The Civil War and the hungry ghosts

In the previous post, I wrote about Mayan teachings related by Martin Prechtel in a Sun Magazine interview with Derrick Jensen in 2009. Like the West African Dagara, whose traditions I have been studying with Glenn Leisching (pictured),  the Mayans use ritual to help them connect to the “other world” of Spirit, which gives us existence and inspiration.

Prechtel says the when people die in this world, they return to the other world and become part of the invisible force that “sings us into being”. If the dead are not properly grieved for and given to, they remain attached to the earthly world and persist as ghosts, seeking emotional nourishment from the living. He explains:

Many old cultures had funeral arrangements whereby the dead were annually fed by the living for as long as fifty years, with the living giving ritual payments back to the world and the earth for the debts incurred by the deceased. When that grief doesn’t happen, the ancestors’ ghosts begin to chase the culture.

The ghosts will actually chase you, and they always chase you toward the setting sun. That’s why all the great migrations of the past several thousand years have been to the west: because people are running away from the ghosts. The people stop and try to live in a new place for a while, but the ghosts always catch up with them and create enormous wars and pain and problems, which feed the hungry hordes of ghosts. Then the people continue on, always moving, never truly at home. Now we have an entire culture based on our fleeing or being devoured by ghosts.

Westward expansion was a major reality of 19th century America. My great-great-great-great grandparents, Benoni Dickerman and Lois Hull Dickerman, left Connecticut to homestead in Ohio in 1815. Their granddaughter Louisa was the wife of William Davies, the soldier whose diary I’ve been writing about.

TheCivil War Almanac (Barnes & Noble Books, 2005) starts by tracing, day by day, the progress toward war, in which the issue of slavery in the territories was key. It appears that if slavery hadn’t spread past the original colonies, the North might have put up with it, but the decisions about whether the Western territories should be slave or free were ripping the country apart.

So in a sense, according to Mayan concepts, the hungry ghosts caused the Civil War. What if I could heal my great great grandfather’s ghost, set it at rest by writing about his diary, and also participate in a ritual process that would help heal the ghosts that caused the war?

Prechtel adds:

You feed your ancestors with words and eloquence…We still have the capacity to create strange, mysterious, poetic gifts to feed the ancestors, so that we won’t become depressed by their ghosts devouring our everyday lives.

…to be continued

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8 Responses to The Civil War and the hungry ghosts

  1. I have also been thinking a great deal about Martin. Perhaps your recent posts have contributed to that. Be that as it may, your thoughtful application of his ideas has been a boon to me, and I am grateful. It has been many years since I spent time with him, and to be brought back to his work is a joy and a gift. Thank you.

  2. Pingback: The Civil War, Manifest Destiny, and Hungry Ghosts « Dreaming the World

  3. claire says:

    “Many old cultures had funeral arrangements whereby the dead were annually fed by the living for as long as fifty years, with the living giving ritual payments back to the world and the earth for the debts incurred by the deceased.” Of course this was the point of the festival of Samhain or, as we now call it: Halloween. In S.E. Asia – Thailand for instance – every home has a spirit house – lovely objects about the size of a large bird-house – and families give the spirits food and gifts on a daily basis.

    • visnow77 says:

      Claire, I didn’t know that about Samhain. In the witchy circles I used to run in, Samhain was seen as the day when the veil between the worlds was thinnest, facilitating communication with the spirits. Either the tradition was altered for the modern world, or the feeding is an older aspect. Something ironic about the idea that all the Halloween candy I used to stuff myself with is a vestige of food for the ancestors.

  4. Bud Weiss says:

    I am also a devotee of Martin Prechtel and if all goes well I will be him and many others in the 4 year and beyond Shoots and Tendrils program in February. If you have not had the chance to read the 3 and now 4 volumes of his autobiography, they are wonderfully guiding to who we really are. His book, The Disobedience of the Daughter of the Sun is one of the most wonderful teaching tales I have ever read and his 5 Layers added to enrich your experience of the tale are so very rich all in themselves especially the one about a Never-Before-Seen-Bird
    “Long life, honey in the heart, no evil, 13 thankyous.” Bud

    • visnow77 says:

      Bud, I have read the first of Martin’s autobiographical volumes, and it is, as you say, stunning. I hope to get to East Coast Village at some point this year.

  5. Bud Weiss says:

    I am also one of the most senior people and one of the founders of the East Coast Village http://www.eastcoastvillage.org , a Dagara Village created under the supervision and guidance of my friend and mentor, Dr. Malidoma Patrice Some in the Dagara culture of Africa.

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