El Diá de los Muertos, St. Miguel Cemetery, Oaxaca, Mexico. © Suzanne Barbezat. Image Source: gomexico.about.com.
Autumn is mired in the contemplation of the past. The festivals roll in one after another (see BBC's report here): Asia's Hungry Ghost Month (which I covered here) gives way to the Druids', witches' and pagans' Samhain and Hallowe'en. Then we have the Catholic faithful praying for the dead on November 1 and 2, with noted observances such as the Día de los Muertos in Mexico and other parts of Latin America on November 2. For an amazing Day of the Dead photo from Mexico, go here.
El Diá de los Muertos, Oaxaca, Mexico. Image Source: de Meng de los Muertos.
Then there's Bonfire Night (Guy Fawkes Night) in the UK on November 5. This is shortly followed by Remembrance Day on November 11. During the Middle Ages, Advent, which can stretch (depending when Sundays fall) from late November through to December 24, was also believed to be a period when people would encounter spirits and apparitions from the past. This was possibly the origin of Charles Dickens's famous Christmas Carol.
Excerpt about an apparation in Advent: Ghosts in the Middle Ages. By Jean-Claude Schmitt and Teresa Fagan. Source: Google Books.
With three months devoted to memory and ancestral worship, intermingled with spiritual festivals, it almost feels like those living in northern climes hold their breath and listen to the murmurs of the collective unconscious before the onset of winter. Those living in the southern hemisphere similarly mark the turning of seasons into spring with this lingering awareness that the dead still outnumber the living.
Why is there a cryptic connection between remembrance of the past and spiritual or religious reflection? It involves the nagging, irreconcilable and enduring perception that the past does not die. It goes 'somewhere else,' as if to another plane. To associate the past intuitively with other dimensions or pockets of reality strangely matches how some physicists and philosophers think time actually works (which I've covered here, here, here, here, here and here). Thus, we assume that tangibly engaging with the past involves dealing directly with that which we cannot normally perceive. Yet at certain times, we plainly have a long history of believing that our temporal perception becomes sharper, or the wall between temporal dimensions (if such things exist) becomes thinner. It could be argued that religious concepts of the afterlife are just one aspect of that persistent human conviction. I've written previously about 'psychic history' on my blog here.
Here is some music to match all this strange and creepy weirdness (hat tip for three pieces: Attention Deficit Delirium).