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Dinner with the Dead

Dinner with the Dead

This last weekend, the streets were awash with blood-spattered zombies and drunken ghouls. Elaborately carved pumpkins glowed in many windows and hordes of miniature monsters gathered on our doorsteps, demanding that we add to their sugary spoils.

Between Halloween, Samhain, the Day of the Dead and All Souls, this is traditionally seen by many cultures as the time when the veils between the worlds are at their thinnest, when the dead visit the living for feasting, revelry and celebration.

And while rocking costumes and getting wasted is all good fun, what if you just don’t feel like dressing up and getting down? What if you would rather celebrate the dead with a meaningful ritual?

Many of us know the profound pain of losing someone we love – and yet we don’t have many opportunities to talk about those who are no longer with us. There’s the funeral, possibly a memorial service, but other than that, we have to navigate the murky waters of grief without any occasion that honours the memory of those who have died. What if we could use this weekend as an opportunity to consciously celebrate those we have loved and lost?

A Day of the Dead Dinner is a wonderful ritual, created by artists Rachel Rose Reid and Pablo Villierezz, where everyone brings a beloved dead person to a feast, gathering together to share their flavours and stories and to honour their memory.
Here’s how it works.

When and Where

A Dinner for the Dead is particularly powerful around this time of year, as the darkness descends and the veils thin. But honouring our dead loved ones can happen at other times, too.

Host the dinner in your home, if you have space. Or ask a friend with a generous spirit and a long table. The host doesn’t have to do much other than provide a space, because this is a very unusual dinner party. There’s almost no cooking, little expense and barely any washing up.

Lay a table that has plenty of colour, candlelight and flowers. At one end, create a raised area that can serve as an altar. This can simply be a box or two, safely stacked and level, covered with a tablecloth, some flowers and an unlit candle for every guest.

What to Bring

  • The memory of a beloved dead person
  • A generous willingness to listen, as well as to speak, with love
  • A photograph of the dead person. If you don’t have one, paint or draw them.
  • A single dinner plate of their favourite food or signature dish, from a Fray Bentos pie to a pot of coq au vin, a bowl of rollmops or a Viennetta ice cream.
  • An example of their chosen tipple, from their favourite tea to a bottle of sherry to ingredients for Snowballs.
  • If you like, you can bring a piece of music they loved, checking with the host beforehand to see what kind of format it should be. You can also bring a significant object.
  • Above all, bring their stories. Bring their jokes, their triumphs, their tragedies and their challenges. Your words will serve to muster their memory and honour their life and death.

What You Will Eat

This is by no means a fancy dinner party. This is a multi-sensory experience of people whose tastes have never been brought together before, and will never be again. Aunt Sarah’s apple cake may be followed by Grandpa Alexander’s pickled cucumbers, with Uncle Hugo’s favourite spam fritters washed down with Granny Eliza’s infamous homemade hooch.
It’s just going to be a weird menu.
Enjoy it anyway.

Who to Invite

Invite friends, and friends of friends, who have lost a loved one at some point in life. As for the beloved dead guest, invite anyone whose memory is both meaningful and personal to you.
Please note: this is not a fantasy dinner party where Jane Austen and Elvis might rub invisible shoulders with Ghandi and Marilyn. This is about real people, those whose lives and deaths touched your own. The idea is to bring a grandparent, a relative, a friend, a teacher.
Anyone you love who has died.
Best stick to humans, or the food will be even weirder.

The Beginning

Turn off your phones. Once everyone is seated, open with a welcome to both to the living and the dead. You’re about to meet an as-yet-unknown cast of fascinating characters so invite them all in to the celebration.

It’s also a good idea to acknowledge that, due to the nature of the evening, there may be a whole spectrum of emotions. Some may be sad, others enraged. Someone might get the giggles while someone else remains numb. Everyone there will have experienced death, after all, so everyone knows grief follows no predictable patterns.

The Middle

Each guest takes it in turns to share their dead person, without interruption. Let them come to life, with words and sounds and tastes and emotions.
Pass around their picture. Explain what they meant to you. Tell their stories. Eat their food. Drink their drink.

Take your time.

When it comes to a natural completion, raise a toast to the loved one, add their image to the altar and light a candle in their memory. Then, after a brief moment of silence, move on to whoever feels to go next.

