“Nine years ago, when I began working with the dead, I heard other practitioners speak about holding the space for the dying person and their family. With my secular bias, ‘holding the space’ sounded like saccharine hippie lingo. This judgement was wrong. Holding the space is crucial, and exactly what we are missing. To hold the space is to create a ring of safety around the family and friends of the dead, providing a place where they can grieve openly and honestly, without fear of being judged.”
Addressing death is difficult for many people, even though it’s a natural part of life. Whether it’s having to confront the notion that a loved one is gone, or attending a funeral, death isn’t an easy subject. But death can take on a whole new meaning in other cultures. Mortician Caitlin Doughty went around the world to write From Here To Eternity, a book about funeral rituals from various cultures. Death isn’t presented as something to fear, but as rather something that can heal, that connects family members together. Doughty takes the reader on a journey that features wish-granting skulls, open-air pyres and mummies.
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Musicals have the power to connect with people, whether it be through song or the subject matter of the performance. Some musicals shine a light on the darker side of humanity, which is the case with Corrido de la Sangre, performed by the Tiger Lillies. The band, considered to be the innovators of Brechtian punk cabaret, are known for their macabre lyrics and content. The musical took place at HOME in Manchester, and here are my thoughts on what was a haunting performance.
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“I’ve worn a mask most of my life. Most people do. As a little girl, I covered my face with my hands, figuring if I couldn’t see my father, he couldn’t see me. When this didn’t work, I hid behind Halloween masks: clowns and witches and Ronald McDonald. Years later, when I went to Mexico, I understood just how far a mask can take you. In the dusty streets, villagers turned themselves into jaguars, hyenas, the devil himself. For years, I thought wearing a mask was a way to start over, become someone new. Now I know better. A mask doesn’t change who you are; it lets you become the person you’ve always been, the person you paper over out of habit or timidity or fear. Some people – people like me – have to try on a lot of faces before they find one that fits.”
The Aztecs were one of the most advanced civilisations in the history, but they also had a reputation for violence. Human sacrifice, death masks and sun worship are how many people remember them, and Dancing With The Tiger by Lili Wright puts Aztec and Mexican mythology at the forefront. When a looter digs up the death mask of Montezuma, it sets off a chain reaction that sees drug lords, crooked art dealers and archaeologists all vying for the same prize. At the heart of the story is a woman called Anna who believes the mask of Montezuma can help her family find redemption, but she has to beat everyone else to get to it in time.
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