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?
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