Archive of ‘death and dying’ category

Links of the Dead {May 2016}

"Famine" by David Seidman

“Famine” by David Seidman

A gathering of death related links that I have encountered in the past month or so. From somber to hilarious, from informative to creepy, here’s a snippet of things that have been reported on or journaled about related to matters of death & dying & mortality.

💀 A Future Where the Decomposing Dead Could Power Cemetery Lights
💀 3 Kinds of Grief Nobody Talks About
💀 All Must Submit to the King of Terrors, But That Is No Reason to Look So Grave
💀 In Praise of Social Media Mourning
💀 Everything dies and it’s best we learn to live with that
💀 A Different Way of Death: The Alternative Funeral Movement is Taking Hold in the US
💀 How Music Helps Us Grieve
💀 SNL – Talking about Death Experience with Brie Larson
💀 The Cemetery As a Spiritual Experience
💀 Forensic jeweller unravels secrets of the dead
💀 Keening & the Death Wail
💀 Duck, Death and the Tulip: A Tender Illustrated Meditation on the Cycle of Life

Previous installments:
Links of the Dead for April 2016
Links of the Dead for March 2016
Links of the dead for February 2016
Links of the dead for January 2016
Links of the dead for December 2015
Links of the dead for November 2015
Links of the dead for September 2015
Links of the dead for August 2015

All Must Submit to the King of Terrors, But That Is No Reason to Look So Grave

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(This was originally written for and posted at After Dark In the Playing Fields in 2010, by my partner in the enterprise at that time, who shall henceforth be known as A Kindred Spirit)

Remember friend as you pass by
As you are now so once was I
As I am now you will surely be
Prepare thyself to follow me.

–Common epitaph from the nineteenth century.

I have always been fascinated by cemeteries and graveyards–not out of any real morbid sense, but often an aesthetic and even scientific curiosity.  The town I grew up in seemed to have more dead than living.  Wandering around the edges of farmer’s fields turned up long-forgotten family graveyards.  The iron fences had been sold off in a WWII scrap drive, and cows now wandered freely among the graves.  If it weren’t for the names chiseled on stone, those people would be long forgotten–anyone who remembered where they lay was was now themselves, dead.

In graveyards, we find deliberately chosen monuments to everyday people who have gone before:  reflective of the period of history they were wrought in and the values of those who erected them, with an elaborate symbolic language all their own.  Of course, humans have been custodians of their dead ever at least since the first Neanderthal tossed a flower in a long ago burial, but with historical cemeteries, we have it all laid out for our perusal: names, exact dates and the amazing realization that tombstone art, like anything else, is susceptible to fads.

Until well into the nineteenth century, where individual expression started to become more prevalent, gravestones in American cemeteries generally follow one of a few types designs that had a fairly strict progression through time.

The earliest gravestones were populated by grim reminders of the inevitability of death: skulls and crossbones, winged hourglasses.  These reflected a heavy Puritan influence:  life was nasty, brutish and short and only a select few would make it to heaven.  Everyone else was a sinner in the hands of an angry God.  Often, stones with this type of motif mention something blunt like “Here lies the body”–there was no softening of the blow of death.  Puritans were wary of succumbing to idolatry so the grim reminder of death was the only acceptable form of grave decoration.

As America accepted more and more settlers of varied backgrounds, the Puritans gradually lost their stranglehold on gravestone iconography, and by the end of the seventeenth century, the stark and disturbing skeletal renderings gradually lost their edge by the addition of wings.

By the end of the eighteenth century, the winged death’s heads had gradually phased into a regular human face, with wings (as seen above).  This too reflects the sentiments of the time–there was hope of some kind of afterlife for the deceased and mentions of corrupted bodies gradually gave way to the gentler concept of “mortal remains”.

By the beginning of the nineteenth century, the main motif underwent a another adjustment.  The vacant and slightly distressed looking human face gradually gave way to a winged cherub, effectively removing the sting from death.  During this time period, burials had begun to move from the dank and overcrowded churchyard settings into a more rural, garden-like atmosphere with the introduction of the cemetery park in the 1830’s.  Even the linguistic shift from “graveyard” to “cemetery” indicates the focus was now less on the rotting body and more on memorializing the departed soul.  The language on these stones now says something like “In Memory of” or “Sacred to the Memory of”.

