And for All Souls Day/Day of the Dead—(known in Yucatan, Mexico (among the Hispanic Creoles) as “Dia de los Difuntos” and (among the Yucatec Maya) as “Hanal Pixan” (“Food for the Spirits” or perhaps, in colloquial English, “Soul Food”?)


Of all the names for November 2, I think that the Yucatec Maya “Hanal Pixan” (“Food for the Souls”) is probably the most interesting allegorical and metaphoric expression.  “Food of the Souls” or the “Spirits of the Dead” (one might even say “Soul Food”) is one of those concepts that links Christianity with the Pagan world so intimately and indelibly. Sir James G. Frazer recognized, over a hundred years ago in The Golden Bough the close and precise parallels between Christian ritual and and sacraments and those of Ancient Mexico (although he had more data about the Aztec than the Maya).  Oddly enough, the Spanish Conquerors of the Sixteenth Century had observed the parallels also and thought them the work of the Devil…. 

But “All Souls Day” is one of the most truly civilized and excellent of all the Christian Holidays, IMHO, along with All Saints Day, precisely because of its excellent and unambiguous syncretistic and pagan heritage in Northern Europe as in Mexico.  And there’s no place significantly more civilized, in all the Christian World, than the Church of England.  

Despite an editorial glitch in the beginning, I love this “youtube” of Hymn 680 (in the 1982 Episcopal Hymnal), broadcast from Westminster Abby (the original one in London, not the “New Westminster” in Vancouver, B.C., where I used to spend some time):  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=asrwlIxLeko

O God, our help in ages past,
Our hope for years to come,
Our shelter from the stormy blast,
And our eternal home.

Under the shadow of Thy throne
Thy saints have dwelt secure;
Sufficient is Thine arm alone,
And our defense is sure.

  Before the hills in order stood, or earth received her frame, from  everlasting Thou art God, to endless years the same.

Thy Word commands our flesh to dust,
“Return, ye sons of men:”
All nations rose from earth at first,
And turn to earth again.

A thousand ages in Thy sight
Are like an evening gone;
Short as the watch that ends the night
Before the rising sun.

The busy tribes of flesh and blood,
With all their lives and cares,
Are carried downwards by the flood,
And lost in following years.

Time, like an ever rolling stream,
Bears all its sons away;
They fly, forgotten, as a dream
Dies at the opening day.

Like flowery fields the nations stand
Pleased with the morning light;
The flowers beneath the mower’s hand
Lie withering ere ‘tis night.

O God, our help in ages past,
Our hope for years to come,
Be Thou our guard while troubles last,
And our eternal home.

Words: Isaac Watts (1674-1748), paraphrasing Psalm 90:1-5; Music: St. Anne, William Croft (1678-1727); Legend has it that the original version of this hymn was “Our God, Our Help in Ages Past”, but John Wesley edited it to “O God, Our Help in Ages Past.”  

I confess to having, in a fit of adolescent hormones no doubt, at least very slightly blasphemed this hymn once in the early 1980s (my twenties), while showing a quite amazingly gorgeous, buxom blonde girlfriend (who was visiting from the cornfields of Illinois) around Harvard Yard, and the Campus generally, I told her with a perfectly straight face that the “Harvard School Song” was:

“Before the Hills In Order Stood and Earth Received her Frame,  all Everlasting Harvard Stood and shall forever Stand.”  

“Pika Patty” (I’ll call her), responded quite intelligently (for a blonde or anyone else….) “Wow, that’s really pompous”…. which I guess was the whole point….  Harvard Yard just brings that out in people, I guess….  On a less sacrilegious but nevertheless somewhat questionably virtuous historical note, this hymn was also sung at the C of E services celebrated on the HMS Prince of Wales when President Franklin Delano Roosevelt and Prime Minister Winston Spencer Churchill met at sea in August 1941 to sign the “Atlantic Charter” which effectively but simultaneously reversed the outcome of the American Revolution and spelled the end of the British Empire by abolishing the National Sovereignty of both the United States of America and the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland by making both subservient to the United Nations and other organs of Godless Communism and World Government.


and also, another 18th Century Hymn derived from the Psalms,

this from Psalm 18: perhaps even more appropriate for the Feast of All Souls, Day of the Dead Remembrances (Hymn 685 in the 1982): 

Rock of Ages

Rock of Ages, cleft for me,
Let me hide myself in Thee;
Let the water and the blood,
From Thy wounded side which flowed,
Be of sin the double cure;
Save from wrath and make me pure.

