The dead are not dead; they are not under the earth…
Moferere moferere eggun eggun…
Lux perpetua luceat eis…
The text above, in English, Yoruba and Latin, is the body of a three-part song that was written for Samhain, the Celtic—and now Pagan—celebration of the Mighty Dead, the ancestors. It was written by a largely white, largely Pagan community who were welcoming a Santerian community to a celebration for the dead. The santeros and santeras made ceremony for the Pagans–a Candle for the Ancestors–replete with white candles, florida water, rum, cigars, and fruit. The people dressed all in white, carrying their walking sticks for the dead, joined the people of the flowing robes and bright sarongs. The Pagan community made ceremony and welcomed the santeros and santeras. It was a beautiful time and one I hope to treasure always.
The top line comes from Birago Dirop’s famous poem, “Spirits,” in which he reminds us “listen more often to things than to beings.” The poem first came to my attention through the Sweet Honey in the Rock song, “Breaths,” which uses much of the text of “Spirits.”
The second line is in Yoruba and appears in ceremony after ceremony in which the Dead, the eggun, or eggungun, are celebrated. Moferere, like moferefun, is a praise word. Often, “moferere eggun” is offered during rituals where florida water and candles are offered—freshness and light for the ancestors.
Similarly, “the lux perpetua” line is from the Roman Catholic Requiem Mass: “May perpetual light shine upon them.”
Again, the wish, offer, prayer, belief, is that the dead are not consigned to darkness eternal. That darkness, that lack of light to see, that lack of sense to perceive, the closing of eyes forever…death is scary to ponder when one considers the End of Knowing.
But in tradition after tradition, there is an intimation that the Mighty Dead are, well, Mighty. .That the eggun go on in Mystery and know in some ways that we cannot know and understand—if understanding is the right word—as we cannot understanding and perceive some things that we cannot perceive.
Or maybe it is just that they can convey this knowing, understanding, perception to us, not that they have it them-“selves”. Maybe the tools of divination, the rituals of invitation, the litanies asking for prayer…maybe these are our ways of perceiving some shadow of a shadow, some whisper of gossamer in a gentle wind.
I can only write in shadows. I can only write in gossamer.
I know what it is to speak with a voice that is not my own, in the midst of ceremony asking for the prayers and knowledge of the beloved recently deceased. I know that experience, and I pray that I never forget it.
I know what it is to watch the ofrendas growing, the altars of flowers and fruit, of photographs and mementos. And I know what it is to sit before my own ancestor altar–before my own ancestors–and to seek the wisdom therein.
I know what it is to sing and sing and sing, “Saint Catharine of Siena, pray for us…Saint Ignatius, pray for us….Saint Perpetua and Saint Felicity, pray for us…Saint Cecilia, pray for us…Saint Michael and all angels, pray for us…” until the incense and the candles blurred in my eyes and I saw the Communion of Saints, the great cloud of witnesses gathered, pressing in, sharing our bodies and our perceptions somehow, but just for moments. That somehow, the old order of ancestor worship has given way to another way, but that way still has effects beyond doctrine, beyond theology, beyond our straight-line understanding.
I know what it is to pray in circles of hundreds of people, to pray for Ancestors and Descendants, and to be reminded again and again that our lives are gravid with consequence. That the lives of those who have gone before us were heavy with responsibility, as well.
Tomorrow’s post will not be the Friday Mirrror, not per se. Rather, it will be an honoring of the ancestors. I invite you to write the names of your ancestors of whatever kind, and share them then.
Moferere eggun. Lux perpetua luceat eis.
Blessings on you and on your house.