Also popular at this time was a completely new motif: the weeping willow and urn (above). The association with weeping is certainly appropriate for a funereal setting, but the willow also symbolized the gospel, since no matter how many branches are cut off, the tree remains whole, reflecting the kinder, gentler form of Christianity that had come to replace the dour hellfire and damnation of the Puritans a few generations back. The above example is somewhat transitional between the two types, as later willow and urn stones would have a square shoulder instead of the rounded one seen until now. One significant reason for the change in style was that many of these willow and urn graves were actually cenotaphs, empty graves for someone lost far from home; at sea or in a war, but gradually the style came to be favored over the others.

Of course these stylistic attributes are best seen in the longest settled-areas in America, especially New England, but almost any cemetery of a decent age will probably show willow and urn designs marking the oldest graves. In another installment, I will describe the iconographic changes taking place in the Victorian period and what the various symbols you can find in a typical cemetery represent about their permanent inhabitants.

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All Must Submit to the King of Terrors, But That Is No Reason to Look So Grave, Part II.

And they die
An equal death,—the idler and the man
Of mighty deeds.
Homer—Iliad. Bk. IX. L. 396.

In our previous installment, gravestone motifs had just shifted to emphasizing the memory of the departed love one as opposed to focusing on the stark reality of mortal remains.  Skeletons became winged heads, which became cherubs and ultimately the graceful forms of willow and urn, so prevalent in early ninteenth century burials.  By the 1830’s, even more new forms of expression were appearing as carvers turned to using more versatile granite and marble mediums instead of the more brittle shale commonly used on older gravestones.

The Victorians were well known for euphemizing all aspects of society.  Graveyards moved away from attachment to a particular church or village and became housed in the more park-like cemeteries.  Gravestones became monuments.  Even the burial containers themselves changed from the rather austere body-shaped six-sided coffin to an elaborate satin-lined “casket”.

As the Victorian era progressed, grave monuments began to take on a more individualistic iconographic language which often gave clues to the life of the deceased, their occupation or even how they passed away.  Cemeteries from this time period show much more variety in their forms and choices of decoration, celebrating the life or status of the individual dead or the grief of the survivors.

As expected, images of Christianity became very popular with crosses, the Virgin Mary, angels and doves all very common motifs.  Allegorical figures, such as Temperance, Charity, Justice and Hope and Faith are also commonly found.  A single hand pointing upward signified the hoped for destination of the deceased.

For the first time, children’s graves were given their own specific symbols:  carvings of lambs, cherubs, broken buds and daises were all used.  Another common symbol is a vacant chair–often there will be a tiny sculpted pair of shoes next to such a monument.

Obelisks, symbolizing a ray of light, became a very popular shape for tombstones, beginning in the Victorian area.  Part of this was related to the fascination with anything Egyptian, especially after Napoleon’s 1798-99 campaign and subsequent archaeological discoveries.  Obelisks were also less expensive than a sculpted monument of a similar size, and each face could be used for an inscription, making them suitable for family markers and persons of great social status.  Their height allowed them to tower over other markers and be easily located in a cemetery.

Another peculiar motif often seen in cemeteries from this time are treestones:  The Victorians had a fascination with anything rustic looking.  These were most popular from about 1880 to 1905 and could also be ordered from Sears and Roebuck, making them common in the Midwest, which had more catalog shoppers. Treestones were also favored for their symbolism, which was suitable for a family patriarch (they could be shown as lopped off, showing one had died before their prime, as below) or for anyone in a woodworking profession.

Typical example of a “treestone”, a popular Victorian motif. The cut off stump represents someone who died before reaching old age. Image by Luigi Anzivino.

Typical example of a “treestone”, a popular Victorian motif. The cut off stump represents someone who died before reaching old age. Image by Luigi Anzivino.

Broken columns served a similar function–often their height will correspond to the age of the person at death, with snapped-off columns representing someone who has died before their prime and a complete column showing someone has lived a full life. These were most popular around the mid-nineteenth century.

Another curious material for tombstones is zinc or “white bronze”, as it was termed by the manufacturer, the Monumental Bronze Company of Bridgeport, Connecticut. These monuments are hollow cast metal and were extremely inexpensive to purchase, but have a similar appearance to carved stone. They can also be easily spotted in any cemetery, because they are in perfect shape, having held up amazingly well compared to their more weathered marble and granite counterparts. They were only produced from 1874 to 1914, when the supply of zinc metal was needed for World War I.

Detail of a lily of the valley from a well-preserved zinc monument, showing the characteristic blue-grey patina. The lily symbolizes purity and resurrection, since it is one of the first flowers to bloom in the spring. Image by Svadilfari.

