The House of Living – the House of the Dead. “Transitional” Status of Dwelling in Slavic Funeral and Remembrance Rites
Authors: Maria A. Andrunina
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Semantic and mythological opposition between the place of living and the place of dead is not final and definite in folk worldview reflected in the cycle of funeral and remembrance rites and corresponding beliefs, as shows the following article. The worlds of spirits and alive connect, separate, they come toward each other, depart and cross in different ritual and calendar times. The omens of death show how otherworld comes forward and breaks the safe boundaries of house, causing death in it, really destroying its limits as the customs of making apertures in roofs, ceilings, and walls take place to facilitate the agony. From this period, house became the habitual place of the death incarnated (corpse) and haunted by the loose human soul never departing for long from its forlorn body. The normal place turns into the house of the dead, the house in the hedge between two worlds — terrains of life and death, the notion is highly commonly reflected in number of omens, taboos and customs. For instance, in the house there death occurred is forbidden to close the doors and windows for the soul to come and go, to cook and clean because the soul could be in oven or in trash, to close the mirrors is recommended to prevent the soul to inhabit them, food and water are placed in special places for the spirit, different kinds of activities are forbidden, the house is marked from outside and neighbors are using apotropaic magic to avoid the contagious influence of the death etc. With time, when the funeral is over and the rites of individual remembrance cycle are gradually take place, the soul stops visiting its home, death is banished from it, its boundaries again turn strong and safe, taboos are lifted, the worlds of living and the dead are separated again. Nevertheless, this period of crossing of the worlds is not the only. During the inhumation the new living place for dead is created in cemetery making it symbolically closer to house. In spring, in Easter period, spirits of the ancestors use to return and live in their houses, there special customs and taboos are again held and domains of living and the dead are again close. The same happens then masses of people visit graves in spring and perform there the same remembrance practices as in home usually take place.