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Samhain, Halloween, Day of the Dead

1 Nov

“End of Summer”

Samhain means “end of summer”. The Gaelic festival marked the end of the harvest season and the beginning of winter. Today it is celebrated on the night between October 31st – November 1st. It is also associated with St. Martin’s day, November 11th. Some also connect it with the midpoint between the autumn equinox and the winter solstice (or the nearest full moon), when the ecliptic longitude of the Sun reaches 225 degrees.

Samain is also the name of the Celtic god of death, who from this point on ruled over the land, while the goddess of vegetation was forced to decent into darkness until the coming spring. Her parting is accompanied by the honk of the geese leaving for the South. Any herb harvested after this point would be considered harmful, save for the grey mugwort. During Samhain the doors to the spirit-/ underworld opened, and the spirits that would enter, were not always friendly. In some tales, spirits of darkness and chaos (such as the Irish Fomorians and the Crom Cruach) would be given human sacrifices.

Rural people’s survival depended on the harvest. The fear of loosing the harvest, fierce autumn storms, the long nights etc. was real. It was essential to secure the harvest and protect the home, barn and family. It was custom to cleanse and protect the home by burning herbs. Processions and rituals were performed to ward off revenants – or Wiedergänger – the returning spirits of the restless dead.

From the need to protect oneself may also have sprung the latter-day custom of placing candles in hollowed out objects. Turnips or pumpkins were turned into grimacing lanterns. Similar to the scarecrow, the lantern was to ward off ‘evil’ and at the same time its flame lit up the night. This “light in the dark” is embodied by amber, a shiny yellow  fossilized tree resin. Amber is called Bernstein in German, from Low German börnen, meaning “to burn”. The Greeks knew it as ḗlektron, from ēléktōr, meaning “shining sun”.

Samhain also marks the time when deciduous trees have shed most of their leaves. The leaves fall to the ground, decay and nurture the cycle of life. Burning their wood keeps men warm, their bark heals. Evergreen conifers deliver in addition aromatic resins with cleansing and healing properties.

“Day of the Dead”

The pagan festivities surrounding Samhain have been substituted by Christian feast days throughout a large part of the Western world. Folkloric customs continue to merge with modern consumerism. From the pagan Samhain to the Christian All Saints day, the modern world celebrates “Halloween” with plastic skulls, led pumpkins and dressing up as corpses. Everyone can be a zombie for one day or night. Halloween gives a good example for cultural appropriation gone wild. It is part of human nature, both to adopt other traditions as well as to defend one’s own culture and rituals.

One tradition that has been sinking into Western culture and heavily influences our aesthetics, is the Mexican Dia de los Muertos. As the festival in Mexico becomes bigger and is celebrated in impressive ways every year, so grows the fascination with it outside of Mexico, similar to how the cult of Santissima Muerte is growing in numbers both in and outside Mexico. The worship of death and the dead is prospering and it is nothing extraordinary.

All over the world people venerate their ancestors and saints, with altars at home, at their graves or in temples or chapels dedicated to them. Often there are special festivals dedicated to the veneration of the dead. In some countries these celebrations fall in the months of July and August, such as the Japanese Obon or the Argentinian feast for San la Muerte. In other countries they center around the days and nights spanning from All Hallow’s Eve (October 31st) to All Saints (November 1st) and All Souls Day (November 2nd).

In Germany it is custom to visit and adorn the graves of family members on the Totensonntag (the “Sunday of the Dead”). It falls on the last Sunday before the first Advent (usually at end of November) and, though of Protestant origin, is a protected holiday in all of Germany. The day is meant to be spent in silence and it is forbidden to dance or play loud music in public.

In Mexico the celebration starts on All Hallow’s Eve, when children make altars for the angelitos (the souls of dead children). November 1st is referred to as Día de los Inocentes (“Day of the Innocents”) or Día de los Angelitos (“Day of the Little Angels”), which is when the souls of dead children are honored. On November 2nd, the actual Dia de los Muertos, the graves of dead family members are visited. The graves are adorned with cempasuchil flowers, the flowers of the dead. Between the orange sea of flowers, candles are lit and Muertos (the bread of the dead) and sugar skulls are placed as offerings, along with favorite food, beverages, photos etc. The dead are greeted and welcomed back to the world of the living for one day and night. Dancing and intoxication are welcome and encouraged.

Finally within some antinomian and Gnostic traditions Lucifer or the “Bringer of Light” is worshiped and called upon during this night, e.g. by using the formula:

Lucifer, Ouyar, Chameron, Aliseon, Mandousin, Premy, Oriet, Naydrus, Esmony, Eparinesont, Estiot, Dumosson, Danochar, Casmiel, Hayras, Fabelleronthu, Sodirno, Peatham, come, Lucifer. Amen.

