Korea’s Chuseok

North and South Koreans celebrate Chuseok for three days near mid-September or early October, depending on the lunar calendar. Chuseok shares many traditions with China’s Hungry Ghost festival.
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Young participants observe Chare. Credit: Seoulbeats
My music pick for this entry is actually a full album by Korean punk band Rux, because why not?
Jesa is a term for the ancestral veneration rituals that are observed at specific times through the year. The main rites are Gijesa (on the anniversay of the loved one’s passing), Sije (seasonal rites), Miyoje (ceremonies at the burial site), and Charye (mostly reserved for Chuseok).
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Credit: International Prodimex
Charye is commonly observed by piling a low wooden table with fresh fruits and vegetables to celebrate the harvest season, as well as various dumplings and treats.
Credit: IntlDaysoftheDead.Weebly
Each family has their own special rituals and afterwards, they feast. Some of the staple dishes prepared for Chuseok are Bulgogi, Japchae, Jeon, a spread of Banchan, rice cakes, and cookies. Bulgogi is a sweet and savoury beef dish full of fried onions, with the added depth of Asian pear and oyster sauce. I have made mine quite similar to this and to the video below:
Japchae is another sweet-meat dish, but what makes this so special is the Glass Noodles made of sweet potato starch.
Jeon are Korean savoury pancakes and can range from the simplicity of dipping sliced vegetables in a egg and flour batter to really fanciful and filling pancakes much like okonomiyaki. I found this recipe for a seafood and green onion version called Haemul Pajeon:
Most Koreans observe Chuseok by spending time with family in their home towns, going on vacations, and/or visiting graves of their ancestors. This is the largest Korean national holiday and is centered around food, comparable to the American Thanksgiving. ************** ************* © Venerate Your Dead, 2015- Current. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this site’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Venerate Your Dead with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Japan’s Obon Festival

Japan’s Buddhist day of the dead festival, Obon, takes place in the summer, typically late July or August. On the first of three days, paper toro nagashi lanterns are lit and taken to cemetery to guide a family’s loved ones back to home in a ritual called mukae-bon. The lanterns are taken to the waters edge and sent adrift to send spirits back safely on the third day in a ritual called okuri-bon.
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Credit: This Little Adventurer

My song for this entry is “Beast of Blood” by Japanese goth metal band Malice Mizer:
Similar to other day of the dead festivals, families spend the day visiting and cleaning graves, returning to their home towns, catching up with relatives, and preparing an altar for food and offerings. Here it is known as the Shoryo-dana shelf.
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Photo found on Pinterest (OP link was broken)

As an outsider, the Bon Odori traditional dancing with Japanese taiko drummers is the most fascinating part of festivities. These types of drums have been used in Asia and India since the 6th century or even earlier according to multiple archaeology findings. Taiko drums have been used historically in war and in entertainment. These massive drums are specially designed to create a low, hollow sound without pitch. Check out this video of a live performance:
This Bon Odori gets progressively lit until it turns an afro-punk version:
Bon Odori is not too difficult to learn, as you can see here:
It would fill me with hope to know that somewhere in the world this scene below happens on loop. Perhaps in some remote village or in the back of some Lucky Cat souvenir store where one could visit at any time and nothing ever changes.
During Obon, the most popular foods served include Inari and Futomaki sushi, teriyaki chicken or beef, yakisoba, and chirashi.
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Inari and Futomaki. Credit: Spruce Eats

Chirashi is a type of “scattered rice” dish, one that would also be known as “deconstructed” in foodie terms. Try your hand with this recipe here.
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Chirashi bowls. Credit: Eatbook.sg

Forget about the cheap orange packages of dry noodle mix you can find in the grocery. Real Yakisoba is a delicious fried noodle dish that comes in endless variations like this spring vegetable Yakisoba recipe here.

