Day of the dead

ImagineFX - - Myths & Legends -

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.

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