“Dealing with death is the root of culture.”
–Friedrich DürrenmattIn preparation for an upcoming Samhain Sabbat, I drew on some of my knowledge of remembrance rituals and of death and funeral rites for menu inspiration. Cultures across the globe venerate their dead with elaborate festivals. Many fall immediately on or after Samhain (“Sau-wen”), a Gaelic celebration that welcomes winter, the darkest part of the year. This season also channels the opening of the portal and thinning of the veil to the Other side; when the desire to reconnect with spirits and remember our ancestors is strongest. Personally I hate the phrase “thinning of the veil” because it’s a veil #fcol but anyways… My song pick for this entry is one called “Totenmahl” (German: funeral feast or death meal) that I wrote several years ago. Totenmahl is equally inspired by compulsive fears about being useful/good enough/remembered, and as a homage to death and funeral rites. Día de las Ñatitas (Day of the Skulls) Unlike Mexico, Bolivians (specifically the Aymara) use their deceased loved ones’ actual skulls in rituals of remembrance on 8 November. Ancient Andean and early Columbian traditions where living family is to sit with the bones of their ancestors in order to ensure continued protection and guidance are still observed today. This typically takes place during the first November that falls three years after the deceased one’s passing, though in the meantime skulls are kept at home in shrines and glass boxes. Ñatitas is the Spanish word for a smashed-nose; said of the appearance of a skull when one is dead and has no flesh covering the face. These skulls are decorated with flowers and surrounded by offerings of cigarettes, alcohol, candy, accessories, and herbs. There is an enormous parade to the primary town cemetery where the decorated skulls are put on a showy display. Once at the cemetery, a special Ñatitas Mass takes place where the living pray for protection and blessings. The main event takes place each year at the General Cemetery in La Paz. When one person dies, it is not possible for the entire family to have access to their skull. In some places, purchasing skulls from morgues, hospitals, or less reputable sources (including grave robbers) have spiked before the ceremony. Participation is such an integral part of Aymara culture that no one wants to show up empty-handed. The practice was largely kept underground due to suppression by the Catholic church, but a few decades ago, social and economic changes shed some light on how prevalent it was in the majority of people. Mole is one dish I love that is as varied as each individual who makes it. This rich, spicy sauce is made from hot peppers, chocolate, and other vegetables. Check out two versions of mole here and here, and this video:
For a recent Sabbat dinner, I made my own version of mole based on a melding of several recipes I found. I started with a mix of bay leaves, cocoa, chili powder, smoked paprika, turmeric, harissa, chipotle, cumin, red pepper flakes, cinnamon, and cloves. My awesome parents have an industrial smoker at their home and they let me use it to smoke these chicken breasts and onions. The final product was unbelievable. There was quite a bit of mole leftover and once everyone ate all the chicken, we found other things to smother with it. Omg, yum. Whew. Día de las Ñatitas is just one of many holiday celebrations in Latin/Hispanic cultures that venerates the ancestral dead. Check out my blog Brazil’s O Dia de Finados to learn about more.
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