Warding Off Evil Spirits

The many ways we wrangle unwanted spirits

Much of Halloween’s appeal is its dark underworld mystery we love. Once again it’s that time of the year when we find ourselves naturally embracing our paganism going back to when the world was filled with the scary unknown. This instinctual fear is what drove so many cultures to come up with their own ways to ward off evil spirits. The result is some visually beautiful rituals that cultures have adopted over time.

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Karthikai Deepam Festival with oil lamps placed at homes
(credit: http://www.thehindu.com)

Karthikai Deepam is a Tamil Hindu festival that takes place sometime from November to December when the moon aligns with the constellation Karthigai. These six stars are part of the legends and mythology today. The festival has a religious story that ends with the worship of the flower Thazhambu and a Lord appearing as a flame. In honor of this flame, oil lamps are lit on the streets and in homes once darkness blankets the end of the festival day. Often they are placed on the flower or the symbolic six stars Kolam, a painting using colorful rice powder.

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Split Bamboo signs to ward off evil spirits
(credit: blackeagleflights.blogspot.com)

 

A tribe that lives in Northern Thailand’s hills believes in all kinds of spirits that have been around since the beginning of time. Spirits that oversee people’s lives and their deaths, be it good deaths by natural causes or bad ones by accidents. Spirits that oversee the sky, land, trees and weather, each in their own particular way. The spirits act out in spite or power or to protect. Anything that happens is believed to be caused by a spirit. There are shaman experts to handle angry spirits, to calm them to not cause harm.

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Hell bank notes burning in Ghost Month
(credit: wikimedia.org)

When I was in China, I witnessed a Chinese funeral where the family burned “Hell Money” or “Joss Paper” to make the ghosts that live in the underworld happy. The hell money allows the dead ancestors to live comfortably by buying lavish items. Once a family member dies, they are believed to be a ghost. The Chinese also celebrate a hungry ghost festival on the 7th month of their calendar. Spirits can take on many evil forms – snake, wolf, moth or other forms – and it’s believed that to be possessed by one can result in an unfortunate life of physical or mental illness.

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Salt at the entrance of a home to ward off evil spirits
(credit: http://shizuokagourmet.com)

The practice of salt at the entrance of a Japanese home or business can still be seen in practice today. It is believed to chase evil spirits and while the salt is usually placed in a pile on the ground, a dish or platter, it can be spread out in shapes as well. The Japanese can only purchase it during the day or bad luck will happen and then some of it might be tossed into a fire as an extra measure to prevent any evil outcome. This is based on the belief that the devil is afraid of salt. Mythology has it that if sprinkled on the devil’s tail it will burn him terribly.

There are many myths and folklores to ward off evil spirits, with each practice more beautiful in its own way. These are just a few of many examples still around today.

Check out our other posts on cultural death practices around the world here.

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Atul Gawande Says Doctors And Patients Should Stop Running From Death

The physician explains that patients often live longer when they opt out of unecessary medical interventions
The book cover for Atul Gawande's Being Mortal featuring black text on a white background

Credit: atulgawande.com

Holding onto life is our most basic and natural instinct. If we have every medical treatment that can extend life at our fingertips, why not use it?

Physician Atul Gawande disagrees. In his latest book Being Mortal, he questions whether these medical interventions extend life, or simply make us miserable. It might sound counterintuitive, but he has a point.

More cancer patients live an average of 25 percent longer when they are on hospice care than those who continue chemotherapy until the bitter end.

One study shows that hospice care can actually improve and extend a patient’s life more than serious medical intervention. More cancer patients live an average of 25 percent longer when they are on hospice care than those who continue chemotherapy until the bitter end.

But why is this the case?

Gawande suggests it’s hospice’s focus on quality that counts. Nurses talk to patients about what they expect their deaths to be like, using pain medication and other treatments to simply make the patient comfortable. Gawande says we should not only accept that death is inevitable, but we should also plan for it.

In our industrialized medical system, the focus is on what new drugs can stave off death as long as possible. Doctors, pharmaceutical companies and investors pump millions of dollars into the latest drug research, trying to find that next great breakthrough.

If we have only months to live, he wants us to consider how to make those months enjoyable, rather than trying to squeeze out a few extra heartbeats.

Medical interventions certainly have their use, but Gawande wants us to think of the bigger picture. If we have only months to live, he wants us to consider how to make those months enjoyable, rather than trying to squeeze out a few extra heartbeats. What’s the point in living three days longer if you feel physically exhausted from treatments?

His idea isn’t new. In fact, it’s been in the news a lot lately. Legendary editor Diana Athill has an essay published in The Guardian of her experiences facing death head-on. She shares Gawande’s sentiments, saying, “One of the many things I like about my retirement home is the sensible practical attitude towards death that prevails here. You are asked without embarrassment whether you would rather die here or in a hospital, whether you want to be kept alive whatever happens, or would prefer a heart attack, for instance, to be allowed to take its course, and how you wish your body to be disposed of.”

Just as we would plan for college or retirement, we should plan for how we want our deaths to happen.

