Spontaneous Shrines

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Image credits: Princess DianaColombia; September 11Aurora.

Just a brief post this week, nodding towards an interesting new mourning ritual that has emerged in the West over the last twenty years or so. We’ve all seen the assemblages of flowers, candles, pictures, poems and, bizarrely, teddy bears that develop around sites associated with a deceased person. These spontaneous shrines – frequently referred to disparagingly in the media as ‘makeshift memorials’ – often draw on the imagery and cosmology of organised religions, but take on a life and meanings that are truly their own.

Some of the biggest and most widely publicised examples were those for Princess Diana and the victims of the Columbine shootings, but the phenomenon has truly taken hold in many places, such that small shrines will develop after deaths that aren’t publicised at all. The practice of setting up crosses on the sides of highways to mark road deaths can be tied into the same trend – an increasing desire, it seems, to publicly express one’s grief.

Shrines often take on unique appearances depending on the context. Shrines at universities tend to feature varsity mascots and jerseys; in America one often sees the stars and stripes fluttering away among the flowers; for Steve Jobs we even saw little Apple stickers with quick notes stuck on the front windows of Apple stores.

I’ll finish by pointing you towards another blog that is dedicated to cataloguing a wide variety of examples of this phenomenon. It is aptly named Spontaneous Shrines.

Back next week with more audio – looking at the myth of romantic love in the West. Fun fun.