Native American Ritual: The Dreamcatcher

dreamcatcher

The above image is an appropriation of the original idea and genuine representation of the Native American’s cultural icon, the Dreamcatcher, that has become a popular “New Age” kind of item as well as a lesser known art therapy “project” or “directive”. I am hoping to bring this one shown above, that I decorated at home today, to my studio, so I can add feathers to the hanging strings with the beads, as the feathers are believed to help the dreams to slide into the window. Wikipedia has a good description of the origin of the dreamcatcher and the connection with spider’s webs. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dreamcatcher). The basic idea is that the dreams travel through the circular dreamcatcher and the bad dreams are believed to be “caught” in the “weblike” structure, the parts with the string in it and the good dreams slide in with the help of feathers to enter the dreamer.

While it is great to find a really genuine dream catcher, they are a lot of fun to make. In this case, a friend of mine, Anastacia Kurylo, (kid’s party kits website: http://thecraftykids.com), gave me the bigger outer circle and smaller inner circle with precut holes from one of her kid’s party kits and I added my own materials (metallic yarn, paint, rhinestones, mirror, beads) to weave the “web”like part and decorate it. Another way to make them if you don’t have a handy model like this is to take some sculpture wire to make the circle and then wind thinner colored wire around and through it. You can add sequins, beads, buttons to the wire and then tie yarn at the bottom and put feathers and beads on it. You can also wind colorful pipe cleaners around the big wire circle to make your Dreamcatcher more colorful.

I think the Dreamcatcher as a project for art therapy or for a children’s activity in school or home is a beautiful combination of the Tibetan “Mandala” (Sacred Circle), which we art therapists have appropriated for art therapy and the idea of dream interpretation and the importance of dreams in many psychodynamic approaches, especially Jungian, as Carl Jung himself made many mandalas and also had his patients draw or paint them…

Chinese “Funeral” Paper

To continue where I left off with my “multicultural rituals” series, I will now travel to China. It turns out from my hunting around on the internet, that the Chinese have a very complicated series of rituals. This website has a very long exhaustive description to read (http://www.chinaculture.org/gb/en_chinaway/2004-03/03/content_46092.htm), so I will just point out a few interesting points, although the whole long process is fascinating, and it is much longer than traditional “Western” funerals, actually 49 days, with the first 7 days being most important. I point this out in particular because I like the idea. In the West, mourning is often not given enough time, and there is something to be said for having an extended time to be mourning, so that you really experience how life is not back to normal for quite a while. This feels much more respectful of the dead and the loved ones of the dead. The Irish come the closest to understanding that a funeral and wake need a lot of time and many kinds of rituals.

Some interesting superstitions or beliefs: The Chines cover up mirrors so that the reflection of the coffin cannot be seen or it will mean you will have a death in your family shortly.

Funeral papers, called “Joss Paper” are burned, and it seems the kind of paper used depends on who has died: “Joss paper and prayer money (to provide the deceased with sufficient income in the afterlife) are burned continuously throughout the wake.”

I actually first heard of the funeral papers when one of my supervisees, who loved using my orange and gold and grey and silver special paper from the Chinese “Pearl River Mart” in Soho, told me that actually the paper was funeral paper. I was reminded of the paper today while showing it to someone and remembered that I had not ever researched it or checked to see what was done with funeral papers. And many people have been drawn to that paper from a vast array of choices in my paper drawer. Here is a detail of a small collage painting on board that I made a few years ago, in which I used a lot of this “Funeral Paper”. Most of the orange in it is from the orange background and the metallic colors are from both color papers. As I painted on top of it, you see it after it has been manipulated, but the colors are the same. The piece for me has some kind of funeral evocations as it reminds me of the Twin Towers..

Image

There are many interesting aspects of the many rituals described on the above website. Here is another involving paper as well, called “holy paper”:

“When the prayer ceremonies are over, the wailing of the mourners reaches a crescendo and the coffin is nailed shut (this process represents the separation of the dead from the living). Then yellow and white “holy” paper is pasted on the coffin to protect the body from malignant spirits. During the sealing of the coffin all present must turn away since watching a coffin being sealed is considered very unlucky. The coffin is then carried away from the house using a piece of wood tied over the coffin, with the head of the deceased facing forward. It is believed that blessings from the deceased are bestowed upon the pallbearer, so there are usually many volunteers.”

