There are some places in the world where the presence of the ancestors can be felt more so than anywhere else. Usually it is because these places are extremely old and they keep stories that can no longer be found amongst the people of today. It’s as if the memories are getting stronger as the humans of the earth are forgetting more and more the ways of yesterday.
This morning as we were driving through our little town, doing some errands, we noticed a crowd of people in the cemetery behind the old, historical Catholic Church. Hidden under black umbrellas, dressed in black clothing, these people awakened in both my husband and I an impression of time passed. It’s rare these days that you’ll see burials of the kind because more and more people get cremated but this one was even more surprising because it occurred in one of the old burial grounds of the old village. We wondered for a moment who could have possibly passed away? Who still had access to the old family plots?
Plus, since it’s Halloween we even questioned whether it was real or not…
All kidding aside, I was caught aback by how much this random event managed to touch me so deeply. Several years ago when I traveled to the Caribbean I was inspired by how the people of the islands care for their dead. Cemeteries are often near the water and are shaded by canopies of old tropical trees. The tombstones are elaborate, painted often with pastel colors and adorned with beautiful flowers. You can tell that a lot of time and effort is given to these sacred grounds and that people give a lot of meaning to dying in these parts of the world. Whether you travel to Mexico, Cuba or the Caribbean Islands – their cemeteries show that death is an important part of the south or equator cultures. It is not macabre, scary or eerie but quite the opposite. You have the impression that death is full of heavenly promises.
In North America our cemeteries are huge like the one we find on Mount Royal in Montreal, Quebec. The tombs are set up in a linear fashion and most are close to the ground, similar to each other. Peace and purity seems to be more of the impression that you get when walking through these kinds of sacred grounds. In small towns where the stones are as old as the early 1700’s, the feeling is different. The grounds aren’t catered and you can see that the dead were buried sometimes in a hurry because of fever… Sorrow is heavier in these little villages where the population was scarce.
More and more territory is becoming an issue especially with the growing human population. In the last decade I’ve seen lots of cornfields become suburban towns, which promise easy access to big cities with the possibility of intimate community living. It seems important to people where they live. This morning my question was: “should it be important where people die as well?” Obviously, it was to the person who was finding his or her resting place in an old family plot, in an old historical town.
When traveling out West over a decade ago I had the good fortune of visiting ancient Aboriginal totemic sacred grounds. I found it incredible the way totem poles were carved from living trees and how they represented the stories of whole families. I understood then, how important it once was for people to be remembered. Yet, it wasn’t only about humans and their stories, it was also about their connection to their ancestral land. The totem poles were a symbol of the kinship that existed between people and nature.
Today, I’m questioning territory in death rather than in life. How important is it to have a resting place? I’ve always been kind of a nomad. I’ve never lived in a town that I could call home. Every 3 to 5 years our family has a tendency to move away and explore new territory. We like to travel and learn about different people. We do belong to a community of individuals but they don’t all live in the same town. What reunites us is common ground in life perceptions. Yet, for someone like me who follows shamanic living – sacred ground is important. I’m seeing more and more that loving Mother Earth can stretch beyond the surface and touch the roots.
Photo: Caribbean Island.