Also known as 'Snow Moon' and 'Beaver Moon,' it comes on heels of U.S. storms
By Tariq Malik
The bright full moon of November will rise overnight Thursday night on the heels of severe snowstorms across the United States, bringing with it some appropriately chilly lunar nicknames.
November's full moon has many names, but perhaps the most timely are its "Snow Moon" and "Frost Moon" monikers since the moon hits its full phase as Alaska braces for a monster storm along its western coast, and just over a week after a huge storm rocked the U.S. East Coast.
The full moon of each month is actually a brief event, with November's full moon occurring at 3:16 p.m. EST. But to the casual skywatcher, the moon still appears full on the days before and after the main event.
"The Full Moon rises around sunset and sets around sunrise, the only night in the month when the moon is in the sky all night long," wrote Space.com contributor Geoff Gaherty, an astronomer with the skywatching software developer Starry Night Education, in a November skywatching guide. "The rest of the month, the moon spends at least some time in the daytime sky."
Tonight, the moon will appear near the bright planet Jupiter, which is shining off to the moon's right. Both objects can be found in the constellation Aries as they make their way across the night sky tonight.
The sky map of the full moon, Jupiter and Aries here shows how they will appear together tonight.
November's full moon has also been known as the Beaver Moon, though the name has two interpretations.
According to one, the Beaver Moon takes its name from the animal itself, since this is the time they are actively preparing for winter. Another tale, however, states that the lunar nickname comes from hunters as a reminder to set beaver traps before swamps freeze over for the winter.
Other names for this month's moon include its Hindi name of Kartik Poornima and Sinhala (Buddhist) name Il Poya, according to Gaherty.
November's full moon is not the only lunar delight this month. On Nov. 25, the moon will block part of the sun in a partial solar eclipse, which will be visible to skywatchers in southern South Africa, Antarctica, Tasmania and most of New Zealand.
If you snap a stunning view of the November full moon and would like to share it with Space.com, send images and comments on the view to managing editor Tariq Malik at firstname.lastname@example.org.
You can follow Space.com Managing Editor Tariq Malik on Twitter @tariqjmalik. Follow Space.com for the latest in space science and exploration news on Twitter @Spacedotcom and on Facebook.
A powerful Ghanaian documentary highlights the plight of the 'witches' of Gambaga. BY JAMES WAN
Witchcraft in Ghana is a very real phenomenon. It displaces people from their homes, it breaks up families and it destroys lives. Those believed to be responsible for causing illness and misfortune are often tortured, killed or expelled from their villages.
Yaba Badoe’s powerful and heart-rending documentaryThe Witches of Gambaga, screened in London as part of Film Africa 2011, examines the lives of some of the accused witches who have sought refuge in perhaps Ghana’s oldest and most famous witches’ camp of Gambaga. Filmed over the course of five years and told largely by the women themselves, the documentary highlights the plight of some of the true victims of witchcraft beliefs. Salmata was attacked and run out of her village after she was blamed for her stepson getting ill; Amina was threatened and exiled when her brother died suddenly; Asara, a successful trader, was accused of being a witch after an outbreak of meningitis in her town.
The women of Gambaga, often victims of violence at the hands of their erstwhile neighbours, live under the protective custody of the village chief, the Gambarrana, a stern figure whose role sits somewhat uneasily between exploiter and philanthropist. They exist in often abject living conditions as they work for the Gambarrana to pay their dues, isolated from their families, psychologically if not physically traumatised, and miles from the lives they once knew.
Fly away home
“This practice [of accusing and exiling ‘witches’] has become an indictment on the conscience of our society,” argued Hajia Hawawu Boya Gariba, deputy minister for women and children’s affairs, at a conference held in Accra in September.
“The labelling of some of our kinsmen and women as witches and wizards and banishing them into camps where they live in inhuman and deplorable conditions is a violation of their fundamental human rights,” she continued. The conference, entitled “Towards Banning 'Witches' Camps”, called for new legislation to outlaw witchcraft accusations, the abolition of witches' camps and the reintegration of current outcasts into their home communities.