“I thought that love would last forever. I was wrong.”

I feel I have to post something about today’s tragic events. My heart goes out to the parents and families whose little children are now dead, lost to them forever. There are no words for this tragedy, and no amount of words can bring back a dead 4, 5 or 6 year old. The empty hole of grief and loss will accompany a parent for the rest of his/her life, and for sure right now life itself is absolutely unbearable…

I picked up my own lovely 5 year old from school with a heavy heart, knowing that those parents have been robbed of this simple reuniting ritual, and robbed of their little child. I know there are no words, but poets sometimes know what to say to express the unbearable for the rest of us. I turn to the Auden poem I posted this week in relation to a discussion of death and funeral rituals. Here are the parts that pertain to today, written in April 1936:

Stop all the clocks, cut off the telephone,
Prevent the dog from barking with a juicy bone,
Silence the pianos and with muffled drum
Bring out the coffins, let the mourners come…

I thought that love would last forever: I was wrong…

The stars are not wanted now: put out every one;
Pack up the moon and dismantle the sun;
Pour away the ocean and sweep up the wood;
For nothing now can ever come to any good.

This poem has come to me often at different times of death and loss. “For nothing now can come to any good.” True hard words. What kind of world do we live in that such unspeakable acts can happen? Even before today, I have been asking myself this over the last several weeks. I admit part of this came from TV. I randomly watched several episodes of Oliver Stone’s Showtime tv documentary about the untold history of the united states, filled with footage of World War 2 and then a lot about the first atom bomb. I reflected a lot about these scenes and words. How human history is a long unending story of wars and killings and destruction. Hearing the narrative string together everything did not help to make any sense of this awful part of human nature. Even though we are not in World War 3, there is enough senseless killing and other unspeakable acts happening all over the world, in hot spots like the mid east, but also everywhere else, all the time, constantly, and today in Newtown, Connecticut.

There is no period in history that is not filled with the blood of innocents, no ethnicity or culture that is free of such evil. Whether in wars, each worse than the other, no matter where, or in “peaceful” nations such as ours, although we never seem to be free of killing our own and others somewhere usually far away: Korea, Vietnam, Cambodia, Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan, etc. I doubt there is ANY time in our nation’s history that is not like this.

I remember as a quite young child reading the Diary of Ann Frank and getting obsessed with her story and the tragedy and strangeness of her dying and her diary somehow surviving. A kind of triumph that her beautiful voice is there to be heard for the next generations; it is only through reading and other arts such as painting and music, that we are reminded that wonder still exists and some piece of goodness in some small place is shining through the constant darkness. For me, though my own preferred way of self expression is nonverbal painting, drawing and collage, I often turn to words and books for something, because of the paradox of the unspeakable and the miracle of words coming together in a simple poem or young girl’s diary that manage to express some hope for humankind…Or actually just put in words the horror of the endlessly destructive part of humanity we can’t seem to escape from, the very real hopelessness and unending emotional pain and suffering that is life in this world…

Over the summer a dear friend gave my daughter a wonderful children’s chapter book called “The BFG”, by Roald Dahl. Whatever age you are, read it soon! Suffice it to say without a long description of this great tale, there is a very instructive scene in which little Sophie, our heroine, is talking serious philosophy, ie. the strange awfulness of the nature of “human beans” with the Big Friendly Giant. I would like to end this post with that dialogue:

Sophie is lamenting the other bad giants’ endless killing and eating of humans when the BFG in his broken English reminds her,
“Human Beans is killing each other much quicker than the giants is doing it.”
“But they don’t eat each other,” Sophie said.
“Giants isn’t eating each other either,” the BFG said. “Nor is giants killing each other. Giants is not very lovely, but they is not killing each other. Nor is crockadowndillies killing other crockadowndillies. Nor is pussy-cats killing pussy cats.”
“They kill mice,”” Sophie said.
“Ah, but they is not killing their own kind,” the BFG said. “Human beans is the only animal that is killing their own kind.”…
A few paragraphs down, he continues to bring home the real part of the argument, for maybe some animals kill each other for food or some other reason, but not on a large scale and not constantly and not in such inhumane ways and not for no good reason whatsoever. We really are the ones who do that, each generation figuring out more awful massive ways to wipe out large amounts of other humans to today when we could just wipe ourselves out altogether and the whole planet with us…