With Gawande’s book gaining a huge audience, and the news revolving around alternative attitudes toward death, society seems geared for a more holistic approach to the end of life. Rather than fearing death and wishing it away with unnecessary procedures, we can treat it as a natural process that requires careful planning. Just as we would plan for college or retirement, we should plan for how we want our deaths to happen.

That’s not to say that medical intervention should be completely discounted. Gawande is a physician after all, and he believes in medicine. The idea is to only use interventions when it will vastly improve quantity and quality of life.

To learn more about this topic, visit Gawande’s official website, or check out his appearance on “The Daily Show” in the video below.

For more information about other writers who believe in quality over quantity for death and dying, read this.

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Memorial Songs: “Changes” Cover by Seu Jorge

The Brazilian artist brings new life to Bowie's classic, bringing it all the tenderness of a perfect memorial song
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Credit: whosefaultyvision.com

David Bowie’s 1972 song “Changes” is a rock classic. It’s merited many covers since its debut, but none have proved as moving or intimate as that of Brazilian artist Seu Jorge – none have ever stricken us as a potential memorial song. But Jorge’s cover was made for a bittersweet, reflective moment. Bowie himself even said that if “Seu Jorge had not recorded my songs, I would never have heard this new level of beauty which he has imbued them with.”

Initially, Jorge’s “Changes” was made for the 2004 Wes Anderson film, The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou. The choice to sing in Portuguese works with sweet effortlessness (even if the lyrics don’t always translate perfectly). There’s also something to be said for his choice to create an acoustic cover. The guitar creates a quiet strength, highlighting the pensive nature of Bowie’s lyrics (which would normally be overshadowed by a faster rhythm):

Seu Jorge, Seu Jorge picture, memorial songs, Bowie covers

Seu Jorge.
Credit: Brasil Summerfest

Strange fascination, fascinating me/
Changes are taking the pace/
I’m going through

Pretty soon now you’re gonna get older/
Time may change me/
But I can’t trace time/
I said that time may change me/
But I can’t trace time

Change. It’s the song’s central theme, which explores the frustration and anger that accompanies the loss of time—perhaps of a loved one, too:

I watch the ripples change their size/
But never leave the stream/
Of warm impermanence and
So the days float through my eyes.

The lyrics take on a cathartic relevance when seen through the eyes of one who is grieving. Time becomes a strange thing when a loved one dies. One day, it can lump the hours and minutes together into a surreal, numb atmosphere that pervades everything – making “the days float through” the week (as Bowie writes and Jorge coos).

Yet, there is a firm confidence in the refrain “time may change me/ but I can’t trace time.” We can’t help the fact that time will change us through inevitable losses and alterations. Nor can we undo those losses through constantly tracing time. You can’t change change — it’s something we have to go through together, in “strange fascination.” And that’s one realization with memorial song material.

Read all of the lyrics here.

Check out more memorial music here.

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Monday Hearts for Madalene

Page Hodel creates the most beautiful hearts in an ongoing celebration of love

_MG_1821_2_2The Fun of a Holiday Coming

It’s an honor for SevenPonds to share with our readers the story of the Monday Hearts for Madalene project, a true account of the power of love in the midst of death.

The project’s origins take us to 2005: the moment Page Hodel encountered Madalene Rodriguez and fell “instantly, dizzyingly in love with her.” The couple’s first meeting was electric, and Page felt inspired to do something unique for the woman who captured her heart. So, she began leaving handmade hearts – made from flowers, leaves, and other materials – on Madalene’s doorstep.  The hearts became a ritual, and they were there to greet Madalene as she left for work every Monday.

“To start her week with a visual reminder of our beautiful love.” – Page Hodel

Just seven months later, Madalene was diagnosed with ovarian cancer and passed away on June 20th, 2006. But Page’s love for her hasn’t ceased, and she continues to make a heart for her every Monday in celebration of her life.

If you would like, you can also receive Page’s “Monday Hearts for Madalene” by emailing her at page.hodel@gmail.com with “subscribe” written as the subject. Images of the hearts can also be purchased on individual cards and in her beautifully compiled book, Monday Hearts for Madelene. Please also visit her website and Facebook  page. A portion of all sales will go to the Women’s Cancer Resource Center in Oakland, California (www.wcrc.org).

See more Monday Hearts for Madalene here.

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“But You Didn’t” by Merrill Glass

Merrill Glass’s poem about losing her lover to war reminds us the importance of openly sharing your feelings for the one you love when you’re together, because the future can be so uncertain.
couple kissing silhouette in sunset, lovers, everlasting love

Credit: strawberryindigo.wordpress.com

The death of a lover is difficult regardless of whether it is expected, as is the case with long-term illnesses, or if it is sudden, as is the case with a car crash or a major heart attack. The uncertainty of the future can leave those who have planned everything for a major life crisis to instead become quite shaken up by the crushing and challenging process of grief.