As witnessed in The Witches of Gambaga, however, repatriation is far from a simple process. In the film, we see two accused witches returning to their home villages after decades in exile. Despite having previously been educated, prepared and convinced by local activists to allow the return of the elderly women, the town chiefs on the day are reluctant to uphold their agreement. They finally agree to allow the women to stay, but only on the conditions that the women do not go near the market, do not have any interaction with children and keep away from village celebrations and gatherings. Akwasi Osei, chief psychiatrist in Ghana’s national health service, explained: “Right now if you [repatriate accused witches] you can be sure they will be lynched when they go back home.”
In fact, certain activists are calling not for the abolition of sanctuaries but for more of them, improved living conditions within those sanctuaries and assistance for ‘witches’ not in returning home but in learning a trade to provide them with an income while in the camps.
Believe it or not
Both of these viewpoints are, however, notably limited in scope and unambitious in vision. They address certain symptoms of the problem but not its root. Indeed, even identifying a single ‘root’ of the problem is impossible.
Ideas of witchcraft permeate society and are inextricably woven into the social fabric of Ghanaian life. Beliefs in the power of sorcery and juju are deeply infused into the Ghanaian psyche through popular stories and myths, frequent newspaper reports of accusations and confessions, the lyrics of songs, films, plays, fear-mongering commercials and the sermons of charismatic religious leaders.
Convincing people of the spuriousness of superstitions when those superstitions form a fundamental part of the lens through which reality itself is experienced is no mean feat. Beliefs in witchcraft not only fill in the gap left by a lack of education and information but can coexist with and even underpin believers’ informed understandings of issues. During Evans-Pritchard’s seminalethnographic study of the Azande, a grain storage collapsed, killing two people. When Evans-Pritchard pointed out that the tragedy was caused by termites, the Azande people replied “of course, but why were those two sitting under it at that particular moment?” When things seem to fall apart for no reason, some blame straightforward ‘bad luck’, some wonder what their mysterious God is up to and some blame the invisible hand of witchcraft. And when juju spells fail to work or protect, believers do not rethink nature and reality but point to shoddy workmanship or subpar materials.
Even some victims of false accusations come to believe themselves to be guilty – in The Witches of Gambaga, one accused woman insisted “in the same way fire burns, I am a witch”. And some commentators campaigning on behalf of accused witches speak from a humanitarian perspective, but not one which discounts superstitions; rather, they assert the need “to mount a campaign to educate the populace not to maltreat those accused of witchcraft, as they may not necessarily be so” [emphasis added].
Unweaving the social fabric
As social anthropologist Marcel Mauss would put it, witchcraft beliefs form a “total social fact”, a phenomenon that underpins innumerate facets of social and psychological life, myriad practices and diverse institutions. In order to combat the effects of witchcraft beliefs therefore, a multi-faceted policy approach that simultaneously tackles the various manifestations of and broader context within which superstitious attitudes prevail is required.
As Yaba Badoe told Think Africa Press, the challenge is to affect something which is deeply entrenched in the popular consciousness – “it is about belief and the consequences of belief”. It is not enough therefore to simply improve the lot of exiled and abused women, enact legislation, and repatriate accused witches. Equally, although necessary, it is not simply a question of better education provision, a more open democracy and greater economic stability. Indeed, contrary to certain theories of modernisation, superstition does not necessarily fall away with economic development; reports from Uganda in fact suggest the recent rise in child sacrifice rituals has been driven by the country’s emerging business elite.
Instead, multi-pronged policy interventions are required at all levels of society starting with the targeting and education of community leaders and local opinion leaders, a strategy that, as Yaba Badoe points out, “is an important first step that has been shown to work”. If Ghana is to protect its most vulnerable citizens from dire human rights abuses in the short- to mid-term, it must take a proactive stance not just in supporting the victims of accusations but in challenging the very cultures of scapegoating, gender inequality, misinformation and intolerance that inform witchcraft allegations.
This week, Archaeologist of the Soul and Life Re-Invention Coach, Corina Andronache features an interview with Andrew Cohen, a spiritual teacher, cultural visionary and founder of the global non-profit EnlightenNext.
