For many Latin cultures, November is a time to honor ancestors and the day(s) are referred to as “Día de los Muertos” or “Day of the Dead.” This article delineates some of the meanings, celebrations and rituals associated with the passing of others to the next world. I invite you to not readily dismiss something because of a specific origin, culture or religion, and witness what they are celebrating. As you look through, find out what aspects align with you as they can give you clues into how you can create your own ceremony or ritual to honor your loved ones who have passed. I will also include some examples of ceremonies I have done and have found to see if anything from those resonates with you.
Día de los Muertos is a holiday celebrated traditionally on the 1st and 2nd of November, but has also been celebrated on October 31st and November 6th, depending on the locale. This multi-day holiday has Aztec roots, but is mostly remembered in Mexico and involves friends, family and loved ones who gather in a big celebration (rather than mourning). There are big feasts and dancing. Altars are created which usually contain flowers, often marigolds, the deceased favorite foods, drinks and favorite things. As attendees pay their respects, they remember funny events and narrations of those departed. Often they will visit the deceased one’s grave and leave gifts. In addition to celebrating the dead, it is also common for friends to give each other candy skulls and eat traditional foods like pan de muerto. Sometimes living friends will write notes called “calaveras literarias,” which are light-heared and sometimes irreverent mock epitaphs.
Creating an Altar
As in a previous article I wrote (here), altars are set up to bring our attention and focus to something or someone, and usually is an act of honoring. Altars for someone who has passed can be simple with just photographs and candles; or, they can be more elaborate adding to the candles and photographs with favorite foods, flowers and items with special meaning. Some people leave the altar up for a few days, some for the entire month, and some people designate a special place in their home to honor ancestors and their wisdom all year long.
In most ceremonies, you light a candle and say something about the person you are honoring. Set out some tea candles or candles of their favorite color. Then, you can say something like this: “Here in this season of our ancestors, our glorious dead who have crossed into the next world, we pay you tribute. May you feel loved and blessed.” After you say the small blessing, feel free to recite special memories you have of them, especially if they’re funny. You may even reflect in a journal or in a circle with family wisdom this person has given you or shared with you.
Ritual of the Lost/Overlooked Soul:
There are groups of people often overlooked on this special day, souls who may have been lost or passed through the veil with no one to remember them and the life they lived here on earth. I would like to propose we all deserve to be honored and I can create an acknowledgement space and ceremony where these lost spirits can feel welcomed and cherished.
Think of people both in and out of the community who may have:
- Been in a care facility who died with no family or friends to say goodbye
- A homeless veteran whose comrades have long been gone
- People who have died alone by violence, neglect, or illness
- Those who are in marked or unmarked graves where no one comes to visit
We can honor them, even if we don’t know their names.
Gather a collection of candles in colors and sizes of your choice. Each color will represent a group of people who have been forgotten. If you know someone specifically who died alone, choose a candle that represents them.
Designate a sacred space for the ritual. Feel free to create an altar with marigolds and the candles and any other item you feel called to place on it.
Take a moment to meditate and get yourself grounded. When you feel ready, say, “Now is the moment to honor you, our glorious dead, those who have moved to the next world. Tonight under this beautiful skay, we take a moment to remember those who were forgotten, those who may have been unknown, unloved or unwanted in this world. No matter who you may have been in life, tonight, you are ours. We acknowledge and remember you here and now. Know you are no longer lost. You are a part of our community.”
Light a candle or a group of candles to commemorate this group of people.
Take a moment to reflect on what you have said and be aware if you sense anything. Perhaps you feel the presence of the lost ones as you are at the altar. You may notice a shift in energy of this moment, and that is okay. You have invited them to be here with you.
Now, you may take a moment to say: Dear spirits, loved ones and guests from beyond it is time for you to go. Though we may not have known you in this lifetime, we have taken a moment to honor and celebrate you. Know you are counted as beloved and you can return knowing you were remembered. Go back across the veil and remain in the other world, knowing you will not be forgotten again. We will honor you with our memories. Goodbye and rest easy and may your journey be worthy of you.”
Recenter yourself and end this ritual however you end your rituals, with a prayer, a poem or closing blessing as you blow out the candles and the smoke drifts into the sweet night.
May your quest in honoring the dead be blessed. Take care and thank you so much for the beautiful work you are doing to make this world a better place. Love, Marie (aka Luv Rev)