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Sacred Space

10 Jul

A space, empty. A place for contemplation. A prayer room, a modern “church” if you will. The human is confronted with the present, the past, the future – ultimately the inevitable end of it all – and what will be left. There is a black figure of death, a red candle and behind the figure is a large painted canvas. The painting has a vertical format. The colors are merely shades of dim grays on a muted white. Forms dissolve in white mist. A thorn tree is barely visible in the distance. To the right of the statue is a small potted tree. The statue carries a rosary made of seeds and is mounted on a small reliquary box made of dark wood. There is a censer for burning copal, frankincense and aloeswood. The walls to the left, right and in the back are empty. The individual enters to face himself and the inevitable.

Die Toten Kommen (the dead are coming)

28 Jun

Die Toten Kommen

If you are wondering about the grave-cross photo I posted last night, here is the background story: the “grave” is part of a nation-wide campaign against European refugee policy. Berlin art group, “Zentrum für Politische Schönheit”, calls out to create awareness and establish artificial graves all across Germany and Europe in memory of the unknown refugees that died when trying to cross the Mediterranean Sea. Part of the campaign is also the transferring of bodies of dead refugees to Germany for giving them a proper burial and giving relatives the possibility to say goodbye in a respectful manner. Their activism is of course not welcomed by the German government. However people all across the country and the EU can take part in the activities that aim to create awareness, as opposed to ignorance and looking away from what is happening at the Southern European border.

It was a surprise to find this “grave” last night. I’m occasionally lighting grave-candles here in necromantic cross-road workings. I’m usually honoring Hecate and other, known and also unknown dead, e.g. I also give offerings to anonymous dead. Now I come here and find a grave with offerings, looking so familiar. I really do support the cause behind it.

“Die Toten kommen ” (The dead are coming) – the motto is to be taken literal. If you want to support the efforts made to give the dead a proper burial right there, where it hurts politicians the most, please consider donating: https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/die-toten-kommen#/story

In turn for donations you can chose to receive art items, postcards, posters, shirts etc.

Auferstehungskirche

9 Jan

We spent this New Year’s in a small church in Dresden Plauen. It’s been my dream to see this church from the inside for years. I was told it had a beautiful art nouveau interior but little could I know… The history of this church dates back to the 12th century. There are still Gothic and Baroque elements to be found. E.g. the baptismal font and crucifix over the lectern date back to the 17th century. The main building is however a unique example of Art Nouveau architecture. It was built at the beginning of the 20th century under architects Lossow and Viehweger. The church, which was formerly known as Michaeliskirche, was then renamed and is since called Auferstehungskirche. Angel faces all around the quire remind of the church’s former name. Apart from the windows and church bells the building was not damaged during WWII. On the 1st of July 1945 the Dresdner Kreuzchor gave here their first concert after the war. During the 50ies the stucco of the entire choir was removed and the windows bricked up. In 1985 a new organ was installed behind the front of the old organ. After 1989 the windows around the choir were re-opened and the walls painted new. The altar room also received new windows, which were designed by artist Wolfgang Korn (Dresden). Lastly the tower and roof were restored. Today the church counts amongst the most beautiful churches of Dresden. The wooden art nouveau elements are indeed a special treat and remind of the wood carvings found in stave churches. I do in fact not know any other church that would show a similar, almost cinematic architecture, which came to life even more, when the organ started playing…

New Year’s 2015

5 Jan

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I spent my New Year’s in a church and I liked it.

I’m from Dresden. That’s the town famous for its late baroque pomp and for being bombed to ashes at the very end of WWII. It’s also known as “Tal der Ahnungslosen” due to the geographical location, which made it difficult to receive tv from Western Germany during GDR times. It is also known for people protesting peacefully on the streets, which eventually lead to the events that brought down the Wall. In 1989 the motto “Wir sind das Volk” was used because people yearned for more freedom, equality and unity. It was motivated by positive ideals and hope. 25 years later people are protesting again on Dresden’s streets. They are using the same motto, but the motivation is a different one. People are now driven by fear, frustration and hatred. Interviews with single participants of these “silent protest marches” show how diverse the motifs are. Social injustice ranks high, amongst fears of being outnumbered, underprivileged. People are troubled with various problems. The actual motto of these demonstrations occurs almost secondary to the participants, but it is this motto, which is now being perceived world-wide: “against the Islamification of the Christian Western civilisation”. The main motif, which is carried forth on banners and in news headlines is xenophobia. The individual motivations of the people do not make the headlines.

In other countries people protest for freedom, justice and a better education. The message is clear and unequivocal.

In Germany people are apparently unable to formulate their actual concerns or they feel not taken serious if they do. Instead people now march under the banner of “PEGIDA”. It is a motto that the biggest number of the participants of these protests does not support. Yet they decide to follow it for whatever reason. The message on that banner is clear and there is no way of trying to relativize it. This is tragic and we have seen before where such passive followership can lead.