I am pleased to introduce to you, Andrew Cohen,“a truly remarkable spiritual teacher on the cutting edge of evolutionary thinking and action. He is playing an invaluable leadership role in the emergence of evolutionary spirituality: an integrity-based, deeply meaningful approach to life grounded in our best scientific understanding of cosmic, earth, biological, and human history. Andrew’s writings and teachings are destined to make a real difference in the world.” - Michel Dowd, author of Thank God for Evolution
Corina: What is Evolutionary Enlightenment?
Andrew: Evolutionary Enlightenment is a new spiritual path and practice that is culturally relevant for our time. It brings together the perennial mystical insight that the ultimate nature of reality is Oneness and the scientific discovery that we’re part of an evolutionary process that is going somewhere. In Evolutionary Enlightenment, we win our spiritual liberation through the experiential recognition that who we really are is not separate from the primordial energy and intelligence that created the universe. We experience that energy and intelligence as what I call the evolutionary impulse—the life-positive, perpetually creative inspiration that compels human beings to strive to give rise to new potentials. The realization that “I AM” the energy and intelligence that created the universe and not merely a psychological ego is the fundamental insight that liberates the self in the new evolutionary spirituality.
Corina: Why do you describe Evolutionary Enlightenment as being "culturally relevant?”
Andrew: The pervasiveness of mythical and magical thinking in the great religious traditions presents an enormous challenge for the highly educated person at the beginning of the 21st Century. Also most forms of mysticism, both East and West, throughout the ages have primarily been about transcending the world, about “being in the world but not of it.” The new Enlightenment that I speak about is based upon an evolutionary worldview. Science has taught us that the entire universe is one ongoing creative process that had a beginning in time almost 14 billion years ago. This new worldview reveals to us that our uniquely human, highly evolved capacity for consciousness and complex thinking is the very leading edge of that creative process. As Julian Huxley famously said "Man is nothing but evolution become conscious of itself." A new culturally relevant mysticism is being born based upon this profound revelation: that you and I really are the energy and intelligence that created the universe awakening to itself in human form. The moral, philosophical, and spiritual implications of that truth are deeply relevant for human beings searching for meaning and purpose in the twenty-first century.
Corina: How is it possible that our individual choices can affect evolution and what can one do to be an asset to the evolutionary process?
Andrew: To be an asset to the evolutionary process, we have to realize how important we really are. That means it must become apparent to us that if we want a better future for ourselves and the world around us, that future is dependent on the choices we make and the actions we take. Indeed, we have to ensure that the world is a better place because we've had the opportunity to participate in its ongoing development.
Corina: What do you mean by “spiritual self-confidence”? How is it different from normal self-confidence or self-esteem?
Andrew: Spiritual self-confidence comes from knowing who we really are and knowing why we are here. Normal self-confidence comes from having some special skill or being particularly intelligent or unusually attractive. Spiritual self-confidence comes from knowing who we really are beyond name and form.
Corina: Can Evolutionary Enlightenment help us address the overwhelming challenges we face on the planet today? Global warming, gap between rich and poor, greed, hunger for power, war, etc.
Andrew: Evolutionary Enlightenment as a spiritual path does not address these kinds of questions. It addresses the spiritual predicament of the highly educated self trapped in modern and post-modern values, which give us no deep and satisfying answers to the perennial questions of, “Who am I?” and, “Why am I here?”. But through embracing an evolutionary worldview upon which the teachings of Evolutionary Enlightenment are based, we can discover new ways of seeing the world around us. We can gain a capacity for greater objectivity as we learn to see the trials and challenges of human cultural development from the perspective of the larger creative process. This bird’s eye view so to speak can help us embrace the increasing complexity of our global process with a greater appreciation for how we got to where we are and with an awakened inspiration to face the enormous challenges in front of us.
Corina: What are you ultimately hoping to accomplish with your work?
Andrew: I am endeavoring to create the conditions that will help to catalyze cultural evolution. Together with others, I’m trying to accomplish nothing less than a cultural revolution, similar in size and scope and impact to the one that emerged in the 1960s. As my friend, the great American philosopher Ken Wilber always reminds me, the Renaissance was initially catalyzed by only 1000 people. I don’t know what that number would have to be today, but it may well be within our reach. That’s what I’m living for.
