THE BITTER WATER OF LETHE – No. 5 – Consecrated Ground

  THE BITTER WATER OF LETHE – No. 5 – Consecrated Ground
photograph with hand color, 8" h. x 10" w.

We fear death. Not just death, but corpses, burials and burial grounds too. Every culture has evolved rituals, taboos and superstitions regarding death. The idea of the spirit illuminates the difference between life and death. And, it is the fate of the spirit or soul that confounds us.
    One common fear across cultures is the return of the spirit after death. Many rites have been created to keep the dead in their grave or to assist in guiding the soul to the Otherworld. In my work, THE BITTER WATER OF LETHE – No. 5 – Consecrated Ground, the photograph depicts a simple gravesite in a neglected cemetery. It is surrounded by a gas pipe fence draped with chain, and planted with daffodils. The Victorians were fond of erecting fencing around the family plot. In a community cemetery, this had the advantage of demarking the space allotted for interments and visitors could easily recognize that all of the interred were related. It also had the function of keeping out vandals and animals. But fencing around the grave has another aspect aside from the practical; iron is believed to repel, or contain ghosts. An iron fence will keep the spirit of the dead from wandering. The gas pipe fencing in my photograph not only outlines the size of the area, it also serves this supernatural purpose.
    The draped chain too, is symbolic. As a decorative element, it alludes to the bunting used to decorate the home, carriage and casket during a funeral. It also suggests chaining the deceased to heaven, another way of guiding the dead to the Otherworld, and away from the earthly plane.
    Daffodils have been planted on graves since the ancient Greeks. The bulbs are slightly poisonous. They were the flower that enticed Persephone, allowing Hades to snatch her to the Underworld. For these reasons, daffodils have been associated with burials and graves. Even their Latin name, Narcissus, alludes to death as sleep.
    In my photograph, the humbleness of the pipe fence and the absence of markers evidence the families’ financial status. But it suggests something more. Outlined as a private gravesite, but without headstones suggests the area is somehow more important than the individuals buried there. This captured my imagination, along with the subtle symbolism of the funereal elements. It is my intent in this image, to make the space inside of the fence different; to make visible, the invisible aura of the Otherworld.
    The finality of death is difficult. In our efforts to understand and accept, we create rituals to honor those who have been laid to rest and endeavor to make their slumber comfortable as they await the call to their final reward. Yet, as much as we mourn the passing of an individual, we fear that their soul will not heed that call. So, we the living strive to ensure that the road to glory is clear, and there isn’t a return path. - A.B.

THE BITTER WATER OF LETHE - No. 5 - Consecrated Ground was part of the exhibition 
The Ecstatic at Curious Matter, May 16 - June 13, 2010

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