Thursday, September 26, 2013
Casual research on my part reveals that the significance of the forty day mourning period for deceased individuals especially for Catholics in the Philippines is rooted more in custom and tradition rather than in actual religious or church doctrine. The number 40 is important in biblical numerology and is mentioned often in the Bible. The great flood of Noah, for example, lasted for 40 days and nights. The people of Israel led by Moses wandered for 40 years in the wilderness after leaving Egypt after the Exodus. Jesus was said to have fasted for 40 days after he was baptized by John the Baptist and tradition holds that he ascended to heaven only after 40 days had passed after his resurrection.
Many Filipinos whether they are Catholics or not believe that a person's soul after death wanders the world and may visit the various places that have significance in its previous life. Only after forty days will it be called to judgement and thereafter be allowed to ascend to heaven, descend to hell or be incarcerated in purgatory. This belief in so called "lingering souls" has been hotly debated in many religious circles and there are many priests and theologians to this day who still cannot agree whether it has any real basis in Christian doctrine.
The idea that souls do linger on earth for forty days after death is especially well accepted among Eastern Orthodox Christians. Many scholars however believe that this belief is rooted in pre-Christian and pagan Slavic religions and was only later on incorporated into the Orthodox faith. The Slavs are an Indo-European ethno-linguistic group from which almost over half of the modern population of Europe can trace their descent.
Personally, I find the idea of being forced to earthbound exile (temporary though it may be) for more than a month after dying, as a nebulous and immaterial spirit, rather a ridiculous if not a distressing concept. If the transition from life to death is indeed, as most religions aver, merely a portal to another kind of life or plane of existence then to believe that a recently released spirit or soul has no choice but to flit here and there aimlessly akin to a lost and orphaned child for such a significant period of time, condemned obviously to merely witness unfolding events yet remain basically impotent and unable to materially change or influence them in any way seems only, in my view, to point an accusing finger to an Almighty Creator who in his omnipotence may also be a playful yet inherently cruel jokester.
Unless, of course, the ultimate purpose of all wandering spirits is merely to constantly haunt and scare the bejesus out of the majority of us, living mortals, who are clearly inveterate and unrepentant sinners, in which case I will start believing in ghosts and goblins.