Corina: I want to thank Andrew for the opportunity to learn from his wisdom through his new spiritual teaching meant to create deep paradigm shifts in the way we view ourselves in relations to the world and the evolutionary process. I am honored, along with him and others, to be a voice of truth and progress in a world troubled with issues at all levels of experiencing life. May we learn and grow together in order to create a new reality and a new world where all have equal opportunity to knowledge and true teachings!
Below is the link to Andrew's upcoming event occurring in the Chicagoland area on November 12th, 2011.
ARCHAEOLOGISTS working on a routine survey of a Scottish hillside have uncovered a treasure chest of historic artefacts dating back 6000 years.
The find was made during preparatory work for a new housing development in Oban and is the biggest of its kind in mainland Argyll in recent years.
It includes a Stone Age or Neolithic axehead, dating back 5000-6000 years, three prehistoric roundhouses which are up to 3000 years old, and the remains of an 18th-century farmstead and metalwork store.
RUJM AL-HIRI, Golan Heights — A newly proposed solution to an ancient enigma is reviving debate about the nature of a mysterious prehistoric site that some call the Holy Land’s answer to Stonehenge.
Some scholars believe the structure of concentric stone circles known as Rujm al-Hiri was an astrological temple or observatory, others a burial complex. The new theory proposed by archaeologist Rami Arav of the University of Nebraska links the structure to an ancient method of disposing of the dead.
The site’s name means “stone heap of the wild cats” in Arabic. In Hebrew it is known as Galgal Refaim, or the “wheel of ghosts.” It was first noticed by scholars in 1968, a year after Israel captured the Golan Heights from Syria, and despite its intriguing nature it has attracted few visitors. Unmarked, it lies an hour’s hike from the nearest road, near old minefields, an abandoned military bunker and a few grazing cattle.
Rujm al-Hiri’s unremarkable appearance from the ground belies its striking form when seen from the air: It consists of four circles — the outermost more than 500 feet across — made up of an estimated 42,000 tons of basalt stone, the remains of massive walls that experts believe once rose as much as high as 30 feet. It is an enormous feat of construction carried out 6000 years ago by a society about which little is known.
It seems likely that Rujm al-Hiri served residents of excavated villages nearby that were part of the same agrarian civilization that existed in the Holy Land in the Chalcolithic period, between 4500 and 3500 B.C. This predates the arrival of the Israelites as described in the Bible by as much as three millennia.
But nothing is known about why they went to such great lengths to construct something that was not a village or fortress, whose location was not strategic and whose practical purpose is entirely unclear.
Most scholars have identified Rujm al-Hiri as some kind of ritual center, with some believing it connected to astronomical calculations. Archaeologist Yonathan Mizrahi, one of the first to excavate there, found that to someone standing in the very center of the circles on the morning of the summer solstice in 3000 B.C., “the first gleam of sunrise would appear at the center of the northeast entryway in the outer wall.”
Just like England’s Stonehenge — thought to date to around 3000 B.C. at the earliest — Rujm al-Hiri has also provided fodder for ideas of a less scientific sort. One posits the site is the tomb of the Biblical giant known as Og, king of the Bashan. There is indeed a tomb in the center of the site, but scholars tend to agree it was added a millennia or two after the circles were erected.
A self-proclaimed expert in supernatural energy fields visited the site in 2007 and claimed it had high levels of energy and vibration, which he suggested was the reason the ancients chose the location. A psychic consulted afterward by the same expert declared that Rujm al-Hiri had been a healing center built with knowledge that came from “ancient Babel” and was “managed by a priestess named Nogia Nogia.”
The theory proposed by Arav, who has led the excavation of another ancient site nearby since the late 1980s, is based on a broader look at the local Chalcolithic civilization and on similarities he noticed with more distant cultures. Arav published his idea in the current issue of Biblical Archaeology Review, a U.S. periodical.
“I tried to look at the whole culture of that time,” said Arav.
