Nature of death

Death is a part of nature.

Death is an aspect of nature.

Death is an aspect of nature.

Hordes of the undead and devilish swamped the streets of Colchester last night, watched over by parents and a highly visible police presence to prevent some of the excesses of Halloween trick or treating.  For Britain Halloween remains the domain of children, dressing up, partying and visiting the appropriately decorated houses for candy and cake.

Halloween marked the start of winter, as I write this blog on the 1st November, it is the first day of winter in the UK.  The Celts called Halloween by the name of Samhain, which was their new year, a time to rest after the harvest, and to remember deceased ancestors.  It was Christianity which largely painted the false idea Halloween was devil worship.

As the children had their fun, dressing up and obtaining candy I considered how different their outlook is to the children of their Colchester Celtic ancestors.  Imagine a gathering of the modern family, a seat is left empty for grandma, the mother places grandmas skull at the empty seat and food and drink for her, then everyone eats and drinks to celebrate their new year… would a modern child be terrified of such a scene, of facing a reminder of death? A Celtic ancestor child would not.

In Colchester Celtic communities were animistic, living a worldview where past, present and future were continuous; the ancestors were a part of the community, and children continued the same traditions and beliefs as the ancestors.  Central to any community a Celtic shrine, where the bones of important ancestors were kept.

There were places in Colchester a deceased person would be exposed to the elements, away from the community, consumed by crows, to rot.  After a period of time, parts of the body would be recovered such as skull, and distributed amongst family and friends, often transferred to the family or community shrine.  The community cremated the rest of the body, and a feast held in its honour.

Death is a part of nature, and it is interesting to reflect on this aspect of nature on occasion as Halloween often does for me.

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9 responses to “Nature of death

  1. “Death is part of Nature”… Yes the ever cycle of dying and rebirth… I was taken by your post relating the past at ALL Hallows Eve, I would think most children were barefoot and half starving in days gone by.. Hardships I would not wish upon the youth of today… I learnt a little more about the festival via your post today Alex.. Thank you

  2. For those of us here in California, with our heavy Mexican influence, many celebrate Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead), which is today and tomorrow. It’s a wonderful way to celebrate and remember our ancestors, and it helps to remind kids (and adults) that Halloween isn’t all about candy and costumes, gore and fright.

  3. I enjoyed this bit of history, not sure I would want a skull at the table, but setting a place for a deceased ancestor is something I could see myself doing. When my grandparents passed a way a year a part their loss was felt so deeply at our home on the holidays we should have just made a shrine to bring the loss out into the open.

    • To the ancients their ancestors were ever present, even being reborn amongst the family or community. Shrines was a way of reminding everyone to remember and include ancestors in their everyday activities.

      • Native Americans have a tradition where the elderly put aside in a pouch small items important to them. When they die, the family members inherit the pouches which they can remove the items and hold them, it is believed this helps in the mourning period. After a year, when they have adjusted to the loss they then toss the contents of the pouch. I have been considering something like this for my family since I do not want a showing or burial. My body will be given to science to study Muscular Dystrophy then cremated.

      • I love this pouch idea :-)

      • Yes, Alex, I hope by making pouches that my family won’t feel the need to hold on to furniture and such as a way to hold on to the memories.

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