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Michael Bell
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Posted By Michael Bell

The following excerpt from an article about the increasing popularity of cremation, printed in today’s New York Times, connects rather eerily to a vampire narrative I recently found: “Whatever the precise cause for the shift, the funeral industry is having to adapt, making up for lost revenue with higher volume and more services, like catered receptions and ash pendants.”

And here are a couple of random on-line ads for ash pendants:

“Ash pendants also known as memorial pendants, keepsake jewelry or even cremation pendants are quickly becoming one of the most popular ways for families to memorialize their loved ones. . . .Ash pendants can keep a loved-one’s spirit and memory alive and nearby for generations to come.”

“Cremation jewelry has many names and comes in a variety of forms, but no matter the words used, cremation jewelry is among the newest and most popular ways to memorialize loved ones. . . . Cremation jewelry, filled with tiny portions of a loved-one’s ashes assures that family memories will always be nearby for those wanting to preserve them. . . . Cremation Ash Pendants are very private and nobody will know you have your loved one with you.”

And now, an excerpt from Mrs. Farley’s 1842 article. Her neighbor was WAY ahead of his time:

In the house on my left lives a stout athletic man, of little more than middle age, of good natural abilities, and by no means destitute of cultivation, whose ruling error is of a graver cast. I had noticed his wearing a small box suspended to his neck by a cord, and, having once alluded to the circumstance, my neighbor gave me the following relation---

“My parents had twelve children, each of whom as they arrived at the age of maturity, sickened and died of consumption. Just twelve months elapsed between the different burials, until eleven sons and daughters were laid in the grave. When my last brother died I had just attained majority. The sympathies of the people around us were strongly excited. When the grave was digging for Joel, some of our friends opened the coffin of the next older child, and found the body as fresh and fair as if the soul had just departed. As each brother or sister died, they fed upon the life of the next in age. Our friends then urged upon my parents and myself the necessity of burning the heart of my brother and wearing the ashes about my person, as the only means of saving me from a like fate. But I could not consent to such a course, and he was buried. Two months passed away, and I could no longer conceal from my anxious parents the ravages of disease. They again urged burning the heart of my brother as being their only hope, and as I continued to resist, my mother called the aid of a still more powerful advocate. My wife, to whom I was then engaged, entreated me to consent. ‘If I am restored to health by such means, Abby,’ I replied, ‘I cannot live here. You must leave home and friends, and go with me to some uninhabited spot.’ ‘I will,--to any part of the world;’ was her firm response. So the deed was done. I came here with Abby when there were no inhabitants but bears, catamounts and loupcerviers. I hunted, felled trees, tilled the soil, and built this house with my own hands; yet I am, as you perceive, still strong and hearty.”

“But may not your recovery be attributed to air, exercise, change of climate and different mode of living?” I inquired. He shook his head, touched the box, (the charm) and turned away.

Hmmm . . . an apotropaic ash pendant; unique in America’s vampire arsenal, as far as I can tell.

5 Comment(s):
Asile said...
I became interested in your work after reading the article in the Smithsonian. I have studied Hatian, African, and American Vodun and other related practices from around the world as a part of my art history studies and am astounded by the revelation that these vampirism practices are in fact a form of the same beliefs/craft. I generally steel myself against superstition and shield myself from it by using art as a means to separate myself from practice of craft when I am creating studies of artifacts, such as icons or objects such as masks. HOWEVER, this "ash pendent" article that you posted hits a very personal nerve for me. My father passed away 3 years ago (he could have been saved by my mother and sister - who is a nurse- but wasn't). I went home to organize the funeral and burial, which was non-traditional. My mother wanted to spread his ashes on the farm, and since my brother and I wanted to spare her from the gruesome task of mixing his ashes with compost, so it would be easier to spread and more of it to share with her large group of friends and family, the siblings went into a back room to do the task. At this point, my sister asked if we minded if she took some of it to put into a small vial. At the time, being aware of Vodun practices, I was suspicious, and wondered if she had any witchcraft knowledge. I certainly didn't want my father's soul conjured up for black magic - not that I believe in it, but I am not 100% sure it can't be done, either. I decided at the time that I didn't think she did, so I allowed it and said nothing about the dangers. A month ago she came to visit me and showed me she was wearing it around her neck. My sister seems quite naive and not interested in these kinds of things, so I wonder if she simply made it up, or was inspired by something she read. We are from a terribly abusive household, so I sometimes fear the worst and get paranoid. Now, I am not sure I did the right thing by letting her keep it.
January 15, 2014 07:31:07
Michael Bell said...
Really, if anyone can identify Mrs. S. E. Farley, I would love to hear from you. She is elusive, and I wonder if "she" was actually a pen name for someone, perhaps a "he." Also, make that Michele Bachmann (one 'l' two 'ns' - not the other way around).
December 11, 2011 12:54:25
Michael Bell said...
Actually, Mrs. Farley sounds a lot like Michelle Bachman, so I guess Bachman is only 170 years behind the times.
December 11, 2011 10:44:15
Michael Bell said...
I recall the mortuary art that in Victorian times that was made from hair, etc. Then, of course, there are the saints' relics that people believed would would protect them, if carried or worn. The story from Mrs. Farley has been maddeningly difficult to research. Did it really happen? Where were she and her neighbor living? And I can find very little about Mrs. S. E. Farley, who wrote articles for "ladies' magazines." The following quote has been attached to her name by many scholars of women's issues: "As society is constituted," wrote Mrs. S. E. Farley, on the "Domestic and Social Claims on Woman," "the true dignity and beauty of the female character seem to consist in a right understanding and faithful and cheerful performance of social and family duties."
December 11, 2011 09:34:16
William D Romanski said...
I've heard of this modern macabre practice and always thought it inappropriate, even when the "loved one" was a pet. But now hearing this story I wonder if it is indeed a continuation or derivation of an old practice.
December 10, 2011 07:49:33
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