Detail of a lily of the valley from a well-preserved zinc monument, showing the characteristic blue-grey patina. The lily symbolizes purity and resurrection, since it is one of the first flowers to bloom in the spring. Image by Svadilfari.

Perhaps this autumn one might need to take an atmospheric walk in the local cemetery and pay particular attention to the details of each monument. The choices were deliberately made, influenced by fads, economics and personal preference. I always find it amazing what can be learned from simply observing the quiet gestures of the dead.

(Image at top: Virgin Mary statue in Woodland Cemetery, Burlington, Ontario by Kevin. Religious iconography became popular in the Victorian era and the use of new materials such as granite and marble allowed for more elaborate sculpted forms.)

Elsewhere: Keening and the Death Wail

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I recently interviewed musician Gemma Fleet of The Wharves on her project “Lost Voices” Volume 1. “Keening and the Death Wail”. Gemma provides us with a fascinating look at a dramatic mourning tradition as it relates to the Irish funeral and other cultures worldwide, as well as tackling it from a feminist perspective, and how it ties into the grieving process.

Keening & the Death Wail | Death & the Maiden

Links of the Dead {4.22.16}

Art by Noah Scalin

Art by Noah Scalin

A gathering of death related links that I have encountered in the past month or so. From somber to hilarious, from informative to creepy, here’s a snippet of things that have been reported on or journaled about  related to matters of death & dying & mortality.

Previous installments:
Links of the Dead for March 2016
Links of the dead for February 2016
Links of the dead for January 2016
Links of the dead for December 2015
Links of the dead for November 2015
Links of the dead for September 2015
Links of the dead for August 2015

Dearly beloved, with heavy hearts that we mourn the loss of Prince…

💀 No Doves Cry Here: Prince Retrospetive

💀 A Look Back At Prince’s Unfiltered And Unapologetic Style

💀 His Music Does The Talking’: Manager Owen Husney On Prince’s Legacy

…and elsewhere

💀 Graveyard Botany: Patricia Lundy writes on haunting flora which festoon final resting places.
💀 Speaking with the Dead: Life and Learning in a Cadaver Lab by Madeleine LeDespencer
💀 A list of valuable Grief Reads, via Modern Loss
💀 Literal Heartbreak: A Spouse’s death can make your heart skip a beat
💀 Six Feet Over helps people who’ve lost loved ones to suicide through funerals & more
💀 The Complicated Wallpapers of Grief: A review of the film Midnight Swim
💀 Pain Is Not Redeemed by Art: Grief, Loss and Creative Practice
💀 Beverly Hills of the Dead: Luxury Tombs complete with Kitchens & Air Conditioning
💀 Most Distinctive Obituary Euphemism for ‘Died’ in Each State
💀 5 things you can do to join the Death Positivity movement and value life more

Links of the Dead {3.22.16}

Elegy. Sandra Yagi

Elegy. Sandra Yagi

A gathering of death related links that I have encountered in the past month or so. From somber to hilarious, from informative to creepy, here’s a snippet of things that have been reported on or journaled about in or related to the Death Industry recently.

Previous installments:
Links of the dead for February 2016
Links of the dead for January 2016
Links of the dead for December 2015
Links of the dead for November 2015
Links of the dead for September 2015
Links of the dead for August 2015

 

Macabre To The Bone: The Art of Lozzy Bones

7 Things No One Tells You About Losing A Parent As A Child

Artist Uses 3D Printer to Turn Human Ashes into Objects

Attention Whore Becky Has Open Casket Funeral

Companies offering pet bereavement days for employees after death of pets

Grieving in Community: A look at the way different communities treat grief vs the Western culture

Barney The Cemetery Cat, Who Comforted Mourners For 20 Years, Has Died

Corpses Attempt Hilarity: If you’re a Cards Against Humanity fan—then you need the first deathcare version!

Companies Want to Replicate Your Dead Loved Ones With Robot Clones

Shrouds or Lingerie? Traditional Female Burial Garments

Death Memoirs: Why The Grave Subject Sells So Well

Order of the Good Death members Bess Lovejoy and Megan Rosenbloom have put together a list of deathy books for all manner of death interests.

