Our time in this physical body is limited, and that truly unites us. Death is the one condition attached to every form of life.
When we do Day of the Dead altars, we call upon our ancestors. They come from the region where Death is from. They come here for a day, to the land of the living, with permission to enjoy, celebrate and reaffirm the ties of identity in a community. The ones who come are those who have gotten ahead of us. And they come with the message that there is an afterlife.
It’s quite meaningful that this rite has survived colonialism, specially in a deeply Catholic society such as the Mexican, given that in theory there shouldn’t be any rites to other entities that are not God himself. For me Death is another manifestation of God , as hard to understand as it always is when it touches upon those we love the most.
This year I’m having two special conversations on Day of the Dead; one of them, with contemporary artist Betsabeé Romero, whose world has been displayed in major institutions such as the British Museum and the Museo de San Carlos. In our conversation through instagram live on October 27th at twelve pm EST, we will talk about the history and significance of the Day of the Dead. This year she put together a special print-out kit for people around the world to do their own altar using her designs. Here you can find a quick video that explains what it looks like, and what you need. The elements needed to create your own altar at home are quite basic.
The most determinant element for this ritual is to have an intention set, which should be about honoring the lives of those who are no longer with us. It’s also a moment to be grateful for their lives and to forgive whatever might have been left pending. Pictures are a very useful tool to tune into the energy of our loved ones, and so are sugar skulls which are here to remind us that death, after all, is sweet. If you don’t have sugar skulls, you can also create your own by using salt dough, which is a mix of two parts of flour, one part salt, and a touch of creativity to bring the skulls to life.
Pan de Muerto, (Day of the Death bread) is also a good add-on, and so are different elements such as salt, water, copal, Papel Picado, and their favorite food.
For me the tradition is truly important when it comes to honoring the lives of my loved ones, but it’s also a space to let go of all those things that don’t serve me, and to honor the different deaths I’ve lived through during the year. This has been a particularly charged year where every emotion has been present.
Rituals braid us together. Make it your own. Feel its transcendental power, and if you want to build your altar with me, tune-in to instagram live on Wednesday, October 28th at midday EST.
And the journey continues.
-pictures taken at Collective 64 by Nina Surel