Last weekend I got to participate in a local event called the “All Souls Procession”. It’s a play off of Dia de Los Muertos (Day of the Dead), which is a big deal down here in the southwest. The idea came from an artist who was coping with loss of a loved one- and it exploded into this huge thing (as I understand it). People come from all over to join in this procession- walking with hundreds (thousands) of others to remember those who have gone before us.
I joined in with a local taiko group who treats the event very similarly to Obon- a Japanese festival which also happens to honor your dead. Very similarly to Dia de Los Muertos (and Feast of the Beautiful Valley), Obon is characterized by visiting graves of those who have passed and sharing a meal with said people. It is also characterized by dancing- which is what this group does in the procession.
Besides the procession itself, I think the most important part of this festival is the burning of the Urn. Every participant is asked to print out and fill out a Prayer Form. This form will then be put into a huge urn which is burned at the end of the evening. Everything that you were doing led up to this point- the burning of the urn. The letting go of whatever you had put onto the form. Letting go of the past.
To prepare for this, I printed out my form a week in advance. I placed it on my altar (heh) and let Set and Asar stand on it. Giving it their awesome ju-ju. I placed my Obon towel on the form- hoping that maybe something would click for me (I seriously didn’t know what to write). The night before the procession, I offered the gods fake wine, hot tea and cupcakes (which Set is reputed to like). I sat there and looked at my paper- trying to figure out what to write. I’ve had a lot happen lately, and there are a lot of things I want to let go of. With that, there are a lot of things that I want to celebrate and am looking forward to. I’m a very mixed person right now. Eventually, after a lot of thinking, I figured out what to write on the form. I folded it up high school note style and left it at the feet of my gods.
The day of the procession was hectic. I was hoping things would have gone smoother, that I would feel this awe inspiring magic of it all. But really? It didn’t happen. I was rushed, tired, and running on next to nothing. After walking the procession, I was even more tired and low on food options. It was freezing and all I wanted to do was curl up in a nice warm bed. However, this made me think about the recently popular topic of trial work and pain in ritual. Shouldn’t letting go involve some work? Perhaps be a bit uncomfortable? Is there anything really wrong with that? I mean, I am asking the gods to help me unload a bunch of crap off of my chest- the least I can do is keep my chin up while going through the process.
Walking the procession was interesting. There were people who were jerks, there were people who were really awesome. There we a couple of people who started to learn the dance and would dance with us- which is the way Obon should be. In that regard, it was awesome. During the procession, there are two parts where you walk through underpasses. In these sections, people scream and holler. It’s absolutely deafening- but for me, it was the best part. The energy, you couldn’t escape it.
At the end of the night, I was tired and grumpy. I seriously questioned why I would want to do this- freeze my butt off and walk all this way just to watch a big ball of flames. But I told myself to give it time and that perhaps in time things would be better and I would understand more about why I did this. I think that has happened. Since burning my paper (which was so full of energy I could barely touch it) I have finally decided that I need to get my health in order. I’ve worked on a list of priorities for things I need to get done. I feel like things are moving, however slowly, and that somehow burning my paper really did help me.
All in all, I do think that this was a good experience. I learned that I will be doing things a little differently next year, but the fact that I say “next year” says something, I think. I want to continue this, I want to make this a part of my yearly ritual calendar, and I want to be a part of something larger than me. I can’t wait to walk next year.
November 10, 2011 at 6:50 pm
Firstly, what is Obon? It sounds intriguing. I’m assuming you found this form in your Shinto search.
Two, I think that whole idea is the most kick ass thing, ever. Around here, religion is a hand you play nclose to your chest. I think, we as northerners, take politically correctness to the nth degree so larhe displays like this are just NOT DONE. It’s depressing and makes me jealous when I read the joy these things inspire in others. It also makes me want to crusade my ass around for shit like this around here.
Neither here nor there. Just some rambles.
Third of all, your thoughts abouut pain and spirituality are very interesting. Those things have been posted all over the blogs I read lately. It’s makin’ my brainses percolate.
Lastly, I was planning on something similar to this tonight. (I’m sick as hell right now. Ugh.) I looked up the meanings behind all of the full moons not long ago and THIS one is the ‘letting go’ full moon. Pretty much, what you put in that urn? I’ll be doing that at home.
November 10, 2011 at 9:03 pm
For a general overview on Obon: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bon_Festival
It seems to have roots in Buddhist practice, but I know that Barrish sensei has talked about Obon recently as well- so I think the practice has become more cultural, less religion specific. Here is what he had to say about it:
“re: Halloween, it is in it’s origin completely analogous to Obon, a time when the divide/ veil between the realms of those who have left this life and those who are currently living is at it’s thinnest. So it is a time to enjoy to commune with relatives and close friends who are no longer incarnate. It is actually a really happy, poignant and profoundly spiritual season. As the days become shorter and our KI naturally begins to turn inwards it is also a season that should bring about self reflection and deep appreciation for the precious and transitory gift of being alive as well as a sense of awe and mystery and gratitude for the efforts of those who have lived before.
As for the preoccupation with the macabre, death, decay, cruelty and gore that is prevalent in our culture, it is just a manifestation of the overall violent nature of US Culture.
As for a Shinto view– both profound appreciation and gratitude for ancestors and also real enjoyment of entertaining and/or scary costumes and sugary treats are totally appropriate seasonal actions…. Happy Halloween everyone!!!”
Religion can be a touchy topic around here. Day of the Dead is probably one of the most active religious activities in this area- though it’s treated more as a cultural thing than a religious one, I feel. I don’t know that anyone else in the group treated this as a religious ritual the way I did. Because I was treating it as such, I really wish I had had more of a chance to center myself before starting- because maybe I could have gotten more out of it.
I don’t know why the concept of pain in ritual has stuck in my head recently. Perhaps it’s a case of giving to get, or even a matter of change hurts, and sometimes you have to hurt in order to really change. I dunno. It has stuck, for better or worse 😛
I will be interested to hear how your ritual goes. Ironic that everyone is on a ‘letting go’ kick all of a sudden. It’s weird how so many people seem to get similar ideas all at the same time- like some hidden memo that was entered into our brains while we were sleeping XD