October 17, 2013

Ghost Masks

I continue to think about what I want to do for my ancestor shrine. I think I'm starting to get a handle on it.

Greek ancestor veneration seems to have largely been focused around the ancestors' tombs, which are, of course, not really available to me. Everybody's buried, or cremated and scattered, three thousand miles away. (One sort-of exception is Granddad, my paternal grandfather, since I have a small amount of his ashes, which will be included in his shrine. He had wanted them all scattered in his garden, which he loved so much, but Nan Nan insisted on keeping half of them with her. I wanted some of them for my garden when I moved into this house, but she never did give me any. I finally collected some when we scattered her ashes two years ago. But I didn't take any of her ashes.) My uncle can find most of the graves on my mother's side for several generations -- one of them now has a gym built over it, with the graveyard accessible via a crawlspace underneath -- since he's the family genealogist, but I would barely begin to know where to look for my father's side. My aunt-by-marriage did a bunch of genealogical research on my father's side before she and my uncle divorced, but she says she left it all with him, and he says he has no idea where it is. Ideally, I'd like to have family trees for both sides kept as scroll in the shrine, but it may only be possible for my mother's side.

Anyway. The Greek style of veneration being out of reach, I keep thinking of Roman death masks. Masks are somewhat important to me anyway, being a significant symbol of Dionysos, but of course actual death masks are completely impossible, going forward as well as those already past, because our culture's aversion to death makes it pretty impossible to make a death mask these days. But that doesn't mean I can't use masks to represent my ancestors.

First I looked around for small blank masks I could paint (full-size ones would be a bit impractical), but could find none. Then I thought of sculpting masks of various people out of poly clay, which is certainly feasible, and something I'm decent at. But then I realized, hey, wait, I'm a weaver, and the Zati: Weaving A Life book has instructions for weaving masks. I've done a few, and the only problem I have generally is that most of the yarn I have is too light and thin for the instructions as given, so the mask turns out too narrow. That's ok, that's fixable. I don't have any yarn I'd like to use for it, but that's ok, too: I have a bag of white wool in the fiber chest. I bought it years and years ago to try to learn spinning from the fold with (the staple is long and fine and has little to no crimp), and didn't like the technique. But what the hell, I'll pull it out, loosen it up where it's gotten a bit felted, and spin some heavier white yarn.

There's no way I'll be able to make masks to represent even each of the ancestors I knew personally by Halloween. That's ok. I'm going to get as many done as possible (probably not more than two or three), and use them to stand in for everybody. To that end, I'll be making them very neutral and blank masks, all in white, which I am already thinking of as ghost masks. Later, I'll probably do more detailed ones for specific people, like Granddad and Anita and Great Nan, and even the grandfather I never knew, who died when my mother was very young. But for the rest, ghost masks will continue to stand in.

I'm still unsure what to do about Nan Nan. Liz Schechter mentioned disowning a relative of hers who was particularly hateful, and that she wasn't planning on marking or honoring her death at all. Another friend said on Tumblr that perhaps a ritual making it clear that my grandmother was not welcome and had no guest-right here might be appropriate. Kate is all for it. I'm . . . mulling. It's a hard thing to decide to do, for me. I was always told, growing up, that family is forever, that we must be loyal to our family. I've recognized that idea as part of the abuse I was subjected to, and I've abandoned the notion as a prescriptive one to be applied to anyone else, but that doesn't mean I've rooted it out of my own heart. Especially because Nan Nan was exactly and specifically who my parents were talking about. I was not allowed, ever, to "abandon" her, and they heaped a lot of guilt on me for refusing to talk to her more than once or twice a year. (OK, mostly Dad. Mom eventually understood why I was so upset, but still insisted on me talking to Nan Nan that once or twice a year, largely to placate my father.)