Not the labor of my hands
Can fulfill Thy law’s demands;
Could my zeal no respite know,
Could my tears forever flow,
All for sin could not atone;
Thou must save, and Thou alone.

Nothing in my hand I bring,
Simply to the cross I cling;
Naked, come to Thee for dress;
Helpless look to Thee for grace;
Foul, I to the fountain fly;
Wash me, Savior, or I die.

While I draw this fleeting breath,
When mine eyes shall close in death,
[originally: When my eye-strings break in death]
When I soar to worlds unknown,
See Thee on Thy judgment throne,
Rock of Ages, cleft for me,
Let me hide myself in Thee.  

Words: Augustus Montague Toplady (1740-1778);  Music: Toplady & Thomas Hasting (1784-1872).  Benjamin Harrison, 23rd President of the United States, is mainly known for being the only person ever officially and lawfully both to win and lose a U.S. Presidential election against exactly the same opponent (in this case Grover Cleveland, the 22nd and 24th President).  He also presided over the enactment of the Sherman Antitrust Act, the McKinley Tariff, and the first ever Billion dollar Budget in U.S. History. (From the perspective of 2011, when under Obama, billions of dollars are routinely missing or misspent in every executive department and Congressional Budget Analysis, it’s hard to believe that the Billion Dollar Budget was ever a big deal, but it was apparently fairly shocking a hundred and twenty one years ago in 1889-90….).  To American Hymnologists, however, Benjamin Harrison is associated with “Rock of Ages” for the important but simple reasons that this was not only Harrison’s favorite hymn, the only one he ever tried to learn to sing (but apparently failed), and the hymn sung at his funeral….  

and one last final Psalm-Based “Church Militant” Hymn to celebrate the Celtic New Year and Halloween/All Saints/All Souls Days, Hymn 687—Ein Feste Burg (by Martin Luther—the Original One, 1483-1546),  from Psalm 46:   

A mighty fortress is our God, a bulwark never failing;
Our helper He, amid the flood of mortal ills prevailing:
For still our ancient foe doth seek to work us woe;
His craft and power are great, and, armed with cruel hate,
On earth is not his equal.

Did we in our own strength confide, our striving would be losing;
Were not the right Man on our side, the Man of God’s own choosing:
Dost ask who that may be? Christ Jesus, it is He;
Lord Sabaoth, His Name, from age to age the same,
And He must win the battle.

And though this world, with devils filled, should threaten to undo us,
We will not fear, for God hath willed His truth to triumph through us:
The Prince of Darkness grim, we tremble not for him;
His rage we can endure, for lo, his doom is sure,
One little word shall fell him.

That word above all earthly powers, no thanks to them, abideth;
The Spirit and the gifts are ours through Him Who with us sideth:
Let goods and kindred go, this mortal life also;
The body they may kill: God’s truth abideth still,
His kingdom is forever.


Alternate translation:

A mighty fortress is our God, a trusty shield and weapon;
He helps us free from every need that hath us now overtaken.
The old evil foe now means deadly woe; deep guile and great might
Are his dread arms in fight; on Earth is not his equal.

With might of ours can naught be done, soon were our loss effected;
But for us fights the Valiant One, whom God Himself elected.
Ask ye, who is this? Jesus Christ it is.
Of Sabbath Lord, and there’s none other God;
He holds the field forever.

Though devils all the world should fill, all eager to devour us.
We tremble not, we fear no ill, they shall not overpower us.
This world’s prince may still scowl fierce as he will,
He can harm us none, he’s judged; the deed is done;
One little word can fell him.

The Word they still shall let remain nor any thanks have for it;
He’s by our side upon the plain with His good gifts and Spirit.
And take they our life, goods, fame, child and wife,
Let these all be gone, they yet have nothing won;
The Kingdom ours remaineth.

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