This Day of the Dead ritual can be done in groups or by yourself, with a bit of modification.
There's something about sharing our memories, our happiness, and our grief that satisfies a soul-deep longing.
It's a real gift to a community to offer this kind of ceremony.
WITCH TIP: This ritual, or something similar, although usually done around Oct 1 - Nov 2, can be done at any time.
As an alternative to other types of funeral, it can be a very moving Memorial Service.
A Public Celebration for the Day of the Dead
Note: This is a religion-neutral Day of the Dead celebration.
Although it is given as a Wiccan Samhain-type ritual, you can easily substitute more generic words and songs. I've done this with people of many religions, and everyone has been very happy with it.
And as explained in the article on The Day of the Dead, there are similar celebrations in many cultures, including Christianity (just call it All Souls' Day).
Decorate with a lot of Hallowe'en party favours, if you can, to help create atmosphere...
Jack o'lanterns to light the way in to the building / room, and one in each corner
Skeletons and ghosts all over
Streamers around the table / altar, etc.
Have boxes of tissue handy all around the table!
Start by creating an altar for the beloved dead. (You don't need to call it an altar.)
This is simply a table or any surface covered with a cloth, traditionally black, but white or dark earth-brown would be fine. We usually use sheets, but be aware they are likely to be stained or wax-covered by the end.)
It works best to have one large table (or several forming a square or circle), and everyone can set up their own little section on it.
Set up pictures and mementos, candles, flowers, and a food or beverage that was special to your loved ones.
Black, white, or orange candles are all appropriate. Decorative Hallowe'en candles or candle holders can bring a cheery touch.
(Remember, tears are fine, and likely to happen, but the ultimate objective of a Day of the Dead ritual is a festive celebration of our loved ones, who now live in an even more beautiful place, and have stopped by for a visit.)
And marigolds are a traditional flower for the dead, but any flowers your loved ones enjoyed are perfect.
Begin the ritual by holding hands and saying a blessing or prayer, or singing a song appropriate to the occasion. (Best is a song that all can sing together.)
This helps bring all of you together for the celebration. If you're alone, it helps set the tone within you as well.
Day of the Dead Chants
Hoof and Horn
We all come from the Goddess
Everything lost is found again
Dark Goddess, Sacred Friend
Invite your loved ones who have passed on to join you, or to witness this gathering from their place in Heaven.
And then take turns going around the table, literally. Everyone walks from place to place, to they can see the mementoes and photos.
Each person thus has an opportunity to tell stories of the beloved dead, sharing the memory of them with those of us still living.
They may also speak directly to their loved ones, saying anything that they feel called to say, silently or aloud.
At each altar, the person there lights a candle for their beloved dead.
(Make sure you let everyone know they have the option to pass on speaking, temporarily or completely. Sometimes it's just too soon, and they might like to have a chance at the end instead.)
If someone decides to pass, spend a few minutes in silence at their altar space. Supporting someone does not always need words.
After each person has spoken, everyone should give silence for a few moments, then thank them, and offer a blessing for both the beloved dead and the person speaking for them.
After all have spoken, it's a good idea to say prayers or sing songs for the beloved dead. Send them all the blessings you wish.
Thank them for coming to be with you again, and release their attention.
The foods are shared after the ceremony, as in a traditional feasting or religious service. The only difference is that the beloved dead are served first! A small taste of the items they would enjoy can be set on their altars. And invite the beloved dead to enjoy the foods that are set out for them.
After the gathering, these offerings can be given to the Earth or the Waters. The non-living take their enjoyment from the essence of the food, rather than its matter.
Changes for a Memorial Service
If you're doing this as a memorial service, obviously you will only put mementos of the recently departed on an altar.
It's also better to decorate the room in a more subdued style, ideally reflecting the beloved dead's preferences and personality.
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