How We Mourn the Famous and What It Says About Collective Grief

this, that, & the other thing {xxii}


Kulning: The haunting, beautiful Swedish herding call that’s also a song

 

800px-Old_Winnetka_Log_CabinTypes of American Folk Magic From New Orleans to the Ozarks

 

here-is-the-scariest-urban-legend-from-every-state_1The Scariest Urban Legend From Every State

 

whatisawitch_456x608-456x600 (1)“What Is A Witch” an illuminated manifesto on witchcraft by Pam Grossman & Tin Can Forest

 

gothic-to-goth-4“Gothic to Goth: Romantic Era Fashion & Its Legacy”

 

Medusa-Delville-LThe Flowers of Evil: Satanic Feminists of Bohemian Paris

 

Poison-catsNoxious Dollops and Opium Tonics: Poisonous Victorian Home Remedies

 

MourningPortrait1 (1)Michael Berkowitz Mourning Portraits

 

girl-who-stood-on-grave-e1458051452386The Monster in the Mirror: On Horror, Disability, and Loving Both at Once

 

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Great Moments In Historical Sluttery: Aphra Behn, The Mysterious Exploits of Agent 160

Links of the dead {February 2016}

Life preserving coffin in doubtful cases of actual dead

Life preserving Eisenbrandt coffin in doubtful cases of actual death

A gathering of death related links that I have encountered in the past month or so. From somber to hilarious, from informative to creepy, here’s a snippet of things that have been reported on or journaled about in or related to the Death Industry recently.

Previous installments:
Links of the dead for January 2016
Links of the dead for December 2015
Links of the dead for November 2015
Links of the dead for September 2015
Links of the dead for August 2015

Oh For Goodness Sake – Stand At My Grave and Weep Already!

Coffins, Crape, and Other Victorian Omens of Death

The Wills Party

4 Ways To Think Outside The Box When Honoring A Loved One

A touching handdrawn animation about the day Death fell in love with Life.

How to Transform Our Discomfort Around Death and Loss

Necrophiliacs Are People, Too: New Book Humanizes This Misunderstood Taboo

The living paths of the dead

The ‘Funeral Clothes Project’

5 books explore the ways that we are shaped by the knowledge of our mortality

Mysteries of Vernacular: Hearse

The Rebozo: Fashion, Feminism and Death

Our Strange, Unsettled History of Mourning

The Role of Death in Finding Meaning in Life

aromatherapy for grief & loss

Facing Mortality Through A Lens

The Science of Life and Death in Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein

Currently {1.20.16}

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Doing: attending birthday parties in public places –the idea of which which will never fail to freak me out because: people & conversation. However, I always forget that in this particular group there are also people like me who are similarly freaked out, which is great because misery (and anxious weirdos) love company. We always seem to find each other, and a corner to cozy into, cringing away from the crowd.  Look at this guy! It’s a Mexican Salamander, or Axolotyl. He is a cold-blooded, live-in friend of my corner-companion and her husband. These are the kinds of things we talk about.

 

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Reading: Beautiful Darkness, a thoroughly charmingly illustrated graphic novel that is savage and unsettling and not at all what I expected.  Although I kind of figured out what I was in for by the second or third page.  Beauty, also illustrated by Kerascoet and is supposedly an “immersive”, “dark, feminist parable”; I’ll know more tonight, after I’ve settled in with it!  And lastly (well, not really lastly, I’ve got stacks and stacks of unread books) is Wylding Hall, by Elisabeth Hand.  Here’s the synopsis–doesn’t it sound dreamy?

“After the tragic and mysterious death of one of their founding members, the young musicians in a British acid-folk band hole up at Wylding Hall, an ancient country house with its own dark secrets. There they record the classic album that will make their reputation but at a terrifying cost, when Julian Blake, their lead singer, disappears within the mansion and is never seen again. Now, years later, each of the surviving musicians, their friends and lovers (including a psychic, a photographer, and the band s manager) meets with a young documentary filmmaker to tell his or her own version of what happened during that summer but whose story is the true one?”

 

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Knitting: Terpsichore Street, by Romi Hill.  This pattern gave me extreme agita around this time last year, and I eventually called it quits and felt like a failure and moped about it for the next year. Well, this year I am attempting it again, and I am seeing that a great many of my issues are directly related to misreading the pattern, misinterpreting the instructions, and making assumptions that aren’t accurate.  So far progress is slow–we’re talking a glacial pace– but I am reading and re-reading and correcting myself every time I go astray. Except for a potentially huge mistake that I made at the beginning…but I think that’s only going to affect the size of the finished shawl, and I’m over that.  I’ll just give it to one of my tinier friends.  Problem solved!

Oh, and what’s that, you ask? Another book?  Yes, you caught me.  This one is Death’s Summer Coat by Brandy Schillace and touches on a subject close to my heart: death awareness and death acceptance.