The Chalcolithic people of the Holy Land buried their dead in ossuaries, small boxes used to house bones. Use of ossuaries requires that the flesh first be removed, which can be achieved by burying bodies for an initial period in temporary tombs until only the bones remain. But archaeologists have not found evidence of such preliminary graves from Chalcolithic times, Arav said, suggesting a different method for disposing of the flesh.
Arav found a clue in a trove of Chalcolithic artifacts discovered to the south, near the Dead Sea: a small copper cylinder with a square opening like a miniature gate and, crucially, figures of birds perched on the edge.
He also noticed a similarity to round, high-walled structures used by Zoroastrians in Iran and India, known as dokhmas or towers of silence. These are buildings used for a process known as excarnation or sky burial — the removal of flesh from corpses by vultures and other birds. The winged scavengers perch on the high circular walls, swoop in when the pallbearers depart and can pick a skeleton clean in a matter of hours.
Rujm al-Hiri, Arav believes, was an excarnation facility.
The cylindrical object found near the Dead Sea, he believes, is a ceremonial miniature of such excarnation sites. He cites evidence — including a mural showing vultures and headless human corpses — that excarnation was practiced several millennia earlier in southern Turkey, where the local Chalcolithic residents are thought to have originated.
Arav’s theory is the first such claim that excarnation was practiced in the Holy Land in that era.
Archaeologist Mike Freikman of Hebrew University in Jerusalem, who has led digs at the site for the past five years, said Arav’s theory was based only on “very distant parallels” rather than on hard evidence, but that it could not be ruled out.
“We know so little about this site that the answer could be yes or no,” he said.
Freikman’s excavations have yielded almost no material remains of the kind that are common at most archaeological sites, he said. That is significant, however, as it confirms that the site was never lived in and was thus not a defensive position or a residential quarter but most likely a ritual center of some kind — possibly, he said, one indeed linked to a cult of the dead.
If Arav’s theory is correct, the biblical narrative written millennia later might offer hints that sky burial remained in the memory of the local population. No longer practiced, it was instead considered an appalling fate wished on one’s worst enemies.
In one example, from the Book of Samuel, the shepherd David tells the Philistine warrior Goliath that he would soon cut off his head. Then David says: “I will give the carcasses of the Philistine camp to the birds of the sky and the beasts of the earth.”
[LONDON] Researchers are aiming to bridge the gap between Chinese and Western systems of medicine with what they say is the first database of chemical compounds found in herbs used in traditional Chinese medicine.
The database, known as Chem-TCM, will be used to help with drug development, according to researchers from the Institute of Pharmaceutical Science at King's College London, United Kingdom, and partners at the Shanghai Institute of Materia Medica, China, who launched it this month (18 October).
The database features more than 12,000 chemical compounds identified in more than 300 Chinese herbs, and can be searched using text searches, but also using chemical terms.
"You can even draw a picture of a chemical structure on a computer screen and the database will search for matching molecular structures and activities," said David Barlow, an expert in computer-aided drug design and delivery systems at King's College London.
Although botanical databases on traditional medicine already exist, Barlow said this database is geared "towards identifying known activities of the chemicals in Chinese medicines" and predicting activities of similar compounds.
It includes botanical and chemical information, predicted activity of the chemicals against known Western therapeutic targets and available data on toxicology of those compounds.
The active chemicals in many herbs have not yet been identified, Barlow said, so some of the compounds in the database are "scientific predictions based on chemical footprints of compounds".
The database aims to "provide a link between Chinese and Western medicine on a molecular level," said Barlow.
"The Chinese are interested in marrying up Chinese practices and getting them accepted in the West. It also helps them defend their own medical practices and show that their remedies can be backed up by scientific investigation," Barlow said.
But she said that establishing which chemical compound is active in a traditional medicine is not the same as knowing that the medicine is effective.
"With commercially produced pharmaceutical products you know exactly what goes into a drug but in traditional medicine there are variations in chemicals within each plant or even within each leaf. Testing each compound would be a huge and very expensive undertaking — a drop in the bucket considering how many traditional medicines there are."
Barlow said the database was developed using publicly available information on Chinese medicines, with funding from the Global Partnership fund at the UK Department for Business, Innovations and Skills as well as Innovation China-UK — a subsidiary of Queen Mary University of London. But the database will not be freely available — it will instead be commercially marketed to major pharmaceutical, biotech, agricultural and educational organisations.
