Day of the dead
This Mexican festival shows that ancient cultural myths can play a part in the modern day’s celebrations and festivities Día de Muertos is a Mexican festival that celebrates the dead. It’s also increasingly popular outside Mexico and has become a favourite subject for many digital artists.
The long weekend of celebrations provides a chance for family and friends to remember the deceased by building alters decorated with sugar skulls, marigold flowers and the dead’s favourite foods.
In fact the modern holiday can be traced back to Aztec festivities geared around the goddess Mictecacihuatl who ruled over the afterlife. With the influence of the ruling Spanish, this ancient festival morphed into what it is today.
“We long for meaning in our existence, to know our place in our own microcosm and in the overwhelming scope of the universe. Myths and legends feed that passion for understanding truth.”
A new cast of heroes
John Howe has a soft spot for the legend of King Arthur and his supporting cast of gallant knights, princesses and kindly wizards. While it’s unlikely the sixth century king existed, it’s certain his tales of chivalry and heroism have been constantly added to through the ages. From Geoffrey of Monmouth’s 12th century History of the Kings of Britain, NC Wyeth’s work on The Boy’s King Arthur in the 20th century, to the current TV series Merlin, Arthur’s is an ever-changing storyline.
Although Arthur the Briton was said to have beaten the Anglo-Saxons, they in turn chose him as a symbol of pride when the Danish Vikings invaded England, bringing with them tales of Valhalla, Odin and Thor.
You may know hammer-wielding Thor best through Jack Kirby’s 1962 pencil work, or perhaps by Australian actor Chris Hemsworth in the current film franchise. Danish illustrator Jesper Ejsing has a deeper relationship with the Norse god. “When I started my career I literally stepped onto the bridge of Bifröst and walked into Valhalla,” he says, describing his first job as a colourist on the Danish comic book Valhalla, which retold the Scandinavian myths. Today he tells his kids the same stories on walks in the woods.
Careful not to exhaust their relatively young legends of the Wild West, North America has done an amazing job of taking the core of mythical tales and beaming new versions around the world. Myths are referenced (Clash of the Titans), subtly retold (the Coen Brothers’ O Brother, Where Art Thou?), or just invented through superhero storylines. “But enchantment is not simply entertainment,” warns John. It’s an
I literally stepped onto the bridge of Bifröst and walked into Valhalla
opportunity for deeper understanding of the world and humanity’s place in it.”
On the same land but in a parallel world, Native Americans today are taking pains to re-establish a relationship with their myths from a time before the West was won. The trickster Old Man Coyote, who made people out of the mud and stole fire from the gods for them, continues to unite and inform young people about Western Native American languages and cultures.
Whether from the annals of time or straight out of your imagination, depicting fantastical images is just as important today as it was in Pompeii. “Advances in science and technology have provided so much good, but they’ve also made people arrogant,” says Italian artist Corrado. “Many myths are the base of a lot of habits, ideas and concepts that we still have in our modern lives. Often we forget this. Myths informed philosophy, philosophy has informed science. So you see, the most modern of our knowledge is linked with our ancient stories. If we forget them we lose a part of ourselves.”
Da nce with deat h Alix Branwyn, top and right, and Jason Juta, far right, take the Day of the Dead festival as inspiration.
LANCELO T John Howe’s depiction of Lancelot. The fearless knight was added to the story in the 12th century, some 700 years after Arthur.
One with nat ure Working from ‘the longest poem in the world’, Mukesh Singh could depict battles and moments of spiritual calm alike.
The Guardian Rebecca Yanovskaya used
classic archetypes, “from Heimdallr, Athena, to the Sphinx” to create this painting.
Isis and Osiris Corrado Vanelli painted this book cover for Cinzia Baldini’s reimagining of the Egyptian myth.
Va lhalla Pavel Spitsyn took the Scandinavian myth of Valhalla as the backdrop
to a story of his own.