Pagan beliefs, where life communes with the cycle of nature, still survive in the form of festivals and similar events across different regions of the world in the 21st century. These kinds of rituals still survive in Asia and in certain Latin America countries such as Mexico and Peru, and they create a different perspective to the concept of afterlife, for which people try to instill a meaning to, while bringing the conventionalism in belief-related values to light.
Derived from Latin words, pagus and pagani, “pagan” means “villagers or country people living in rural”, and is associated with animatism (spiritualism) and naturalism (worshipping to nature). Ancient Mesopotamia, ancient Egypt, and Middle East religions, Hinduism and similar belief systems are studied under the name of pagan traditions. There are also some researchers who relate the origins of these ancient beliefs to the old religions of Europe. Pagans respect the divinity found in everything by celebrating the holiness of nature. The conceptual name of paganism is polytheism. Paganism involves naturalism and spiritualism within itself and has also been a symbol for humiliation for some western societies from time to time. For instance, civilians or societies who were not warriors were called “pagans” by old Roman soldiers for humiliation. The pagans depicted their sacred forces with a shape, symbol or living beings.
Although some researchers stated that certain sacred values were tried to be humanised for quantification, actually these values have transformed into some concrete rituals by way of respecting the past, memorizing the ones who passed away and life-cycle. “Day of the Dead” in Mexico and Peru and the “walking dead” ceremony of Toraja people in the Sulawesi Island in Indonesia can be given as symbolic examples. The activities turned into festivals among these ceremonies are the “Day of the Dead” organised in Mexico and Peru.
Not a disappearance but a legend of comeback
Dating back to some 2500 – 3000 years ago, these ceremonies for remembering the deceased people in Latin American countries such as Mexico, Nicaragua and Honduras have transformed into a festival and are now among the most attractive activities of the world. According to the sources at hand, Day of the Dead is celebrated on November 2nd. Based on modern information, it includes the day and night of November 1st.
Mexico celebrates the traditional Day of the Dead on the last days of September and the first days of November every year. Due to the duration and participation characteristics of the celebrations, they also call this day as the cult of Holy Death. Mexico celebrates the Day of Dead or Dia De Los Muertos on November 2nd as in many of Latin American countries. The festival (Dia De Los Muertos) celebrated in the capital Mexico City and described as an Aztec tradition, starts with a parade which is based on a legend that the dead come back to the world. Dance and music groups create interesting scenes in the city.
With this festival, it is aimed to remind that death is a reality of life. In Aztec belief, there is a goddess looks after and protects the dead. Every year the Aztecs offered flowers to the goddess as a sign of respect. After the arrival of Christians to the country, the festival of the Day of the Dead has transformed but never lost its essence. On this very special day people believe that the souls of their deceased relatives visit them on earth so they sing and have fun instead of grieving. Millions of Mexicans participate in the festival.
The ‘Ma’nene Festival
There is a similar remembrance in Lima, capital of Peru. Accompanied by musicians, the visitors coming to the Cemetery of Nueva Esperanza located in Lima visit their relatives’ graves while the dancers perform in the cemetery for the festival. In Sulawesi Island of Indonesia, the Toraja people take their relatives’ bodies from the grave, clean them up, dress them in new clothes and have their photos taken. It is said that the Festival of Ma’nene known as the Ceremony of Cleaning Corpses has been held for centuries.
It is important to remember that the religious traditions are cultural values dating back to ancient times and still exist today although they seem bizarre. Contrary to the modern human beings positioning themselves as the rulers of nature, we should respect the efforts of some communities in protecting their ancestral cultural heritage…
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