Beware of Fake Priests in Cemeteries*

Superintendent Lucio Rosaroso Jr., Chief Directorial Staff of the Chaplain Service, warned the public to be wary of con artists who make money from performing priestly duties.

In an interview, Rosaroso said these criminals usually strike during the All Souls’ Day and All Saints’ Day holiday when people flock to cemeteries and memorial parks to pay respect to their dead.

* This Day of the Dead News Bulletin (TM) applies only if you are in the Philippines, however. If you are not, go back to setting out the marigold blossoms or other customary cultural practices.

The Day of the Dead Post that was not Written

This would have been the perfect writing prompt for a Day of the Dead post: a big family memorial service for my uncle Jim, my mother’s younger brother, once well-known in the Denver legal scene.

But I am not writing that post, full of ancestral stuff.

He died in September, in Sun City, Arizona, where he lived after retirement, but the memorial was delayed until today, for reasons that I am not privy to.

His brother, Robert, told me that his ashes would be interred in a columbarium at the Episcopal cathedral in Denver. Columbarium is Latin for pigeonhole or dovecote, basically. Depending on the design, your “cremains” go into something like a post office box.

Robert had said that Jim’s would be placed with those of his mother and sister. These compartments are built under a broad sidewalk. As a high school senior, visiting the cathedral during some sort of humanities class trip devoted to ecclesiastical architecture, my girlfriend and I danced up and down that sidewalk, because I wanted to say that I had danced on my mother’s grave — in advance.

My mother and I were not too close.

When she died, I did the medical power-of-attorney thing, making last decisions at the hospital, and then handled her estate, but that was out of filial duty — and neither of my sisters wanted the job. They had their own issues with our mother.

Although I take after my mother’s family physically, I am not too close to them either — even though I have about twenty cousins on that side. For some reason, Uncle Robert never emailed the final details about the service and reception, and it says something that I did not know whom to call. Nor was I about to drive 150 miles to Denver and then hang around the cathedral, waiting.

Besides, had I gone, I would have missed the neighbors’ Bonfire Night party. (She’s British, in case you’re wondering.) As I started writing this post, with the front door standing open for the afternoon warmth, I heard a chainsaw whining in the distance — probably Bernie cutting more wood for a big fire. It’s a tradition on our road, and I wonder who the “Guy” tossed into the fire will be this year.

Last year’s party came a week after the forest fire, and the party-goers were split between the people who still had their homes and those who did not but came anyway.

This year, anyway, the village is more important than distant kin.

Off to AAR

I post this from the Wireworks cafe in Pueblo, partway through our journey to the train station.

I hope that I have everything I need for a successful conference session:

  • two printouts of my paper, plus copies of the photos that go with it, on both CD and flash drive
  • registration materials
  • photos of dead people

Doing a paper on the Day of the Dead at two Southwestern universities, plus attending a Samhain ritual. Too much?

I’ll try to post more as the meeting continues.

Gallimaufry with Pumpkins

Since there won’t be any on-time Hallows blogging from me this year, here is an early sampler:

¶ Rod Dreher finally sees autumn arrive in northern Texas.

¶ A Halloween column: “Hitchhiking in the Land of the Dead.”

¶ A pastor’s rant against Halloween, via The Gods Are Bored.

¶ Since I won’t be able to take any photos this year, here are some of last year’s Day of the Dead altars built by students at Colorado State University-Pueblo. For some reason, the Vlad the Impaler altar has been drawing a lot of Google hits for the past two weeks …

Death No Longer Entrances Me

I did not have time to cruise the whole INATS-West show three weeks ago, but I did walk through the big Llewellyn booth, since it was close by my friends’ booth.

I scooped up some of the free stuff, including a flier for “a Gothic Book of the Dead.

It’s one of life’s little ironies that I missed the whole Goth movement by just a few years. I would have been perfect for it.

I had the look: Tall, slim, dark hair, green eyes, and pale skin — if I stayed out of the Colorado sun, which I did not do. (Being pale in Portland, Oregon, was pretty easy, however.)

I tended to wear vests and silk scarves, and at age 17 had a seamstress friend sew me a cape — grey with black lining, which fell somewhere between Elvish and Army of Northern Virginia.

In my late teens and early twenties, I liked to take long walks at night, even through cemeteries. (Living near Portland’s Mount Scott cemetery complex was a bonus during my junior year at Reed.) I wrote poetry and thought that the Arnold Bocklin type font was the coolest. You get the picture.

Moving (unknown to me) towards Paganism, which I formally adopted the summer that I turned 21, I might have been attracted to suggestions on how to benefit from a book that discussed, “Meditating on gravestone sculptures, creating a necromantic medicine bag, keeping a personal book of the dead, and other exercises will help you explore the vital, transformative forces of death.”

Now, though, I am more likely to say, “You go right ahead — I’ll pass.”

This is not to say that the Dead cannot be influential sometimes. But I don’t get all gushy about walking in cemeteries anymore. Too many people close to me have died in the last five years, and I have developed a nice sideline in estate and family trust management, not that I ever wanted to do it. You want a “personal book of the dead”? How about the file boxes full of documents in the garage, the resting places of the ka-soul?

Altars at the Student Center

As promised, three of today’s altars at the state university erected for the Day of the Dead (Día de los muertos).

An altar to Vlad the Impaler, also known as Dracula, from the history and art clubs. Club members admitted that it was a bit short on Roumanian content. One girl speculated about an impaled head that she had seen somewhere; all agreed that a big spike would have helped.

After all, he was just a hard-working prince holding off the Islamic menace. For more Vlad-ophilia, read The Historian.

An altar to firefighters.

The Catholic student association altar. Off the the left, out of the frame, was a bottled pre-mixed mojito cocktail, which the builders agreed could not be left there overnight. (Apparently La Virgen likes mojitos.) The place is swarming with students after all.

Creeping syncretic Southwestern Paganism

Day of the Dead altar of the English ClubThe instructions from the Student Activities Board were explicit:

On the top level of the altar, four candles need to be placed–signifying the four cardinal points. The light of the candle will illuminate the way for the dead upon their return. . . .

All bad spirits must be whisked away and leave a clear path for the dead soul by burning in a bracero, a small burner used to cook outside. Or you can use a sahumerio to burn copal or incense. A small cross of ash is made so that the ghost will expel all its guilt when it is stepped on.

Yes, it was time for the annual campus-wide Day of the Dead altar-building competition. Illustrated: the altar of the English Club, with Victorian writers.

I stopped by the Student Center lounge where the Spanish Department professor who mastermind the competition (and who always features Frida Kahlo) was putting up some final trimmings.

“Looks like taxpayer-supported Paganism to me,” I said with a wink.

“Oh no-o,” replied la profesora, “it’s culture.”

“That’s what they always say,” I responded.

She is right–but art and culture can often trump dogma. Where are the campus Christian conservatives in this one? I think that they are scared of the Multiculturalism Monster.


Parade of the Dead

File this under “Things We Miss Out On by not Living Closer to Town”: Pueblo’s Day of the Dead parade. (Registration required: Bug Me Not is your friend.)

The fact that it happened on a Friday, three days early, merely shows how acculturated el día de los muertos is becoming; it’s about as truly Mexican anymore around here as St. Patrick’s Day is truly Irish. And of course the latter never was such a big deal in Ireland itself until it bounced back from North America.

You will know that the Day of the Dead is truly Americanized when retail merchants advertise special deals: “Open late on Nov. 2! Everything 20 percent off!” And the traditionalists will moan, “It’s supposed to be about family! It’s religious!”