An Omen

In Stockholm we live very near Skogskyrkogården, a wonderfully designed and landscaped ‘World Heritage Site’ woodland cemetery. Every year, on the dark evening of All Saints’ Day, people go there to put candles on the graves of their departed loved ones. We went yesterday with a friend. It was a moving experience, the whole forest glittering with little flames.

There were thousands there. Kajsa tells me that the number of people observing this ritual seems to have increased in recent years. We can’t think why. Sweden is a markedly unreligious country, and certainly doesn’t appear to have grown more religious recently: except perhaps the Moslems, who are hardly represented (yet) in Skogskyrkogården. Nor has it become more ‘pagan’, which might fit the character of the site more. (I was reminded of Viking graveyards.)

Maybe it’s something more basic and ominous. I’ve read that animals and birds can sense catastrophes, like earthquakes, long before they happen, and flee. In three days’ time we have the American presidential election coming up, and the prospect either of a catastrophic new President, or of civil war in the US because the catastrophic side won’t accept the result. Instinctively and racially (human racially, that is), we feel this in our bones. For me, in the midst of all those fir trees, gravestones and candles last night, my very marrow freezing, and under a purple, lowering sky, it seemed the right place to be, just before Armageddon. Maybe the thousands of others felt the same.

We returned there this morning, to visit Greta Garbo’s grave. Judging by the number of candles there, she has many lovers still. That cheered me up.

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