Beef Kimchi Yakisoba. Credit: SandrasEasyCooking

Delicious food aside, death and funeral rites in Japan can be exhausting and the industry cost is hyper-inflated. Japanese law does not allow intact bodies to be interred or buried, so the deceased are almost always placed in an expensive coffin long enough to receive visitors and then the body is cremated, coffin and all.
Funeral by Katorisi cropped

Credit: SavvyTokyo

The Buddhist wake ceremony called Tsuya takes place once the body is returned to the home. Okiyome, the funeral meal, takes place after the burial and the family is expected to provide enough food for all guests who wish to attend, even if it is an entire village. Even if it drives them into debt and further despair. Silver and black envelopes of condolence money are given to the mourning family who, in return, gives a small gift to each visitor. Often, the family pays to have a new Buddhist name given to the deceased relative with the belief that it will prevent the person from coming back from the dead if his or her name is called. Fish is forbidden at funerals and in most cases it is customary to have a monk lead the tsuya with prayers over the deceased’s ashes. The family separates the bones from the ashes and places them in one or more urns, starting with bones of the feet and ending with the skull.
Kotsuage, the bone picking ritual. Credit: Deep Japan
Shukatsu is a term for the hordes of business people racing to jobs, but is increasingly used more as a slang term to prepare for death. Japan is considered a dying society, with more deaths than births each recent year. Because of laws and limited space, Japanese culture is brimming with creativity and innovation for exciting burial options. Endex, Japan’s Funeral and Cemetery Show, is an annual convention that provides education, counseling, demonstrations, and wild entertainment in order to expand Japan’s comfort and awareness in death positivity, final arrangements, and the afterlife.
Endex Convention Schedule, credit: Endex.com
When I Die: Inside Japan’s Death Industry is a great intro to Japan’s growing culture of death positivity:
At the heart, Asian culture is based on respect and remembrance for lost loved ones. In the scriptures of the Theravada and Tirokudda Kanda, Buddhist concepts of offering food to hungry ghosts are offered to instruct the living in earning merit (aka karma). Each country has its own rituals that take place throughout the year but ancestor veneration is a part of daily life. In my current city we have a chapter of Death Cafe; a regular meet-up where people of all walks can discuss their fears, grief, death, final arrangements, and to seek help when needed. And they always serve cake.
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Photo shared from Facebook.com/DeathCafe
There has been huge progress in the US with Death Positivity in recent years, but Japan has it down pat. Thanks to Inelda, Death Doula courses, and other end-of-life planning specialists, the rest of the world is catching up.
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© Venerate Your Dead, 2015- Current. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this site’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Venerate Your Dead with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

The Beltane Sabbat; Waking the Witch

As we get closer to the first of May, every part of me detects a shift in energy. This pivotal time of year goes by many different names, and call it whatever you like, but things are changing.

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Time to Blossom. Photo shared by Pixels

Themes of this season are the sun and fire, flowers and blossoming, and awakening. Everything in nature is bursting into life (especially pollen, amirite?) and the days are becoming longer and brighter.

Beltane is a time to show gratitude to the Universe (or gods/goddesses if you prefer) for bringing us out of the dark cold season into a new one full of light. This is the half-way point between one Samhain to the next. Because of this, some of us also call it Hexennacht, a time for waking the witch.

So of course my song for this entry is Kate Bush “Waking the Witch.”

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Beltane is one of the four Gaelic seasonal festivals- along with Samhain, Imbolc, and Lughnasadh- and is held on 1 May. This first day of summer is known as Lá Bealtaine inIrish, Là Bealltainn in Scottish, and Laa Boaltinn in Manx.

Since pre-Christian times Beltane has been celebrated alongside the Floralia and Walpurgisnacht festivals with a focus on fire rituals.

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Redmen of Beltane. Photo shared from SixSigma

Jumping and dancing over fire or passing between two flames was practiced in part to purify a person and their animals of bad energy and illness.

People also offered pieces of bannock cakes or caudles to the gods and goddesses to earn blessings, health, and happiness in the coming season.

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Photo shared from LearnReligions

As time passed, Beltane became secularized and is widely celebrated around the world by those with Gaelic ancestry or who participate in Pagan, Wiccan, and other spiritual traditions. Each festival showcases wild costumes, Gaelic/Celtic music, food, and plenty of traditional fire dances.

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Floralia
On the 28th of April, the Floralia festival begins and is dedicated to Roman goddess Flora, who is known to protect flowers and blossoms.

The First of May is also called May Day and is celebrated with the wildly popular maypole dances and Queen of May crowning ceremony in conjunction with Floralia.

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Walpurgisnacht
Walpurgisnacht is a centuries-old tradition, observed from 30 April until 1 May or longer. Massive feasts and bonfires were held in Germania each year to honour Saint Walpurgia as she defended the Christians from illnesses, parasites, pests, and… witches.

