day of the dead

CalaveraIt’s Día de los Muertos in parts of the world today. I like the holiday with its emphasis on visiting graves, and being cosy with the dead.

The picture on the right is one I drew a few years ago in my moleskine notebook. I love the calavera tradition of decorated skulls.

Venerating the skull, as the repository of the brain and human spirit, is a common element in many cultures, including our own. Head-hunting, and the display of the skulls of conquered enemies, was a practice in ancient Europe.

And the lure of the skull is still strong today.

I’m a regular reader of the Fortean Times, and look forward to my monthly reading of the magazine. There was a great article in it in April about “Skull Cops and the Cult of the Ñatitas“, which examines the Bolivian veneration of skulls of esteemed dead people, which are said to have healing and protective abilities. Even the police department has their resident skulls which help the officers fight crime.

This is a folk tradition the Catholic Church can’t even stamp out, despite its frowning upon the ceremonies surrounding the ñatitas. And of course, most of those who own and believe in the powers of the skulls – and the deceased who are said to inhabit them – are fervent Catholics.

The Fiesta de las Ñatitas, the biggest ceremony of the year, takes place on November 8th. During it the owners of the skulls bring the skulls to church ‘to hear’ a mass and receive a benediction from a priest. Despite the hierarchy’s disapproval, the ñatitas always get their day out and their blessing.

I would love to witness such an event: the candles smoking in the crowded chapel, the chanted devotions and the rows of precious skulls clustered around the altar, their eye sockets staring at the living.

It would be enough to make anyone a believer!

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