“Death is something we all confront―it touches our families, our homes, our hearts. And yet we have grown used to denying its existence, treating it as an enemy to be beaten back with medical advances.

We are living at a unique point in human history. People are living longer than ever, yet the longer we live, the more taboo and alien our mortality becomes. Yet we, and our loved ones, still remain mortal. People today still struggle with this fact, as we have done throughout our entire history. What led us to this point? What drove us to sanitize death and make it foreign and unfamiliar?

Schillace shows how talking about death, and the rituals associated with it, can help provide answers. It also brings us closer together―conversation and community are just as important for living as for dying. Some of the stories are strikingly unfamiliar; others are far more familiar than you might suppose. But all reveal much about the present―and about ourselves.”

 

Listening: Daughter, Not To Disappear. I am happy to report that Daughter’s second album sounds very much like the first, which is to say: lush, beautiful sadness. Hushed, desolate dream-pop. Heartbreak and doom and gentle glooms.  Perfection.

 

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Wearing: Black Phoenix Alchemy Lab’s Mother Ghost, from their Crimson Peak line {a cold, sheer white musk gleaming with black orchid, benzoin, labdanum, and blackened amber, and embraced by white rose, tea leaf, and vanilla flower.} This is a pearly, translucent delicate scent that reminds me very much of my lost (discontinued) love, the delicate, gauzy, Antique Lace.

 

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Anticipating: The release of our Occult Activity Book! Co-conspirator Becky Munich and I have been working with several splendid several artists and writers to conjure forth this wicked little book …and for true believers we have concocted a Deluxe pack which includes the 24-page Occult Activity book, two 5×7 color prints and a sticker by contributing artist Casket Glass Studio .

We should have them available for purchase sometime in the beginning of February, but be forewarned! Only 250 of these marvels will be printed, so you’ll want to nab them while they are available on this plane of existence!

seance

Bonus! Another one from the cutting room floor, from How To Wear A Séance over at Dirge. That dress is utterly killing me.

Links of the Dead {January 2016}

British singer David Bowie performs on stage in Brussels, on May 20, 1983. (AFP/Getty Images)

David Bowie performs on stage in Brussels, on May 20, 1983. (AFP/Getty Images)

 

A gathering of death related links that I have encountered in the past month or so. From somber to hilarious, from informative to creepy, here’s a snippet of things that have been reported on or journaled about in or related to the Death Industry recently.

Previous installments:
Links of the dead for December 2015
Links of the dead for November 2015
Links of the dead for September 2015
Links of the dead for August 2015

9 Reasons It Is Not Crazy To Grieve A Celebrity Death

In His Final Performance, David Bowie Embraced Death

A Paean to the Goblin King; wise words from Angeliska on stepping into the shadow of David Bowie’s death and using the righteous lessons he taught us. Do the hard work! Live with aplomb! Let your every wild facet shine.

A Young Neurosurgeon Examines the Meaning of Life as He Faces His Death

“But Harold, we begin to die as soon as we are born. What is so strange about death?”

Death and the birth of feminism

Neil DeGrasse Tyson Talks About The Beauty Of Life And Death

11 Signs You May Be Dying In A Victorian Novel

“Just Buried”–Funeral Home Weddings

Funerary Darlings: The Tradition of Child Pallbearers
The Day I’ll Finally Stop Grieving

The year my partner drowned, I bought a lobster — and set it free.

How Uganda Came To Earn High Marks For Quality Of Death

Love champagne? Thank a French widow

 

 

15+ impossible wardrobes dreamed in 2015

I have a weird habit wherein every time I write something, I feel compelled to design an outfit around it. Obviously in the virtual sense – my wallet could not possibly withstand this peculiar compulsion!

Below are 15 (okay, it’s actually probably more like 20-30) ensembles created in 2015, including links back to the articles, essays, or ramblings that inspired their creation. As always, click through the image to find details on the items included.

15 things I did in 2015

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15 things I wrote in 2015

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15 things I liked in 2015

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Merry Hexmas to you!

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The New Faces of Death

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Kintsugi

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Alchemical Catharsis

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Queen of Hearts

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Travel Journals: Portland

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Feral Mysticism

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Terrible, tragic beauty

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but I brought you flowers!

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les neiges d’antan

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Darkly Dreaming

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Krampusnacht 2015

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Perfume of the Dead

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Hag Couture

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Summer scents for those who shun the sun

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wind & stone, fire & bone

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The Scent of Evil

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Vögguvísa, or: There is much that darkness knows

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