Carnac, in the very south of France, isn't as well known as Stonehenge. But its megaliths are just as mysterious
By Susan Spano, Special to the Los Angeles Times
November 6, 2011
Reporting from Carnac, France—
St. Cornelius, known as Cornély in France, opens his arms in blessing from a niche above the old stone church in Carnac. Legend has it that he was persecuted by Rome for his opposition to animal sacrifice and chased by soldiers all the way to the Brittany coast. Trapped, he turned around and changed them into 3,000 rough-hewn stones that still stand in military rows on a chain of fields just north of here.
There are other hypotheses about the Carnac boulders, carbon dated to 4000 to 2000 BC. They mark one of Caesar's camps during the Gallic Wars from 58 to 50 BC. Or they were snake worship sites for ancient Celts whose territory included parts of England and Ireland as well as Brittany. Or maybe they were goblin lairs and fairy treasures. But St. Cornelius works for me.
It's the same story with other prehistoric monuments in Western Europe. No one knows for sure who built them or why, although sites have been found, from Scandinavia toSpain, that have various configurations: upright stones, known as menhirs or megaliths, standing alone or in groups, as at Stonehenge, England; dolmens, Neolithic tombs made of massive boulders, laid on top of one another; and tumuli, or artificial mounds, where ancient man buried the departed under heaps of rubble.
My first encounter with these mysteries was at Avebury on the Wiltshire moors in England, a medieval village surrounded by concentric circles of standing stones. When Christianity arrived, villagers desecrated the megaliths, believing them evil. But on a recent trip to Brittany — whose coast must have fit together with that of England like a puzzle piece before a lowering sea created the English Channel — I discovered that the Carnac megaliths fared better. Although sometimes mined for building material or marked with Christian crosses, they have otherwise escaped the wrath of superstitious zealots in one of the earliest instances of French laissez faire.
It takes about four hours to drive from Paris to Carnac, which occupies a segment of the ragged Brittany coast near Quiberon Island and the mouth of the Morbihan Bay. Once one of the poorest, most isolated corners of France, it is now one of the most chic, not because of the megaliths but because of the beaches colonized almost equally by French and English vacationers.
Carnac's old port, La Trinité-sur-Mer, is as full of sails and topsiders as Hyannis, Mass., reached along a waterfront road lined by handsome summer houses, thalassotherapy spas, nature preserves, salt marshes and sandy Atlantic Oceanshores. A tourist train takes sightseers along the Carnac Riviera and through the town center with its Museum of Prehistory, market square and 17th century church dedicated to St. Cornelius.
The first thing I saw when I drove into town was the whitewashed chapel of St. Michel atop a 30-foot tumulus that covered a tomb that contained prehistoric axes and ornaments. At its foot is the Hôtel Tumulus, built as a residence in 1900 by St. Michel excavator Zacharie Le Rouzic. It's still run by family members and thus an ideal place for amateur archaeologists. I checked into a simple, sunny room under a gable, swam in the pool and dined on fresh fish in the veranda restaurant.
Zombies and vampires. They’re probably some of the easiest and most popular Halloween costumes in the world. A few makeup effects and perhaps a set of false teeth or rent garments are all you need to transform yourself into one, because both characters are, literally, dead bodies. For a typical Halloween reveler, seeing or being a zombie or vampire is probably about as close as it gets to really thinking about the dead.
But that’s not the case at two very different Haunted Happenings events in Salem. The Mourning Tea and the Dumb Supper, both of which are hosted by members of the Salem Witch community, give visitors a chance to be with loved ones lost again – whether by experiencing a feeling of supernatural connection or just to spend time with their memories, in the company of other people who grieve.
“I originally planned the Dumb Supper with my best friend, Shawn Poirier,” said Christian Day, a warlock and the owner of the Salem witch accessory shops Hex and Omen. “We had started running the Salem Witches Ball a few years earlier, and we noticed that a lot of the Haunted Happenings events were things like corn mazes and pet shows. We didn’t feel like there were a lot of spiritual events, and a lot of people come to Salem on Halloween because this is an important spiritual holiday for them.”
