Victoria Jelinek


Cambodia Pchum Ben RitualModern Halloween can be traced back to the Celtic Festival of Samhain (Sow-in), which took place two thousand years ago in Ireland, Scotland, and Northern France. Samhain marked the end of summer and the harvest, as well as the beginning of the dark and cold months. For these cultures, winter intuitively symbolized death, and this has remained the case in the arts and literature today. Two thousand years ago people commonly believed that the boundary between the worlds of the dead and the living were blurred at this time, which made it easier for Druids to make predictions about the coming year.

Prophecies such as this were an important source of comfort and direction for these tribes during the long, dark winters. However, the same was true of all societies at this time, who were equally dependent on a volatile, natural world. Celebrations marking the end of the growing season and a heralding in of the winter months, as well as folk traditions that told of the day when the boundaries between the living and the dead were lifted, were common everywhere. The manifestations of the celebrations differed slightly from country to country, from festivals, parades, bonfires, and costumes, to gatherings of families and loved ones in cemeteries to pray for the dead, to feasting or fasting, but the concept remained the same. The ancient celebration of the contrast between life and death, the living and the departed, is intuitively experienced when the changing of the seasons occurs. In parallel to Samhain, there was, and is, the “Dia de Muertos” in Mexico, born of the Aztecs; “Ged Gede,” a voodoo festival from Haiti; “Chuseok” in South Korea, born from an ancient Shamanistic ritual; “Tutti i Morti” in Italy; “Pitru Paksha” in India; “Dzien Zaduszny” in Poland; and “Pchum Ben” in Cambodia, for example.

The fact is that on a subliminal level, societies throughout the world recognize the magical possibilities inherent in the natural world, particularly at this time of year. In my opinion, the questions that follow are why it is that the Gallic rituals dominated to become our modern idea of Halloween? And, will the modern world return to these tribal rituals dominating culture – the consulting of priests, the convening with spirits, the sacrificing of animals – now that we are once again dependent on a volatile natural world?

Tulum, Yucatan, MX
September 10, 2010, 10:30 am
Filed under: Travel pieces | Tags: , , , ,

When I stepped off of the plane in Cancun, the air felt heavy and hot. I remember that that as the little plane opened up directly onto the tarmac, that my husband and I stopped at the top of the stairs of the plane, took a quick look around, and smiled widely at eachother. The pervasive colors were the pale blue of the sky, taupe for the earth, green and pink of the succulents and flowers.

After taking a bus just outside the little airport to a rental car company, we were given a newly manufactured VW bug in the old style of the 1960’s VW bugs – it was light grey with a white interior. We buzzed noisily down the highway towards the place deeper on the Yucatan peninsula, Tulum, where my friends from New York had bought land and were building a house.

Our little wooden shack nearby was on stilts about 20 meters from the ocean, which was a luminescent turquoise color – so clear and so blue that it looked unreal. The shack had a lovely wooden bathroom with a strong shower, and a bed with a mosquito net over it, a bureau, a few hooks, and nothing else. There was a little deck outside this main room, with two rocking chairs to sit in the shade and while the days away, looking at the dense foliage of palms, the aqua-colored ocean, and the white, white sand of the beach, which we did many a morning and evening. The mosquito net proved rather useless, my husband having counted 43 bites on my body after we’d been in Tulum two days. I tried not to get too freaked out about whether it had, in fact, been mosquitoes that had bitten me, when we marveled at all the strange and multi-colored instincts everywhere each day.

We snorkeled along the coral reef just slightly out from where the waves broke, and took walks along the sandy beach, careful not to step on the hundreds of little ‘Tortugas,’ hatching in the sand and making their way, against the slapping of the waves that would fling their little bodies back to shore. We considered that Cuba was a mere 35 km away and how great it’d be to visit there together, too.

We’d read old newspapers, and eat fruit from the little store across from our shack. In the evening, we’d swim with the setting sun, making love in the shallow water, careful not to leave the beach when the sun went down because it would get so dark you couldn’t even see where the break in the trees were.

Every night was spent in the cheerful little café near our shack that had open walls, rather than windows. The Argentinean man who owned the ‘resort’ with his wife, who had been a school ‘principal’ and therefore was feared by all the local police, was a dashing older gentleman who wore a fedora most of the time and drove an old British Land Rover. He’d sing in the evening, and encourage us to drink a lot. On our host’s birthday, they’d cooked a pig in the traditional Mayan way – deep in the earth for days – and we ate, drank, sang and danced, my husband and I wandering away at some point in the evening to dance under the stars on the dirt road, still within ear shot of our party’s gathering.

Because of my husband’s inability to be still, we did wander into the local village, buying toothpaste and other luxury items at a little bodega, looking at the garish multi-colored clothes, and happened upon a local soccer game one day in the central square, where we drank beer and sat on the grass to watch it, walking down the quiet dirt road home that evening, happy and exhausted. Another day we travelled in our little VW bug to Chichen Itza – a local Mayan ruin –arriving early in the morning to have the place to ourselves – it was so quiet and beautiful. When we were leaving, tourists with sun visors, white tennis shoes and cameras were arriving and noisily talking. We hiked down the rocks to the shores nearby and swam in the water, falling asleep directly on the sand afterwards.