong and distinctive scent as a way to guide the souls back to their loved ones. In pre-Columbian times images of skulls and skeletons were shown often in paintings, pottery, etc. representing rebirth into the next stage of life.
These traditions are still seen today all over my country. It was a way we can talk to our family who is no longer here and keep their spirits alive. It is a festival to celebrate our family and celebrate the life they have lived.
" Connecting with our ancestors is second nature- so own it. Make it yours, it's your gift, it's your magic. "
Creating your Altar: The bridge of Communication
Cultures all over the world have practiced some form of ancestor reverence at some point in time. It wasn’t long ago that all societies all connected to their ancestors for guidance. The more obvious reason is that they are of our blood and gave us life. If they hadn’t walked this earth before us we wouldn’t be here. And so many cultures around the world have this tool to fortify the bridge of communication, and it can look very different. Altars and similar rituals are found across the globe in many different cultures, so there is more than one way to honor these practices. I hope you can find your own unique expression that resonates with you.
Having more intimacy with our ancestors we the veil gets thinner we get closer and more connected. I want you to think about the altar as a tool or the bridge of communication. It is a place where you can put offerings and where to give reverence to the people who walked this earth before us.
You can find a communal area to set up your altar space. Set up a cloth to set the boundaries. This will let your ancestors know what is their offerings. Place pictures of your ancestors you want to commune with. Or sometimes If I know that I am trying to connect with deep ancestry I will place a photo that will represent that to me. An elder once told me to put all of the elements present on altars:
Fire: Such as candles. To illuminate the path and guide the ancestors.
Air: Such as incense, or offer a breath-work practice to your ancestors. Air is ethereal and is believed that it can cross to the spirit world.
Earth: Such as plants, flowers, seeds, and coffee. These are gifts from mother earth.
Water: You can place a bowl full of water on your altar. This is a conduit for energy- we are water and water is life.
You can place food and drinks on the altar as well as the three days pass. Letters to them are also a beautiful way to commune with them. Don’t leave anything unsaid just because they are not physically here.
I hope this has inspired you to create your own living altar and that slowly you can lift that veil, because your ancestors are there, and they want to connect and guide you. Remember that they love you and they remember you.
Feliz Día de los Muertos!
FEATURED RESOURCE: The Bridge Meditation
This meditation called The Bridge, which is a meditative tool that will help connect you to your loved ones and ancestors. We will be calling out to the healthy and bright ancestors and welcoming them to meet with us for Día de Los Muertos. I will be guiding you to the bridge, but if in your practice, you are just starting out by getting to know the bridge and are not ready to meet with your loved ones- that is ok, this is part of your practice and honor where you are today. But just remember that you are calling on your family members who love you, they know you. If you are nervous or fearful, that is ok. Fear comes from the unknown, so even building a relationship step by step on to the bridge itself, and not meeting anyone is ok- that is where you are today.
You can be sitting or laying down. When you are ready… get settled and close your eyes and press play!
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