The Food in the Cult of the Dead



What to eat on the graves is now fact. Oh no, you say? Well, judging by the vastness of cults and cultures since the dawn of time people honoured the dead with the offer of food. I would say that those who object that assumption is in the minority. Feasting on the graves or offering food to the dead is one of the oldest spiritual practices of the world, just as the cult of the dead itself and therefore is equally large in terms of time and space.

And now they're coming the various festivals of the dead that is just knowing how to deal with loved ones who return to visit us. In ancient Rome, including the Etruscans, the Greeks and around the Mediterranean it existed a well-defined food and language different from that of other cultures. The cult of food was tied hand in glove to funeral rituals, both public, and private and not just as a tribute to the hunger of souls and so the foods were prepared and presented according to a precise procedure.

For example during the Lemuria of May (Roman funerary feasts) the householder put themselves at the center of the common room and nine times threw a handful of blacks beans behind, repeating an apt jacula to dismiss the spirits during the festivals that return among the living.

In February people celebrated the Manes, spirits of the dead, and the offer was made of a rich variety of foods like wheat, salt, oil, wine, milk, honey and blood of calves and pigs. Finally they burnt pods of broad beans and all the relatives feasted on the graves of loved ones.

Same ritual feast was repeated during the day called Feralia on the last day of the feast of Parentalia, the festivals dedicated to their ancestors. The whole family went to the graves of the departed for a real picnic with food prepared at home and they prayed so that the departed were all right. Eating next to their dead was also a practice that drove the death, because according to the old stomach was the tomb of the food and for the principle of sympathetic magic (that is, that like attracts like), if there was already a dead inside the body could not be another one.

Even in Egypt the food was linked to the funeral, so that was specially prepared and placed in the tomb of the deceased, along with his possessions, that he might lead a life equal to that on earth. Thus it is clear how much the funeral feast was not only a religious ritual, but also a tradition of honoring the dead as if they were still alive and able to interact, eating together with the living.

The foods were prepared with respect and love so that the deceased is still well-liked and felt part of the family. And come to think of this tradition has been preserved, albeit limited in the countries of northern Europe (and America imported by the early English settlers) in which the family of the deceased gives the banquet to all the guests after the funeral.

In some ancient greek-roman texts it appears this statement with regard to the ritual banquets. Someone mistakenly claims that this food is non-existent, referring to the absence of feasting during the pagan celebrations of the poorest people. Actually the food is that feeds. Secondly antiquity showed smoke rising to the sky while people cooked food for ritual banquets. In fact, it was believed that the spirits and the gods only pleased with the smoke of incense and food. For this reason, even during the funeral rites were burned very specific foods such as beans.

More specifically, with regard to our regional traditions, the food of the dead consisted of beans and in general by the whole in the pod vegetables. This is because it was thought that these plants, having the stem without nodules, were a direct link between the earth and the underworld. The food in the cult of Greece. The food of the dead was the pomegranate. In the myth of Persephone abducted by Hades, the pomegranate is the food that they eat the dead in the Underworld and therefore, after eating it, Persephone is condemned to remain in the underworld with Hades.

In the archaic myth of Cybele the pomegranate is the apple of life. Even today in Greece pomegranates are used to hang on the front door to wish good luck and ward off evil spirits. There is also the custom to split them on the ground at the stroke of midnight New Year's Eve, for the same reasons.

During the Middle Ages throughout most of Northern Europe people prepared a cake called soul cake, probably a remnant of sweet buns which was once prepared. This cake consisted of a sweet bread with raisins or currants. For children it was tradition to go door to door asking for a piece of cake. Each one had to pray for the soul of a deceased relative (much like the modern trick-treat).

In the east there is a special holiday that is celebrated in late August and is called Hungry Ghosts Festival, which is also held in Singapore. For one month all neighborhoods and public altars in every corner of the city are filled with hundreds of offers, including food, incense, candles, flowers, charms, ribbons, flags, etc. And then a whole series of paper objects as shoes, clothes, everyday objects and fake money are to be burned in specially constructed bins.

Both the Buddhist and Hindu temples offer free huge amounts of incense to the faithful and the entire festival is full of the meaning of communion between the living and the dead. In particular, the food is king. It is said that the dead are hungry because of an ancient legend, but most of the focus is that in Buddhist psychology a deceased is not quite dead and his hungry concerns earthly aspects.

Sono Calaveras, white and decorated skeletons with thousands of colors and shapes that characterize the feast of Mexican deaths. A sacred horse worship and profane concepts that mix pagan folklore could only generate these magnificent specimens of merry dead is very much alive. The Mesoamerican tradition has it that in late october, is celebrated the usual party, but the tone is definitely more lively and the food reflects this mood.

Compared to the sad and muted shades of worship month of November, the day of the Dead takes extremely exorcising connotations towards death. The shaped candy colored skulls sparkle in the windows of each store along with confetti and ribbons, and their component sugar itself seems to accentuate the serenity with which this issue is being addressed. Distinguished important is the banquet at the cemetery, the family gathers on the graves of loved ones and tell Highlights of the year just ended.

In celebration of Halloween is a classic to dress up and go from house to house to ask for candy with the blackmail of a joke. The British and American children do so for some time. To earn some sweet little boys sing nursery rhymes or tell thrilling stories. Formerly Samhain, the European festival from which Halloween evolved was celebrated and was very important and those who refused were frowned upon by the community as to be marginalized.

This treatment is perhaps the origin of this modern custom. Many dishes that are prepared in November and even if they change from region to region, retain the same meanings. Another tradition, vivified by pagan festival of Samhain, is to put an apple and a candle out of the window so that the dead can find the way home and can feed themselves. The apple must then be buried.

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