Monday, 5 November 2012

Offerings to the Dead

Funeral and remembrance of the dead traditions in today's Romania are many and varied, some entire ceremonies with well established dates, others spontaneous manifestations of love or respect. All of them, however, suggest a deep respect for the ancestors inherited from the ancient 'pagan' times. 

In a culture that believed in the forever life of the spirit with thousands of years before Christianity, the dead are never truly dead, just existing in a separate, yet close universe, that maintains close ties with this world. Not only that the dead can cross from one world to another to offer consolation and advice, to manifest their displeasure, but the dead are considered to have needs and cravings just like the people from this world...

In some parts of Romania, all the possessions of the one that passed away are given away to strangers, so the dead can enjoy the same things in death as they did in life. In all parts of the country, food and drinks are shared in the memory of the dead at fixed dates, with ceremony and pomp and spontaneously with no ceremony.

At fixed dates, the women of the family lovingly prepare food and drinks, sweet breads with nuts, and a special cake made out of wheat grains, nuts and sugar, and take it to the church along with a list containing all the names of the passed away in as many generations as can be remembered. In a special ceremony the priest blesses the food and reads entire family trees (for example Mary, daughter of... mother of... wife of... and so on) after which the food, drinks (usually red wine) and the cake are shared in front of the church with the saying :"May it be for the soul of...", at which the receiver answers back "May it be well received".

At certain intervals after death, (three days, six weeks, one year, seven years), the women of the family prepare an entire feast, including most of the dishes and drinks that the dead loved in this life. Family and friends are invited and during the feast stories are being told about the one that passed away.

With less ceremony, candles are being lit and left to burn out, either at home or at the church, whenever one feels the need to connect with his ancestors. The only formal occasion for lighting candles is the Easter night when candles are lit at the church and then taken in procession to the grave yard, soon after the clock strikes midnight and are left to burn out on the graves. Lit from those, another set of candles is carefully taken home, being considered that it brings light in this life and the other, in this night when the veils between the worlds are thin.

Yet another way to cherish the ancestors with no ceremony are the libations. You might eat, or more often drink something, and knowing that your dear one loved it in life, you gently pour few drops on the Earth, or crumble some of the food, and say quietly or aloud "May it be for the soul of..." It is considered that the soul can enjoy it in death as they enjoyed it in life.

And yet, at other times, you may cook something and knowing the dead person loved that dish, you take a plate to a friend, neighbor or stranger and give the food away not only in remembrance of the dead, but for the use of the soul that still lives.

And still at other times, with their needs ignored for too long, the spirits cross into this world, in dreams most often and bluntly request certain foods or drinks to be offered to them. Sometimes the spirits can be quite specific: "I am craving for that and that and give it away to that person for me".  Other times the soul of the departed can be satisfied by simply cooking the dish and letting the aromas disperse in the air, before being consumed in the family.

Not respecting the wishes of the departed, even more so if the departed made an effort to cross into this world to express those wishes, can cause varied reactions from a restless dead that starts haunting your dreams, to physical manifestations of displeasure, to bad luck. Even if the departed does not cross into this world to request their due, forgetting to honor and make offerings for the departed can result into a restless spirit who can not peacefully cross into the other world because they are too tied up to this world by not having their needs met.

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