Paganistan: Notes from the Secret Commonwealth

In Which One Midwest Man-in-Black Confers, Converses & Otherwise Hob-Nobs with his Fellow Hob-Men (& -Women) Concerning the Sundry Ways of the Famed but Ill-Starred Tribe of Witches.

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Annie and the Flowers of the Dead

Why do we give flowers to the dead?

Well, I think I know.

I used to work with a woman named Annie: tiny, nearing retirement but undiminished.

Croatian, born in the then-Yugoslavia, Annie fell in love with, and married, an American GI. Her family disowned her for it. Annie gave up much for love and America.

Not long after they married, her husband asked when her birthday was. She told him, surprised that he should want to know. In Croatia, no one celebrates birthdays. The day to celebrate is your Name Day, the feast day of the saint that you were named for.

So when, a few days before Samhain, her husband burst through the door with an armful of chrysanthemums and Happy Birthday on his lips, she was both dumbfounded and horrified.

In Croatia, All Soul's Day is an important holiday. It's the time to tend the family graves. People spend the night in the cemetery, feasting, reminiscing, drinking plum brandy, and dancing. The cemeteries fill with accordions, bonfires, and chrysanthemums.

Because graves are decked with them, chrysanthemums are reckoned as the flower of the dead. To give chrysanthemums to the living (but no one would ever do such a thing) would be a grave insult, a curse: to say, in effect, "I wish you were dead." 

Annie was so dumbstruck that her English deserted her. All she could say was "Cemetery! Cemetery!" She grabbed the flowers from the arms of her astonished husband, ran past him out the door, and threw them into the street.

She tells me the story and we both laugh. Then she shakes her head.

"Forty-three years we are married, this year," she tells me. She grins.

"And that's the last time he ever brought me flowers."

M. L. West observes that feasts when the dead return tend to fall during winter, whether at its end, middle, or beginning. In ancient Greece, asphodels bloomed in the fields of the dead; in this world, they bloom in early spring, when the feast of the dead was held. In Mexico, the cempasúchil, or marigold, with its glowing Halloween color, decks the graves and altares of Día de los Muertos. Marigolds and chrysanthemums are hardy, cold-tolerant blooms, so it makes sense that they should be given to the dead. Here in the North, I suppose it would be asters.

So, yes Diana, there is flowering after frost.

Flowers, after all, are sex organs.

Why do we give flowers to the dead?

Well, I think I know.






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Poet, scholar and storyteller Steven Posch was raised in the hardwood forests of western Pennsylvania by white-tailed deer. (That's the story, anyway.) He emigrated to Paganistan in 1979 and by sheer dint of personality has become one of Lake Country's foremost men-in-black. He is current keeper of the Minnesota Ooser.


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