Five things we loved about Tooting Festival of the Dead

Poppy Mardall speaking at Tooting Festival of the Dead 2023

Two minute read

This October, Tooting held its second festival of the dead this year with a focus on exploring the ancient tradition of Samhain. In this blog, our founder Poppy Mardall shares five things she loved about taking part in the festival.

1. Making connections

What an incredible opportunity it was to have a local, community event which connected us to nature and the land, to ancient traditions, to the seasons, to our deepest feelings and to each other!

The festival provided a real space for connection and conversation, with a wide variety of people sharing the same desire to be connected to something deeper, not structured by formal faith or tradition.

As Poppy’s, we also made connections with our local community during the festival hosting a death café in Tooting library and opening up our mortuary doors to invite people in to visit.

2. Encountering new ideas and experiences

There was such breadth and depth to the festival! There was everything from a climate café to children’s games to a meditative flower-arranging workshop. Each event fed into the next, especially when you were often sharing each experience with the same people.

There was a session about land rights and an exploration into the roots of Samhain from a professor specialising in Paganism and Indigenous religions.

Within that variety, everything was rooted in the same theme and provided different ways to reflect on the same questions: Where are we now? How have we got here? And where could we go from here?

3. Getting up early

We gathered on Sunday morning on Tooting Common to greet the dawn. It was amazing. We said some beautiful words and when the gong was struck, the sound rang out across the pond. Even the swans came over to join us!

Sunrise event at Tooting Festival of the Dead 2023

4. Different ages celebrating together on common land

The closing gathering on the common on Sunday evening was full of young children and their parents.

There were drummers, morris dancers, even a fire eater. Food and drink, of course, as well as a series of little fire pits and a beautiful altar built out of wooden pallets, decorated with lights and papier mâché lanterns.

5. Opening up conversations

I felt a real sense of relief from the people who came along to the death café or to Poppy’s open day to be able to have a conversation about death that felt normal and natural!

My sense is that just like with other taboo topics every single one of us longs to have these conversations, but we don’t all have the opportunity or the sense of security to enable them to happen.

To me, this festival felt like it was part of a wider web of activity, speaking to some of the bigger questions we have as a society, whether about death or climate, well-being and mental health or community.

It was much more than a one-off event. The impact of those conversations will continue for a long time to come.

Read our recent interview with June Boyce-Tillman about why we need ritual or find out more about what a death café involves.

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