Day of the Dead

As regular readers will know, May Morning is a big occasion here in Oxford, and for a number of years we've been going out with a bunch of fellow bohos and ne'er-do-wells - The Hurly Burly Band - playing rumbustious music at 6am, tickling the crowds and raising the spirit of summer.

Well, good magical practice dictates that whatever you summon up you must put back to bed again, so three years ago we started a new tradition, going out in the evening of November 2nd and playing for the Mexican Day of the Dead, to lay summer to rest.

Hold on a minute, I hear all the Pagans among you cry. Haven't we got our own, perfectly respectable festival of autumn and the dead, Samhain or Halloween? Why import someone else's?

Our reasoning was this: Halloween is hopelessly lost to us. What used to be a rather homely festival of roast chestnuts and ghost stories and apple-bobbing and fires has become just another great festival of consumption, dedicated to the forces of Mammon. I've always despised trick or treat, with its reified, kiddified, candy-coated extortion, and now for grown-ups Halloween is just a big fancy-dress party, another excuse to get mashed in the working week. Don't get me wrong. I'm all for dressing up. It's just that I'm looking for a festival with a bit more meaning. We dare not forget the dead.

So, yes, our Day of the Dead is an appropriation, but it is already something else. It is genuinely our Day of the Dead, and for the time being at least it remains untainted by the forces of capitalism.

And I particularly love the fact that no one is expecting it. We barely advertise, mostly rely on passers by, some of whom stop, join in, dance.

This year the music moved through distinct moods, from a kind of cold austerity, through grief (for many of us, this has been quite a tough year, and I'm sure people were remembering friends and relatives who've passed), and finally into a kind of defiant, upbeat effervescence. We pulled a large crowd and they were dancing. The magic was done. Proper.

(Thanks to Hafiz for this last, evocative photo. Says it all, I think).


  1. Better not be too successful or they'll be selling Day of the Dead cozzies in Tescos, chocolate skulls etc...

  2. I was feeling sad about losing Samhain to the Halloween candy cult this year. Your faces are rather unnerving, well done, and that last photo is quite amazingly beautiful. I'd have loved to have been there to dance... Instead I took my flute to the forest at dusk and played to the forest ancestors, a quiet little moment to myself without costumes or candy.

  3. "On the day of the dead, when the year too dies, must the youngest open the oldest hills, through the door of the birds where the breeze breaks, there fire shall fly from the Raven boy, and the silver eyes that see the wind...."

    It popped straight into my head as soon as I read your blog post title. It was probably my first introduction to the idea of the day of the dead (whether you mean the Mexican one or the old Samhain)...I learnt it off by heart when I was about 13, and it's still there in the old brainbox. If you think it's annoying that Halloween has gone all commercial in your neck of the woods, imagine what it's like here! Halloween in all it's hideous commercial glory arrived here a few years ago (without there ever being a more serious version celebrated)...and people celebrate it the same day as they do in the northern hemisphere, 31st October...our Spring! Sad, that no one seems to know or care it's supposed to be a seasonal festival.



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