Category Archives: religion

The village culture reports: death

Every year in mid-autumn, local galleries here invite submission of art related to the Day of the Dead. At least in Texas, where Mexican culture has become so mainstream that its symbolism is part of everyday life, this celebration is really ubiquitous.

However, there is something to be noted: said galleries feel the need to warn artists not to submit any Halloweeny content, like zombies and other gore. The Day of the Dead is nothing like Halloween, they insist to explain; it’s not about fear or disguise but about respect and connection with death.

And there is something very telling in our confusion and replacement of a day of commemoration of the dead with an (optionally scary) dress up party that Halloween has become. I agree, dress up is good and it used to have its own time for that (Carnival), but today I’d like to argue that we need more of what the Day of the Dead is: an opportunity to connect with death and our own departed to help us better make sense of their departure and our life. And I believe that village culture does that very well. Continue reading

Codex Calixtinus, or the tourist guide for pilgrims to Santiago de Compostela

Codex Calixtinus, the precious 12th century guide for pilgrims heading towards Santiago de Compostela,  was stolen yesterday from the Cathedral of that Spanish town. Since Santiago (Saint James) had a very influential cult in the Middle Ages, his alleged tomb in Compostela became an extremely popular pilgrimage site for people from all over Europe – in fact, the third most important one after Jerusalem and Rome. Streams of devout people came walking (there were no cars or bikes back then!) the Way of Saint James  all the way from France, Italy, Poland,  Hungary to ask the Saint for a favor or as a penance. Quite a feat. Continue reading

Rituals for ringing in a New Year

ViaMoi

ViaMoi

The tradition to celebrate a New Year is perhaps universal, although not the precise date of its occurrence, which can be the winter solstice, the end of harvest time in the fall, the beginning of spring.

But what about that special moment announcing the actual arrival of the New Year? Is it important, how is it chosen and how is it marked? How do people actually ring it in? After all, it is the culmination of the festivities, the moment the New Year is considered to be officially here. It is the threshold dividing the Old from New, marking the transcendental step into the new and unknown.

So, it is only logical that special attention be given to that particular moment. The beginning of the New Year in different cultures may be at midnight, for cultures that rely on the clock. Or it can be at sundown, the coming out of a new moon, or perhaps even at sunrise, in cultures that mark time through natural phenomena. Continue reading

Monster narratives

Speaking of monsters, as well as Frankenstein, I was thinking about how we define monsters in everyday life and popular narratives and how we give them meaning. I happened upon this story about a man with a peculiar deformity that makes his skin turn into tree bark and roots. The question is, is he perceived as monstrous? And what makes him appear monstrous?  There were some comments that make him out to be horrible, repulsive, there were even people who decided not to read the article out of disgust. I didn’t think he was monstrous, though. I think his deformity has an interesting symbolism. Continue reading

Necrologues in Bulgaria

Necrologues posted on a church fence

The word “necrologue” is not part of the official English vocabulary today, but it used to be a couple a centuries ago, with the meaning of “obituary” or “necrology.” Still, I prefer to use “necrologue” instead of “necrology” in this case because this is how it is used in Bulgaria.

Necrologues in Bulgarian culture have always been a personal statement in an independent voice. Even in times when public speech and writing had to be officially sanctioned and was often censored, necrologues were not published in newspapers but posted in public spaces (outside walls, front doors, bulletin boards, bus stops, lamp posts). So they were an unofficial personal statement on someone’s life and the public announcement of grief of his/her relatives. Continue reading

Monsters in stone

Besides gargoyles, the most famous of which are of course the Notre Dame gargoyles, there are chimeras (equally grotesque but not architecturally useful as spouts for rain water). But I love mascarons, especially this one above a door in Thonon-les-Bains, France, photographed by a friend:

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Continue reading

A first step into Chronotopia

Ironically, this blog is to be inaugurated with notes about a real website I am building. With the support and collaboration of Leo I started a project to document Orthodox churches in North Texas. Why Orthodox churches? The idea came from a challenge to find a beautiful church to attend on Christmas. Not being Catholic, I decided to still attend the most interesting Catholic church I knew for Christmas mass, and that happened to be the this church that looks a lot like a nice whipped cream cake. Why not an Orthodox church, I was asked? Continue reading