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Putting the "Rave" Back in Grave Yard!



Today, graveyards and cemeteries are regarded as sad or spooky places: a place to grieve and a place to find ghosts. In general, I strongly advise against engaging in paranormal activities at such resting places, as what may be found can be far worse than a ghost.

Once upon a time, however, these final resting places were a welcome haven for the living as well as the dead. Picture it: happy families picnicking, couples in love taking a leisurely stroll along the paths, and others out for a bit of sport and exercise. Sounds strange-I know.



Cemetery or Graveyard?

Although the two are used interchangeably, there is a difference between a cemetery and a graveyard. A graveyard is alongside a church. Often called a churchyard or kirkyard. On the other hand, a cemetery is a final burial place set aside at the edge of town, and it does not share grounds with a church.

The word cemetery is taken from the Greek word κοιμητήριον, meaning a place to sleep. The word implies a parcel of land specifically designed as a burial ground. It was previously used in reference to the early Roman catacombs.



Industrial Age

During the late 1800s, the Industrial Age swept most countries worldwide. This time also coincided with the reign of Queen Victoria. Also known as the Victorian Age. The 1800s is when some of our most beloved gothic literature was published. This became a time of grand funerary customs in the midst of technological advancement. Quite the juxtaposition!

As factories expanded and urban centers took over, there was little room left for open nature. Masses of people lived in cramped and dirty cities with little refuge from the smog, noise, and other unpleasantries of such areas. But not very far away from these areas was a vast, peaceful place full of natural greenery. The cemeteries and graveyards!



The Higher the Steeple, the Closer to God!

In the American South, we gals have a saying, “The higher the hair, the closer to God!” Churches in England between the 12th and 16th centuries felt the same about their steeples. The whole idea was to draw the eye heavenward when gazing upon churches. Such gothic elements contributed to early gothic literature. Interestingly, these early stories are very similar in nature to the American Southern Gothic ideology. Spooky vibes all around.



Mourning Culture

No one, and I mean no one, knows how to mourn as stylishly as the Victorians. An entire set of customs was created just for the living and the dead. From death photos to mourning clothes and rituals, the Victorians knew how to make mourning stylish.

Elaborate artworks were made from the hair of the deceased. Anything from a small piece of jewelry to a large, framed artwork for the wall. I suppose it is similar to the modern custom of placing ashes into a small necklace or paperweight.

Art for the Dead

During this time, it was quite common for people to enjoy cemeteries in the same way that modern city dwellers use city parks. Back then, urban centers did not have parks, so people made do with what they had. Just as the era placed such detail in mourning the dead, so too were final resting places pieces of art.

Mourning chairs and benches were placed in burial grounds so that visitors would have a place to quietly shed a tear. Such seats were very stylized, with roses and columns carved into them. This artistry was carried over into the headstones. Burial places became veritable gardens of art. Escaping the hustle and bustle of the city it is easy to understand the peace one would feel surrounded by nature and art.



At Play with Ghosts

Again, as there were no city parks in urban centers, trips to picnic in the cemetery were common. I myself have had a boxed lunch with the dead. Growing up in the rural South, many old customs were still in use. I have death photos in my collection, and every year, as our church held its annual homecoming celebration, families came home and happily ate lunch right in the graveyard. Then, they all set about cleaning the graves, grounds, and headstones while catching up with distant family.



Young people would use the paths to race, skate, and bicycle during the 1800s. Today, I think such behavior would be frowned upon, but I also think it made the spirits happy. They weren’t lonely and had lots of joyful things going on all around them. To me, using a cemetery as a park kept away the dark energies so commonly found today.

The customs are being revived today, if only at Halloween. Some places host art and craft markets in cemeteries during October. Maybe even your own local cemetery will host a gathering!



 

 

 

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