calaveras & candles

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In order to soothe my autumn-needing-soul, I’ve started thinking about Dia de los Muertos already. Summer ends, the earth starts closing up shop for winter, the cycles of life surround us.  Rituals celebrating the deaths of ancestors have been observed by cultures all over the planet.  All Souls’ Day in European folklore and folk belief, the Chinese Ghost Festival, Dia de los Muertos…

It’s my favorite holiday of the year, and this year will be particularly poignant as my grandfather passed away in April.


Last year was also incredibly intense. At the end of September 2008, our friend Kirsten Brydum was murdered in New Orleans. On the same day, I had a miscarriage. There were huge, beautiful altars for Kirsten, and for all women who’s lives are cut short by violence, and I created a personal walking altar for my loss.


In 2007, the Marigold Project asked the art collective I was part of to create an altar in the park.



This year it’s on a Monday, so hopefully will be a bit more serious – it usually is respectful, but things always get crazy here for some reason. By the way, they’re trying to raise funds for the city fees for this years event: please go chip in if you can.

I’m thinking of something different this year: I want to have my Family to manifest spell-costumes of wood-spirits, traditional still, yes, but more feral – I’m feeling a loss of our connection to that spirit-place, and want to honor it and resonate in it.

(Here’s a sign – I went to go look up images & found a slew of what I’d been thinking of had just now been posted to Tumblr. Collective unconscious.)

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Do you celebrate Dia de los Muertos, or All Souls? Do you have an altar, attend a procession, sit silently and wait for the voices of your ancestors?


  1. I had never heard of Kirsten Brydum or Marcella “Sali” Grace Eiler, and although what I read made me sad, it was good to know about them & what luminous people they were.
    I love all the images in your post.

  2. i have a little altar with many different colors of ritual candles. small ones. sometimes photos go there, sometimes nothing. i don’t feel much connection, if any, with my ancestors, but i often wish that i did. i spend all souls trying to keep my thoughts as loving and positive as possible so that the people i’ve loved who are gone now (most of whom are animals) might hear me. i’ve always had this idea that they’d be distressed to feel my grief on the one day that it’s supposed to be possible. i don’t meditate on it because i’m not really able to observe it without going to pieces. the culture of my family is to ignore death, i think, so i don’t sit next to it comfortably at the dinner table like some of my friends from other countries do (well, to the extent that it’s possible for human beings). i admire the gentle dry wit of dia de los muertos. instead i just try to be mindful all day long, after i light my candles. i think maybe i try to tune out for fear that i won’t ‘feel anything’ of their energies around me. all the platitudes about death that i try to believe go out the window when i’m dealing with personal loss.

  3. Yes, I’m not good with death AT ALL, which is why I think I’m so drawn to this? It helps and in a way forces me to think about it and meditate on it.

    Tiny Pye altars for you. <3

  4. there is an alter show up here at our Fairgrounds and we go every year… used to always go to the Mission. I think it is important to slow down and reflect on what has been lost and who has passed to the other side. i always light a candle in my window on Nov. 2nd to honor any of my kin who have passed. i think it’s the kind of thing that, once you are given or borrow the idea, you always want to do… a deep need in human nature.

    so sorry about your little one.

  5. because of the geographic location of where i live i grew up with dia de los muertos being such an ordeal every year, even though i am not hispanic catholic. i have my alter (alters) that i maintain all year. photos, bits of hair of those i’ve loved and lost, bits of nail, vials of fluid, beautiful things, little dead things i’ve found. we also have the sinners wishing shrine, the only shrine in america recognised by the catholic church dedicated to the life of a sinner. i also walk in the all soul’s procession. these events are the beginning/end of each of my years instead of new years.
    i’ve never seen the photo of your dress. it is probably the most beautiful direct and lovely sentiment i’ve ever seen to a miscarriage.

  6. oh! reading this was like an icicle to the heart. your friend sounded incredible, how lucky you were to have known her but how terrible and tragic and wrong to lose her, i’m so sad for you.

    that dress you wore was beautiful and honest and brave. as ever, there’s beauty and darkness everywhere.

  7. Beautiful post. I didn’t know Kirsten personally but she was dating our friend John at the time. We were absolutely sickened when we heard what happened to her. She seemed like such a wonderful person – always fighting the good fight.

  8. I have been to a few Dia de los Muertos celebrations/rituals but don’t really do any of my own. Or rather, I haven’t in recent years. As time travels onward and I lose loved ones, I do feel more drawn to this – and more especially since Autum/Winter is my favorite time of the year, it all seems so fitting. I lost someone very special to me last July and I think I will honor and remember them this year with a ritual.

    I’m sorry to read about your friend. New Orleans. Sigh. I miss it but many things about it I do not. I’ve been told New Orleans is considered a “Scorpio” city and the intensity of living there crests and ebbs accordingly. I was also told that while many wonderful things could happen for you there, you would always pay somehow “in blood.”

    Lovely post and lovely images for a rather somber subject, but somehow it still inspires!

  9. Each year, since I discovered sugar skulls and my incredible attraction to them, my spouse and I have held a potluck for Day of the Dead (dia de los muertos) we decorate sugar cookies and decorate sugar skulls in memory of / celebration of our loved ones.
    North America is vvery unlike othe rplaces on earth in the way we treat death as a business and leave the bodies of our loved ones to be dealt with by ‘professionals’ , and while our way seems to be the way that many ‘westernized’ countries are following I think our death procedures are cold, sterile and leave those left behind scared and alone feeling entirely disconnected from one they used to share a close connection with. Perhaps this is why I have latched on to this day with such tenacity. I want to the connection with those that are no longer physically here and I feel as though something was denied me in the way their deaths have been treated.
    How brave of you to mourn your miscarriage so publicly. I think all potential mothers who ‘lose’ children should have the freedom to do so. I truly believe that this life is only but a stop on our journey and that children who did not make it to this life will see us in another.

  10. there is a beautiful, enormous event in Tucson where i live called the All Souls Procession….over 15,000 people of all ages, cultures, etc parade through the streets in costumes, with altars, candles, etc, and place their prayers into a giant urn. there is a culminating finale – a public ritual/performance and the urn gets lifted high into the air and burned.

    it is one of the most incredible and powerful community experiences i have ever had the honor to be a part of.

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