I truly hope that most of the people participating in these protest will come to senses and choose the right language for their goals. Preserving our values is indeed something to stand up for. But it is even better done by contributing one’s part and being a good example, whether you’re an artist, architect, dental technician, engineer, gardener, hair stylist, waiter/waitress, university professor or unemployed. It starts with yourself and good manners. It continues with being nice to others.

So what did I do this New Year’s? I was in fact still sick with tonsillitis and had been on antibiotics since the weekend. I felt weak and in a situation where help, love and comfort are needed. I’m extremely grateful to have two loving parents and friends that care for me in such situations. I’m grateful there was a doctor on Saturday morning to have checked me and prescribed the necessary medication. I’m grateful also, to have spirits to call upon and pray to in such a situation.

I do in fcat believe in god and a higher cause. I am interested in the essence behind the religious forms of all sorts of traditions, which are a continuous inspiration in my art. I take from all places and I pick out the best for myself. I feel this is the natural way to do in life.

We (that is my parents and me) spent this New Year’s in a small church in Dresden Plauen. This in itself felt like a little miracle and it would have sounded like an impossibility if you would have told me a few weeks ago. But this is another story and here we were. It’s been my dream to see this church from the inside for years. And little could I know of how beautiful its art nouveau interior really was…

The pastor made a very short speech, welcoming the guests, introducing the organist, Andreas Jud, a young, award-winning musician from Switzerland, and then wished us all a Happy New Year. The rest of the evening was music. No talk, no politics, no agendas. Just the organ in full blast, the organist giving his very best. And every attendant was left to his own thoughts and contemplations.

With this in mind I wish all my followers and friends all the best for 2015.

(more photos of the church to follow in my next post)

Christmas Rose

14 Nov

“Then he who is about to dig out the plant turns to the East and prays that it may be accounted lawful for him to do this and that the gods may grant him permission.” – Pliny the Elder

Folklore: East is where the sun rises and considered to be the place in heaven where the good spirits dwell. According to Christian tradition the dead are buried facing East, which is the direction from which Jesus is believed to arrive on the day of the resurrection in order to take them with him into the kingdom of heaven. But already before the Christian custom pagans would bury their dead so they would face the rising sun.

“One part hellebore with as much artemisia placed beneath a diamond gives animosity and audacity, guards the members [of the wearer] and makes victorious over what you wish.” – Hermes Trismegistus, 15 Fixed Stars 15 Herbs 15 Stones and 15 Figures

According to Hermes Trismegistus black hellebore is attributed to the fixed star Algol, together with the diamond. Agrippa connects the plant further to Mars and places it also under the rule of Saturn:

“Hellebore is dedicated to Mars and the Head of Algol.” – Agrippa

In ritual, hellebore may be burnt for consecrating Saturnian talismans and conjuring spirits of Mars. Christwurzel is also a key herb in Faustian rites of exorcism and coercion, along with garlic and sulfur:

“Carry with you Aaronis and also Hellebore, so that he [the demon] cannot delve into you or possess you.” – Dr. Faust, Magia Naturalis et Innaturalis

The name Christmas Rose comes from its auspicious time of flower or from the Christian legend that it sprouted from a young girl’s tears fallen on the snow, when she was sad that she had no present for the Christ child in Bethlehem. Another legend tells of the goddess Freya, who rescued an abandoned child during a deadly cold winter night by transforming it into a hellebore flower. Hellebore is also a symbol of innocence. It was considered holy and believed to ward off evil spirits, help heal the black death and safe pigs from swine flu if a helleborus flower was placed on the animal’s ears.

The name hellebore is composed of the Greek word ellein = to injure and bora = food, whilst the Latin adjective niger = black, may refer to the color of the plant’s root, which is almost black when dried. The German name Nieswurz refers to its use in sneezing powders. In medieval medicine it was a cure against demonic possession. The plant has a long tradition in healing madness and epilepsy (also called the ‘divine disease’ if a person was possessed by a demon): Ovid writes in his Metamorphoses of the three daughters of king of Argos, who had been driven mad by Dionysos and were screaming and running naked all across town, being cured by the healer Melampus of Pylos with a drink of hellebore solved in milk. Hence the herb was also known by the name Melampodium. Alexander the Great on the other hand is said to have died of an overdose of medication containing hellebore. During the Siege of Kirrha 585 BC, the Greek were said to have poisoned the city’s water supply with hellebore and waited until the enemy was too weak to be able to defend it any longer due to the diarrhea caused by the plant’s poison.

Pliny the Elder mentions the existence of an opposite to the Black Hellebore (Helleborus niger), with the ‘White Hellebore’ or ‘False Helleborin’ (the plant referred to is probably Veratrum album).

Gallery

More of Meißen: The Dome

13 Nov