The first three stanzas of Merrill Glass’s “But You Didn’t” commence with the speaker innocently asking her lover a series of “Remember when…” questions that stem from memories of incidents in the couple’s past and what she thought would happen. The speaker concludes by saying, “But you didn’t.” This series of “remember when” questions highlight what the speaker thought her lover would do—everything from hating her to dumping her—yet he surprises her by not doing so, hence the revelation, “but you didn’t.”

These difficult memories prepare the reader for the twist at the end of the last stanza, which reminds us of how important it is to openly communicate with those we love because we never know what the future holds.

The repetition of the beginning and ending of these three stanzas demonstrates Glass’s method of the grieving process. She states her memories of these difficult moments where she thought she would lose her lover for good. Instead, he remained committed to her regardless of how often she pushed his buttons. These difficult memories prepare the reader for the twist at the end of the last stanza, which reminds us of how important it is to openly communicate with those we love because we never know what the future holds.

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Credit: PublicDomainPictures.net

Glass opens the final stanza with “There were plenty of things you did to put up with me, to keep me happy, to love me,” which piques the reader’s interest into how the relationship ended when the speaker’s lover seemed so loyal. The speaker then confesses that “there are/so many things I wanted to tell you when you returned from/Vietnam…/But you didn’t.” The final “but you didn’t” clarifies the meaning of the poem as a whole. The memories and nostalgia the speaker shares about her lover are the speaker’s way of processing her grief over not having a future with the lover she lost. Grieving reminds us to cherish the love and relationships in our lives while we can because life can be so unpredictable.

This beautiful poem reminds us that writing when dealing with loss and grief can be a very therapeutic way to sort out emotions and to learn to cope with not being able to rely on and share everything with the person you have grown the closest to—in this case, a lover.

This beautiful poem reminds us that writing when dealing with loss and grief can be a very therapeutic way to sort out emotions and to learn to cope with not being able to rely on and share everything with the person you have grown the closest to—in this case, a lover. Writing allows us to delve deeper into ourselves and hopefully learn how to better prioritize the importance of relishing and sharing with the people we love most in our lives before it is too late.

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Fighting in Style: The Evolution of Breast Cancer Awareness Merchandise

Cancer survivor Allison W. Gryphon and designer Piper Gore don't want cancer fighters to compromise style
Breast Cancer T-shirt, Allison Gryphon, Piper Gore, Breast cancer, Cancer clothing

Piper Gore (left) and Allison W. Gryphon.
(credit: The Why Foundation)

When Allison W. Gryphon was diagnosed with breast cancer, she knew she would have to adjust to major lifestyle changes – but compromising her style was not up for question. She collaborated with designer Piper Gore to create the “Fighter T,” a shirt that is changing our expectations for the cancer awareness merchandise that abounds today.

Allison W. Gryphon, Allison Gryphon, Piper Gore, Breast Cancer T-Shirt

Credit: thefightert.com

There’s nothing wrong with the ‘go pink’ breast cancer mantra. For many, it provides a sense of community and strength. But Gryphon did not want to wear her illness (literally) on her sleeve; she did not want to feel as if her illness was defining her. Why couldn’t she have clothing that she would want to wear during and after the treatment process? She explained why one’s self-confidence, as gathered through personal style, shouldn’t be written off:

Allison W. Gryphon, Allison Gryphon, Piper Gore, Breast Cancer T-Shirt

Credit: The Why Foundation

“Appearance was a big part of it. As a woman who was facing losing a breast and all of the hair on my body, it was important to my emotional state to feel good about how I looked. On the one hand, it seemed crazy to be thinking about fashion while my life was on the line, but on the other it seemed even crazier not to. Breasts are a representation of femininity and of being a woman, and so is how we wear our hair. Every morning putting myself together with personal style helped me prepare for the fight. It was part of my armor.”

“Why couldn’t she have clothing that she would want to wear during and after the treatment process?”

“It was one thing,” she said, “that cancer did not get to take away” from her. That’s how the Fighter Line began to take shape. Gryphon and Gore worked together to create an inspiring, personalized product. “[My style is] easy. Mellow. Pulled together but not too seriously,” says Gore. The “Fighter T” she helped design has all of those elements. In addition to those that speak to the experience of going through surgery and recovery, the fabrics are breathable and the front zipper makes it easy to get on and off. The sleeves “roll up easily,” and, in colors like charcoal grey and orange crush, can be dressed up or down.

Allison W. Gryphon, Allison Gryphon, Piper Gore, Breast Cancer T-Shirt

Credit: thefightert.com

Throw in the fact that their work is also 100% sustainable and non-profit and you’ve got a very exciting thing: a movement unfolding in a t-shirt. A piece of clothing that doesn’t fixate on your illness but on your vitality.

In 2015, you can look forward to an entire fashion line. For now, check out their website (below) for prices and more information.

You may enjoy:

  • Visit the Fighting Cancer with Fashion website here.
  • Our article: “One Man’s Photography of his Wife’s Battle Against Cancer”
  • The Busting Cancer Project: Australian women and The GroundSwell Project launch an intimate, powerful art workshop for cancer awareness

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