Ancient Germanic people held prayer-athons because they believed a coven of powerful witches met up each year in the nearby Harz Mountains for Hexennacht at the exact same time as Walpurgisnacht in order to plot black magic against them.

Photo shared from History.com

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Hexennacht
Those witches who allegedly met up in the mountains were probably just doing the same things as the paranoid Christians of Walpurgisnacht, and what most modern witches enjoy doing today- stuffing their faces, socializing, spending time in ritual/prayer, seeking growth and spiritual lessons, and asking the Universe for what they need.

But indulge me for a moment in some witchlore.

One of my favourite examples of imagery for Walpurgisnacht/Hexennacht comes from the Russian tv serial adaptation of Mikhail Bulgakov’s Master & Margarita. Voland (the Devil) charms Margarita (a new witch) into his hypnotic underworld. He awakens her to magick, earthly delights, and self-possesion.

The NSFW (okay for 12+ in Russia tho) video below shows Margarita after she discovers Voland’s magical potion and gains the power to fly, landing in an ethereal ritual where she is greeted by faeries, witches, and a Pan-like creature. Start at 5:20 if it goes back to the beginning, or enjoy the whole episode.

In this same episode around 39-minute mark, Margarita has been crowned Queen of the Walpurgisnacht Ball but is feeling anxious about what will happen while guests dance in the fire:

If you’re interested in more of Bulgakov’s Master & Margarita, check out my blog Cowardice is the Most Terrible of Vices: Bulgakov’s Moscow.

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Feeling festive and want to know how to celebrate?
1. Bake some bannock, oatmeal cookies, or oatmeal-crumble desserts with fresh fruit

2. Get really creative with a Beltane caudle. Think of it as egg-nog’s (literally hot) cousin, as this caudle recipe suggests.

3. Host a bonfire/cookout or join someone else’s

4. Wear bright, colourful clothing with floral designs and accessories

5. Search for local Irish/Gaelic schools, Pagan Meet-ups, Poi spinning troupes, or other organizations that match your interests and can help you learn/grow/blossom.

6. Plant bulbs, herbs, or other appropriate seasonal flowers and commit to nurturing them, especially as they establish roots

7. Spend the night in ritual or prayer. Ask for help forming new healthy habits and for help with blossoming as a person.

8. Create a mediation altar to keep this imagery fresh in your mind for a while, or until the next Sabbat, Lughnasadh.

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© Venerate Your Dead, 2015- Current. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this site’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Venerate Your Dead with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

The Eostre Sabbat

The Spring Equinox falls between 19-22 March each year during a period when daylight and darkness is balanced, and the sun begins to move forward. Flowers start to bloom, lawns are continuously being mowed at awkward hours, and I have to stock up on sunscreen and Claritin.

Now’s a good time as ever for a metal song dedicated to Eostre:

Eostre (aka Easter, Ostara, or Ishtar) is the German goddess of Spring and fertility who loves rabbits and is said to have shape-shifted into them often. Eostre‘s followers honour her by offering cakes and eggs they had dyed and decorated in exchange for a blessed Spring, abundance, fertility, happiness, light, and more.

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Credit: We Share the Same Moon

Rabbits are a well-known symbol of fertility and new life due to their capacity for fast, frequent reproduction and growth. But listen, rabbits don’t lay eggs.

That was a funny children’s’ story created by German immigrants aka the Pennsylvanian Dutch community back in the 1600s and should never have been perpetuated by grown adults hundreds of years later.

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Credit: NY Daily News

Non-Pagans (primarily American Christians) observe these absolute Pagan traditions by dying and decorating eggs, buying hordes of egg/bunny-themed items, and decorating fancy cakes. However, they typically refuse to acknowledge the Pagan origins and insist it is all about the crucifixion/resurrection of Jesus.

(Sidenote: I always wondered when Jesus found time for his fancy egg-dying craft party and cake soiree with everything else he had going on that day.)

In this clip of Neil Gaiman’s book-turned-series American Gods, Mr. Wednesday confronts Eostre (“Ostara”) about her delusions and compliance in being forgotten and traded in for Jesus:

And then a challenge:

To which she accepts:

While I do not actually worship any deities, I do honour ancient Pagan traditions and I look to them for inspiration and mindfulness. I identify with many old rituals and incorporate them into my life and my practice, primarily by hosting Sabbat/esbat feasts and meditation.

