Make Descansos to Mark the Macabre

I  first learned about the concept of Descansos when I read Clarissa Pinkola Estes ‘Women Who Run With Wolves’.

Estes describes how when you travel in Old Mexico, New Mexico, southern Colorado, Arizona, or parts of the South, you will see little white crosses by the roadside. These are descansos, resting places. The concept of marking resting places is not confined to the United States or Mexico. They may be found in Greece, Italy and many other countries, including Australia.

Recently I photographed this small cross that so clearly marks a spot for someone. It is not in a cemetery but in a reserve which memorializes the gold rush in this region. As I took the photograph I was actually thinking about the very dark side of the Victorian Goldfields that have been so well documented by Goldfields Guide – Exploring the Victorian Goldfields. I  considered ways to mark, document and lay to rest some of the important moments in the history  of this region in Victoria that so many choose to forget.

It may sound macabre but it can be cathartic to mark, with crosses, events that have impacted your life or, for that matter, macabre world events which have changed the course of history.

Metaphorically perch yourself high in a pine tree, in a place where you can see the whole picture. Mark things which still need to be mourned and consider spending time noting what has seemingly been forgotten, but which like the spirit of Joan of Arc lives on. For example, indigenous Australians are well aware of the trauma of colonisation but those of us whose ancestors were forcibly bought to this country in chains can forget what they were forced to endure and how those events changed the course of history for everyone involved.

Working with Descansos

Descansos and the Lunar Eclipse

Alexander Khan

2 thoughts on “Make Descansos to Mark the Macabre

  1. I don’t have convict ancestry but some of my ancestors came to Australia under strange circumstances that meant they could never return to the old country. It must have been so alienating to come from an English village to the wilds of Gippsland in the 1850s. Recognising that ancestral sense of loss, bewilderment and grief as part of my own healing is a great idea. I will make a descansos tomorrow. Thanks for sharing this powerful idea.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Thank you, Suzanne! My paternal ancestors did come as convicts after being charged with petty crimes at the time of the potato famine in Ireland. My maternal ancestors were free settlers, shipbuilders who left England for better prospects. I cannot imagine what life was like for all of them – never to return to their homelands – destined to live in a harsh environment separated from loved ones. Epigenetics now supports this kind of remembering, a concept indigenous people such as Rosemary Wanganeen articulated before it became fashionable. Wanganeen has been working as a griefologist for some time now, examining the long term effects of the trauma her people experienced. By contrast, I don’t think those of us with multi-generational links have given enough credence to how our ancestor’s hardships have reverberated and impacted on our lives. I have certainly found it beneficial to imagine myself standing where my ancestors stood.


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