The End

When everyone has told their tales, the altar will be full of faces, flickering in the candlelight. Minds may be full of memories and hearts full of emotions. Bellies will probably be gurgling with an eccentric array of foodstuffs and some might just be a little tipsy.

So take a moment to thank each other, the host and the guests, both living and the dead, for what has just happened. Whether you feel that your beloved dead joined you in spirit for the feast, or that they were simply present in your thoughts and memories, take one last moment to call them to mind and send them love.

And then, as you blow out their candle, remember this.

You are alive.
Right now.
Fully, viscerally, emphatically alive.
So enjoy.

Celebrate life.
Both theirs, and yours.

http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/tiu-de-haan/dinner-with-the-dead_b_8439660.html

How to Kick-Start Your Creativity With a Ritual

How to Kick-Start Your Creativity With a Ritual

The creative director of a global agency recently told me that when she gets stuck for ideas, she stands on her desk.

“It literally gives me a different perspective,” she says. “A bit rebellious, maybe. But it works for me.”

Given that Motley Crue’s backstage demands include a 12-foot boa constrictor, a sub-machine gun and a jar of Grey Poupon mustard, I think she may have some wriggle room when it comes to rebellious rituals that spark creativity.

In fact, learning about the daily rituals of the great creative minds is an education in eccentricity. Some greeted their pots and pans at 7am (Jung), others took naked “air baths” before settling down to work (Benjamin Franklin), and some wrote only when there was a cow in view (Gertrude Stein).

We all have creative ideas lurking in the backs of our minds. The snag is that’s where they often stay. Creating a ritual to access your own creativity helps you to get your words on the page or your colours on the canvas.

The trick is experimenting with what works for you.
Day or night-time, bed or coffee shop, laptop or notebook. Long walks or short naps. Strict schedules or permission to procrastinate.
There are no rules, other than those we create for ourselves.

As a celebrant, I help people to create rituals of all kinds that bring a little magic into the mundane. I also coach people who want to access their creativity.
And so I use creativity rituals every day.
In fact, I rely upon them.

I am – allegedly – writing a book. It covers life, love and death. It is a book born of my heart, brain, guts and soul. It feels like a baby forming in my belly, a huge new presence whose existence will transform everything, when its due date eventually arrives.

No pressure, then.

The thing is that writing the book is so important to me, so weighted with the potential and power that I have ascribed to it, that suddenly, by contrast, everything else on my to do list seems seductively shiny and incredibly fun.

Clean the fridge? Why, I don’t mind if I do.
Tackle the tax return, months ahead of schedule? Bring it on.
Clear out the bottom of the laundry basket? Hand washing never seemed so sexy.
Write a blog or two or three? Hello, dear reader. It’s been a while.

So in avoiding writing the book, this is what I have ended up doing instead. Writing about ritualising writing.
In order to avoid writing.

Perverse? Yep.
Productive? Kinda.

The kitchen cupboards are arranged so neatly it’s like playing Tetris in 3D. Exercise has changed from a chore to a treat, with muscles appearing in places where until recently I only had, well, places. My receipts are filed in date order and my desk is spotless.

Procrastination itself can be part of the creative ritual. It can clear the decks, both inner and outer. And it means that when I actually start writing, the words can flow and I have a clean fridge.

Four simple ways to kick-start your creativity:

1. Create a ritual.
In my case, one more coffee than is strictly sensible and lighting a particular candle. There’s something about the extra blast of hot, strong fire-power that helps my brain form itself into words. When combined with a candle with a particular smell – hinoki wood, in this case – it’s as if my senses inform my errant brain that writing time has begun. Create a ritual that is meaningful to you. Make it brief, multi sensory and easily done. And do it every time you get to work.

2. Turn off the wifi.
Get an app that makes it impossible to go online without restarting your computer. Or take yourself somewhere where offline is the only option. There’s a writer who works best when she is on a plane or train where distractions can’t dispel her focus. Or go analogue and take your notebook to a park.

3. Set a time limit.
Put your phone on airplane mode and set a timer for 30 minutes. When it sounds, stop whatever you’re doing and reset it for 5 minutes. Take a break. Facebooking, tea making, dancing, anything goes. Then set it for another 30 minutes and get back to work, knowing the stretch is short enough to be manageable, yet long enough to be productive.