For a meditation altar, I chose the colours of light green, light purple, jasmine buds, rose quartz, amethyst, clear quartz, and agates- basically what reminded me of Spring.

My wishes were for a season of abundance for my loved ones and myself, and I meditated while thinking of a bright gold light taking over everything.

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My Eostre sabbat this year took the shape of a housewarming party, and I held it on the same day as Greek Orthodox Easter. I had been craving Greek food for some time so putting together a menu to welcome my friends and family to the new place came easily.

All the snacks: varieties of olives, hummus, marinated artichokes and tomatoes, Mediterranean-seasoned veggies, dates, figs, sun-dried tomato jam, etc.

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Keftedes made from ground turkey, spinach, feta, bread crumbs, egg, mint, garlic, cumin, and dill.

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Served in pita with homemade tzatziki, fresh greens, and red onions.

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Kotopoulo Orzo- baked chicken, sun-dried tomatoes, lemon, artichoke, goat cheese, olive oil, garlic, butter, green onion, dill, oregano, parsley, and orzo pasta.

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Moussaka with roasted eggplant, zucchini, onions, ground beef, and a tomato-garlic sauce.

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Karidopita spice cake soaked in honey with ginger, nutmeg, cinnamon, brown sugar, cocoa hazelnuts, walnuts, and pecans.

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Our cocktail for the evening was Greek sours with Metaxa brandy and organic lemonade.

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Making creative meals with leftovers on the following day is always a fun challenge for me. This time I made tzatziki turkey burgers with hummus and tons of olives.

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Check out the May 2019 edition of Coffee Table Coven Magazine for a published, revised version of this entry.

Blessed Eostre / Ostara / Easter!

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© Venerate Your Dead, 2015- Current. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this site’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Venerate Your Dead with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

China’s Yu Lan, Hungry Ghost Festival

China, Yu Lan (Hungry Ghost Festival) Chinese culture is the epitome of Ancestor Veneration. The belief that ancestors become deities after death and should be worshiped is the core of Chinese religious and spiritual practices. Like many Asian countries, death and funeral rites draw from a combination of Buddhism and Taoism, with the addition of Confucianism in China. Filial Piety, a virtue of respect to elders, is also a fundamental part of Chinese culture.
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Women in mourning. Credit: Quora
Burials and ceremonies are dictated by the deceased’s age, social rank, cause of death, and marital status. Older people are not permitted to show veneration toward younger people, and as a result, deceased young children are not allowed to be visited, prayed for, or kept in the home of their living elders. Quite devastatingly, in accordance with this custom, parents are not given any forum to mourn when their child dies and often the burial takes place secretly. Here is a more extensive look at Chinese death and funeral rites.
The Ultimate Hungry Ghost Festival Planning Checklist
Credit: ChineseAmericanFamily
At funerals there are very specific rules about what should be served to guest, each item with deep symbolism. It is customary to have a roasted pig, chicken, duck, jai (vegetarian dish), fruit, and rice. This article breaks it down a bit more and I found several tempting recipes.
Buddha's Delight (Vegetarian Lo Han Jai), by thewoksoflife.com
Credit: TheWoksofLife
Click here for the Buddha’s Delight recipe above.
This Mapo Tofu recipe is making me drool:
Chinese people celebrate Qui Ye, also called Yu Lan or Hungry Ghost Festival, around the end of July (the Ghost Month), depending on how the lunar calendar lands each year. Like Pchum Ben, this festival originates in Animism but lasts for an entire month. The big party is saved for the fifteenth day known in English as Ghost Day, which must always fall on the Full Moon.
Mourners burn incense and throw paper cut-outs of money, cars, jewelry as a symbolic blessing for their loved ones in the after life. They also write messages on Joss paper and burn them in order to keep the spirits happy.
Credit: ChineseAmericanFamily
Observing Buddhists and Taoists solemnly celebrate Yu Lan by setting paper lanterns aflame over water and watching them drift, and it is said that the longer it drifts before completely burning, the luckier the family will become.
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© Venerate Your Dead, 2015- Current. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this site’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Venerate Your Dead with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.