He continues,
“They is shooting guns and going up in aeroplanes to drop their bombs on each other’s heads every week. Human beans is always killing other human beans.”…
Then a little later he clinches the argument with,
“The human beans is making rules to suit themselves,”  the BFG went on. “But the rules they is making do not suit the little piggy-wiggies. Am I right or left?.”
“Right,” Sophie said…
The BFG, pages 78-79.

Another beautiful Death poem:

by Dylan Thomas:

Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Though wise men at their end know dark is right,
Because their words had forked no lightning they
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Good men, the last wave by, crying how bright
Their frail deeds might have danced in a green bay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Wild men who caught and sang the sun in flight,
And learn, too late, they grieved it on its way,
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Grave men, near death, who see with blinding sight
Blind eyes could blaze like meteors and be gay, 
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

And you, my father, there on the sad height,
Curse, bless, me now with your fierce tears, I pray.
Do not go gentle into that good night.
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Cultural Diversity: Funerals, Continued

This post will focus on the Irish traditions and we will see if certain “stereotypes” are true. The idea of stopping the clocks brought up the memory of a WH Auden poem I love that was quoted in the movie, “Three weddings and a Funeral”:

Stop all the clocks, cut off the telephone,
Prevent the dog from barking with a juicy bone,
Silence the pianos and with muffled drum
Bring out the coffin, let the mourners come. 

Let aeroplanes circle moaning overhead
Scribbling on the sky the message He Is Dead,
Put crepe bows round the white necks of the public doves,
Let the traffic policemen wear black cotton gloves. 

He was my North, my South, my East and West,
My working week and my Sunday rest,
My noon, my midnight, my talk, my song;
I thought that love would last for ever: I was wrong.

The stars are not wanted now: put out every one;
Pack up the moon and dismantle the sun;
Pour away the ocean and sweep up the wood.
For nothing now can ever come to any good.

One of the most profound death poems I’ve ever come across.

Here’s what that same website, http://www.funeralwise.com/customs/ has to say about Irish culture concerning death: I must say that it is impressive in that it covers every aspect of dealing with death, from all emotions being a part of it to thorough amounts of important rituals and saying goodbye, making merriment balanced with sadness and lamenting…

Irish Wake and Funeral Customs of Old

Until modern times, Irish wake customs ran the gamut from profound grieving to what appeared to be rollicking good fun. This was especially true if the deceased was elderly. This curious mixture borne of a cultural blend of paganism and Christianity survives today in a severely toned-down fashion.

Wakes of times gone by began with neighbor women washing the body of the deceased and preparing it to be laid out on a bed or a table, often in the largest room of the house. The body was covered in white linen adorned with black or white ribbons, flowers for the body of a child. Lighted candles were placed around the body. Clay pipes, tobacco and snuff were also placed in the room. Every male caller was expected to take at least a puff. The smoke kept evil spirits from finding the deceased. Usually, a pipe and tobacco were place on a table next to the body. Occasionally, a pipe was laid on the chest of the deceased male. Clocks were stopped at the time of death. Mirrors were turned around or covered.

Watching Over the Deceased and Keening

Once the body was prepared, it was never left alone until after burial. Someone, usually a woman, sat in the same room until it was taken away. According to custom, crying couldn’t begin until after the body was prepared lest it attract evil spirits that would take the soul of the departed. However, once the body was properly prepared, the keening began. The Caointhe, the lead keener, was first to lament the deceased. Keeners, especially the Caointhe, recited poetry lamenting the loss of the loved one in addition to crying and wailing. All the women in the house joined in, especially as each new caller arrived to pay his or her respects.