4. Agree a deadline.
Any deadline will do, as long as it isn’t solely with yourself. It might be an agreement with a trusted friend or a regular meeting of like-minded artists where you share your work. Better yet, set a deadline which may open up new possibilities – a competition submission, a funding proposal, a meeting with an agent.

There is a you-shaped space in the world that only you can fill – and a creative ritual is one way of deliberately stepping into that space.

Now, all I need to do is stand on my desk, say hello to my frying pan and go and find one of Gertude Stein’s thought-provoking cows.

Holding the Moment – Why We Still Need Ritual in Modern Life

Holding the Moment – Why We Still Need Ritual in Modern Life

When Grace Gelder‘s self-marriage hit the headlines last week, it started a conversation about what it means to celebrate single life with a ceremony.

I was the one who led Grace’s ceremony that spring day. I’m what is known as a “celebrant” – someone who helps people create meaningful ceremonies that celebrate life, love and death according to their values and beliefs, whatever they may be.

Grace’s decision to marry herself was her own way of celebrating her journey and it seems to have opened up the idea that some people want to celebrate the transitions of life in creative ways. It’s not about what others tell us we should find important enough to celebrate, or deciding how we should honour our milestones. It’s about the universal human need for ritual to make sense of our lives.

I didn’t always know this. I learned it when tragedy hit my life, and ritual was the only thing that helped.

The moment I discovered my housemate had died is forever etched in my memory. It was an April night, eleven years ago. I was in a steamy internet café in a tiny town somewhere in Thailand. The air was thick with the hum of aged computers, the buzz of mosquitoes, the thrum of passing motorbikes. It was my 29th birthday and I had come to check my emails for messages from home. And suddenly I found myself reading and re-reading the words of a well-meaning friend who had assumed I had already heard what had happened:

“I was very shocked by the news of Ev. Life is so fragile. I can’t believe she’s gone, it’s hard to take in.”

None of it made sense. Ev was like my sister, the first person I would see in the morning and the last at night. Now I had to absorb the news that she had died, suddenly, and there I was on the other side of the world, with no way of making it back to the funeral.

So when the hour of her funeral came, I decided to create my own little ceremony for Ev, on a deserted beach. I didn’t yet know about the ancient human need for ritual, across all cultures and all eras of history. I just knew I needed to do something to say goodbye.

I made a little paper boat. With wax crayons, I drew Ev, smiling and waving, with her trademark red lips and her dark brown bob. I lit a stick of incense and stuck it through the apex of the roof and then I waded into the waves, and spoke to the drawing of her on the boat.

I cried as I told her I loved her, wished I had been able to say goodbye and was sending her off, setting her course to sail to where her parents and grandparents were waiting. Then I put the boat into the water and pushed it off towards the horizon. It bobbed away, the incense mast smouldering like a miniature torch, and I watched it float into the darkness until it vanished completely.

I was traveling alone that year, having gone through a break-up and a career change, hiking in jungles and swimming in oceans in the hope of figuring out what to do with the rest of my life.

Ev’s death ended up playing a hand in that. It led me to see the power of ritual in making sense of the incomprehensible, how ceremony provides a container for emotion, reflection and transition, the punctuation we need in the frenetic stream of life.

A funeral is a full stop. A wedding is a plus sign. A naming ceremony is a new sentence with its own capital letter. In other cultures, additional rituals are commas, or even semi-colons, used to honour milestones that we don’t even acknowledge, from the transition to adulthood to becoming a grandparent, from the anniversary of a death to the changing of the seasons. Without ceremony, it’s far harder to really let go of the old or begin the new.

These days, as a secular celebrant, I help people to create their own signposts in this culture. I lead bespoke celebrations to mark the transitions in their lives, from baby namings to weddings and funerals, and everything in between, including celebrating Grace’s commitment to being all she can be.

As I go along, one of the many things I’m learning is that it’s rarely the chocolate fountain, the finger food, the fine champagne or the great dress that satisfies the soul – even though I love those things as much as anyone. It’s the ritual at the centre of the celebration, the fleeting, sacred moment, when we all get to pause, reflect, feel and shift, and step into a whole new chapter.

Tiu The Celebrant

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