11 Jul 2013

Rituals

“It’s not that we have a short time to live, but that we waste a lot of it.” Seneca

A few days ago I saw on TV the funeral of a well known Aboriginal singer and song writer, who was also the first Australian Aboriginal man to obtain a college qualification anywhere in Australia. A group of Aboriginal men carried out a traditional dance and wore specific clothes to mark their sorrow for their loss. In the following days I read that part of the Aboriginal mourning ritual includes not mentioning the name or showing any pictures of the dead person for a period of time after the death. All this made me think of the importance of funeral and mourning rituals in all societies. It’s thought that these rituals help us accept the loss of our loved ones.

Findings from Europe’s main paleontological excavation in Atapuerca, Spain, show that our ancestors from 3 00 000 years ago already followed rituals when burying the members of their group.

Some people believe that in lots of cultures death has become something solitary and hidden which doesn’t affect the community. It’s talked about as the “invisible death.” In Spain, the traditions associated with death are simpler than they used to be. There’s no real mourning ritual any more. A couple of generations ago people used to wear black or some modest clothing to demonstrate the pain of losing a loved one. However this was often perceived as an imposition by a society influenced too often by ultrareligious and moralistic views, which didn’t necessarily reflect the feelings of the person wearing that clothing but was a measure by which others could judge if the people in mourning were behaving decently or not.

According to history books, until the tenth century, in Spain the rituals associated with death were led by the family and friends of the dead person, who expressed their sorrow for their loss in a very vehement way. The length of mourning varied and people dressed in red, green, blue…the most beautiful dresses to honour that person. After that, social convention required that sorrow was expressed in a quieter way. One couldn’t cry and lose control expressing emotions. From this time on the family and friends of the dead person stopped being the main actors. While their role became limited to receiving visitors, the main roles in the funerary and mourning ceremonies become reserved for monks and other secular members of religious orders, the "death specialists."

Today, outside the church, there’s hardly any ritual associated with the death of a loved one, which can give the feeling of that death being unimportant.

I think that there must be better ways of dealing with things, leaving aside the rigid traditions that used to be forced on us but allowing us to take the positive elements of some of those old rituals to guide us and help us through the pain of losing a loved one.

“One by one we’re all mortal, together we’re eternal.” Quevedo