Poirier attended the first few Dumb Suppers and was instrumental in planning the Mourning Tea, but he was not able to attend the first one. He died of a heart attack in 2007.
Halloween – or Samhain, in the pagan and Wiccan traditions – is a holiday traditionally associated with the boundary between the worlds of the living and the dead being thin. Hence the associations with Halloween and the occult that led to Ouija boards, food sacrifices to spirits (the origins of giving out candy), and those vampires and zombies already mentioned. But for many people, the associations to the departed are much clearer and more resonant.
“Our father, Achilles Granata, died on Nov. 15, 2010, almost exactly a year ago,” said Janet Mitchell, who attended the Mourning Tea with her younger sister Jennifer Granata. “He loved Halloween. Every year he would plant a field of pumpkins, and come October he’d harvest them and give them to neighborhood children for free.”
“He used to come to Salem for VFW events,” said Granata. “He was a member of the Army Air Corps in World War II and the Air Force in Korea. He really liked Salem. Coming here today just seemed to be a good way to honor him.”
At the Mourning Tea, attendees made pages for a Book of the Dead, adding pictures of lost relatives, stickers, drawings, and words. Afterwards, many chose to stand up and tell the other attendees stories of those they mourned.
“My husband, James, was killed by a suicide bomber in Afghanistan,” said Christine Ayube, the widow of James Ayube II. James was honored for his sacrifice by the city of Salem earlier this year with the christening of the James Ayube Memorial Bridge.
Christine Ayube shared fond memories of her life with James.
“He was the biggest nerd you’ll ever meet,” Ayube said. “After we were married, we walked back down the aisle to the Imperial March from ‘Star Wars.’”
Another attendee, Marlene Longo, said she had also come to the event last year. A Connecticut hairdresser, Benti brought a crystal that had been given to her by the son of a beloved client, Maryann Benti.
“When Maryann began to get sick, I would go to her house and do her hair,” Longo said. “The event gives me a chance to feel a nice remembrance of her. The people here don’t feel so alone.”
The Mourning Tea is organized by another Salem witch and friend of Shawn Poirier, Leanne Marrama, along with her colleague Heather MacDonald.
“Shawn and I began talking about doing something like this in 2006,” Marrama said. “After his death, the event began to mean so much more to me. It’s a chance to feel close to my friend again.”
The Dumb Supper is, like the Mourning Tea, a ceremony built around remembering and respecting the dead. But it is more formal and rooted in many different religious and spiritual traditions.
“The idea for a dinner for the dead originates in ancient Egypt,” said Lori Bruno, a medium at Hex. “When the Egyptians would inter the bodies of their loved ones, they would always eat a ceremonial meal. We have found remnants of these meals at archaeological digs.”
Adding to the Egyptian tradition with other rituals from such diverse backgrounds as the Isle of Man in Great Britain and the American Ozarks, Dumb Suppers began to be celebrated in the 1920s, said Christian Day.
“The idea is to do everything backwards, to try and bring the dead closer,” Day said. “We start at dessert and work our way backwards. We have music playing from across the spiritual spectrum, but aside from that, the meal is eaten in complete silence to pay our respects.”
Day said that the act of eating, which nourishes life, gave attendees a chance to contemplate the cycle of life and death.
“What I get out of the Dumb Supper, still, is the knowledge that this isn’t the end,” Day said. “I might be skeptical and jaded, but it makes me feel that there is magic that can change lives.”
Some of the visitors, like Tammy St. John and her daughters Paige and Madelyne, said they felt that magic literally.
“I felt the touch of my grandfather’s hand,” said Paige St. John, who keeps a picture of her grandfather in a locket around her neck. “I love him so much and I never thought I’d feel him again. I feel like he’s watching over us.”
For others, the ceremonies were an opportunity to process the losses in their lives.
“Shortly after my dad died last year, I lost my job, and I don’t think I ever really took the time to grieve,” said Dallas Murphy, who traveled from South Carolina and attended both the Mourning Tea and the Dumb Supper with his wife, Kim. “Today was very emotional. Now that it’s done, I feel so much peace.”