Thursday, April 29, 2010

cemetery history and symbolism

last week i went to a community ed class on cemetery history and symbolism, taught by a knowledgeable guy who presented photos he’s taken of hundreds of headstones and other cemetery fixtures. i learned so much...i didn't realize that nearly all the symbols on graves actually symbolize specific things, like daffodils for rebirth and elephants for eternal remembrance...the teacher said that one reason symbols were used historically is because of illiteracy, so that anyone could “read” graves even if they weren’t able to read.

i visited a pioneer cemetery yesterday to see if i could find any of the symbols he talked about, and i was amazed to find nearly all of them. it’s such a different experience looking at graves when you can recognize the symbols--not only does it make me more appreciative of the art and help me understand the meaning, it also reveals so much about the dead and their lives and loved ones, and makes them more real. i got choked up a few times yesterday thinking about the deceased, especially ones who died young--you could tell from the stones how heartbroken their survivors were.

here’s a sampling of what i saw, along with brief (incomplete) explanations for the symbols i can identify--the teacher went through everything very fast and i was only able to write down quick notes. i know i could supplement this list by doing a few searches online, but right now i’m going for brevity. some of these stones have multiple symbols but i’m only listing each symbol once.

willow: mourning/earthly sorrow

hand reaching down: the hand of god

(hands/fingers pointing up: indicates the soul is in heaven; i have a photo of this but it won't upload for some reason)

hands clasped: husband and wife

urn: death of the flesh, immortality
flames/eternal flames: undying remembrance, soul rising from ashes (esp. on jewish graves)

tree-shaped stone: usually affiliated with woodmen of the world (fraternal organization that is now an insurance company)
lily: resurrection, innocence, purity

“dum tacet clamat”: “though silent he speaks” (woodmen slogan)
dove w/branch: eternal peace, gentleness, holy spirit
ivy: friendship

compass/square/G: freemasonry symbol; masonic ritual tools, with “G” for god

3 link chain: oddfellows symbol (friendship, love and truth)

cross w/crown: faith, external reward, christian science church
broken column: head of the family whose life was cut short

lamb (this one’s lost its head): gentle, innocent, children’s graves (lying down = suffering of christ)

palm leaves: victory, resurrection

anchor: hope, safety

roses: beauty; motherhood; can also indicate age (full bloom = full life, bud = young, bent stem = cut short)

open book: scriptures, perfect knowledge, book of life
closed book: end of life

arch/pillars/gate: passage into heaven

torch pointing down: end of family line

i noticed these little glass tokens on a few different graves--a visitor saying hello, i guess.

there were a couple gorgeous, twisted old lilac trees growing in the cemetery, in full bloom; one of them was bushy and healthy and lovely, but i prefer this snaggly one.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

sock monkey rehab

i came across this sad character at a thrift store, covered in stains, filthy, riddled with open seams, eyes ripped off. i gave him a bath which got rid of most of the grossness, now i just need to mend him. his name is "gaza" because he's eyeless.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

let's give it to jubey.

reed won another poetry slam on saturday. this has to be victory number six or seven, i think...i’ve lost count. basically no one else has a chance when he performs.

Friday, April 23, 2010