Connecting with The Realm of The Dead Customs and things you will find at an altar for the Day of the Dead
The Day of the Dead in Mexico is an ancient tradition dating back to pre-Colombian cultures to celebrate life and death.
The indigenous cultures of South America and the Caribbean (including the Arawak, the Aztecs, Toltecs, among others), believed that life and death were aspects of the eternal cycle of nature.
Those left behind on Earth would honor their departed by summoning spirits who had traveled to the other side. Death for them was a reflection of a higher sphere of an alternate reality.
These cultures believed the Universe was divided into as many as 13 planes of existence. These realms were interconnected. Spirits had a way to send messages that appeared in our physical realm, and after death, people would transcend into a different realm. Just like religion nowadays, the connection between us (humans) and them (spirits and deities) was performed using food, plants, flowers and herbs. Often, these possessed psychoactive substances, such as peyote, that elevated consciousness to reach another level.
Honoring deceased ancestors is a festive occasion, a time of mourning, grieving, remembrance and making offerings, ofrendas, to pay their respects to those who had entered a new realm.
The week of festivities -from October 28 to November 2- is honored by making an altar at home, with photos of the deceased, burning candles and incense, marigolds, máscaras or masks that symbolized the dead’s alternate persona, food, drink and much more. Visiting gravesites is another custom at this time.
In the ceremonies for remembering, commemorating and connecting with the dead, pulque, an alcoholic drink made from the fermented sap of the maguey, and mezcal -that was originally exclusively for priests- is also placed at the altars made to ancestors.
Learning how Mexicans cope with grief and mortality as they take the time to face it, celebrate it, pay their respects to loss, and even have fun with it, is a valuable insight for all.