Mourning and Merrymaking

Wakes lasted through two or three nights. Food, tobacco, snuff, and liquor were plentiful. Out in the countryside, the liquor served consisted of whiskey or poteen, which is a very potent and illegal Irish homemade brew. Laughter and singing as well as crying filled the air as mourners shared humorous stories involving the deceased. In addition to this seeming merriment, games were played. While this may appear to have been disrespectful of the dead, it was not the intention. It is thought that the merrymaking aspects of these wake customs were influenced by the Irish pagan heritage as well as the need to stay awake for such a long period of time. The church frowned upon these activities and tried hard to discourage the people from indulging in them, mostly to no avail.

No emotion was left out of the mourning process. Between the extremes of tears and laughter, heartfelt poetical lamentations and boisterous songs, there were debates. As the mourners gathered round the kitchen table, poteen or whiskey laden tea in hand, it was inevitable that discussions would begin. Often these debates turned heated as one might expect given that the most common topics concerned religion, politics or economics.

Mourners Pay Final Respects

One last opportunity for friends and neighbors to pay respects to the deceased came on the morning of the funeral. The body was placed in a coffin and brought outside the house. There, the open coffin was laid across some chairs, where it remained until time to carry it to the graveyard. Mourners kiss the deceased prior to the lid being placed on the coffin.

The journey to the church and then onto the graveyard was a long and arduous trip. Four of the closest relatives carried the coffin at a quick pace. They would be relieved by four more along the way and so it went until they reached the church. After the service, the procession would continue, again on foot, until reaching the graveside. The coffin was lowered into the grave and the clay, the common soil in Ireland, was shoveled over it. The spade and shovel were laid on top of the new grave in the form of a cross. Prayers were said, bringing the wake and funeral to a close.”

Cultural Diversity: Rituals, Part 2

This week will be a focus on a few interesting funeral rituals around the world. Because there are so many varied attitudes towards death, dying, disposing of dead bodies, funerals and memorial services, food, etc., this could end up being a series of posts about death… Here is some info about general Hindu and Muslim customs:

Hinduism: (I got this directly from the website: http://www.funeralwise.com/customs/hindu

“In the Hindu funeral tradition, the body remains at the home until it is cremated, which is usually within 24 hours after death. There, at the service, mourners may dress casually. Black attire is inappropriate and white is preferred. Flowers may be offered, but bringing food is not part of the Hindu custom. There is always an open casket and guests are expected to view the body. The Hindu priest and senior family members conduct the ceremony. Guests of other faiths, as well as Hindus are welcome to participate, but not expected to do so. Using a camera or recorder of any kind is not considered polite.

Ten days later, a ceremony is held at the home of the deceased in order to liberate the soul for its ascent into heaven. Visitors are expected to bring fruit. The mourning period ranges from 10 to 30 days after the death.”

Here is what the same website has to say about Muslim treatment of death and funeral rites:

“Islamic customs require that:

  • The body be turned to face towards Mecca, the holy center of Islam.
  • Guests of the same sex should greet each other with a handshake and hug.
  • A person sitting next to the body reads from the Koran. An Imam presides over the service.
  • The deceased’s eyes and mouth are closed. There is rarely an open casket.
  • Guests should not take photos or use recording devices.
  • The arms, legs, and hands of the body are stretched out in alignment with the body.
  • The death is immediately announced to all friends and relatives.
  • The body is bathed and covered in white cotton.
  • Within two days following death, the body is carried to the graveyard by four men. A procession of friends and relatives follow.
  • No discussion takes place at the time of burial, but all guests pray for the soul of the departed.
  • After the body is buried, all guests go to the house of the family of the deceased. A meal is prepared and guests usually stay for the entire day. Family members may stay for the whole week.
  • During this time, the family members socialize. It is believed that socializing helps to ease suffering.
  • If arriving late, guests should simply join in.

The mourning period officially last for 40 days. During that time, family members wear only black clothing. For one full year, the wife of the deceased continues to wear black, but the anniversary of the death is not observed.

In the Islamic culture death is accepted and viewed as a natural part of life. The belief that the deceased has moved on to a pleasant afterlife is an important belief and helps the bereaved cope with their suffering.”

Next post on Irish traditions…