It's that time of year again! The veil between the worlds grows thin, and the spirits of those who have gone before are closer than ever. You find many different spiritual paths taking the opportunity to acknowledge and remember our ancestors and friends on the other side - whether it be a NeoPagan Samhain circle, a Catholic All Souls Day mass, a Vodou Fete Ghede, or even a secular nod to those traditions through the holiday of Halloween.
In the Latin American countries you find communities everywhere gearing up for Dia de los Muertos, the Day of the Dead, which actually takes place over several days - Oct. 31, Nov. 1, and Nov. 2. In some places in Mexico, such as Oaxaca, the Dia de los Muertos celebrations are the largest and most important religious event of the year - even bigger than Christmas or Easter! It's a time when the dead are honored and remembered and invited to visit and enjoy the company of their living friends and family once again.
Being half-Mexican we have adopted the celebration of Dia de los Muertos in our home, and I've been busy constructing our ofrenda with pictures with our loved ones on the other side. It's a refreshingly upbeat and colorful observance that pokes fun at the fear death often holds, recognizes that death in no way is the end of life, and serves to strengthen the goodwill and ties to ones ancestral spirits.
But while I anxiously await October 31st to really light up the ofrenda and invite my ancestors in for a few days for a visit and to partake of some of their favorite foods and pleasures from life, I like to take the opportunity of the thinning veil to make a nightly prayer observance for the dead. Now I acknowledge my ancestors daily in prayer, and clean and work their altar at least once a week - but offering prayers for other disincarnate souls is a lovely practice, and you can find many lovely prayers to aid you in this practice. I wanted to share with you some of these, so that if you feel so inspired you can also take up the practice of praying for the dead.
I like using a rosary of real bone skulls for my prayers, but even having a unique set of prayer beads for the purpose can really aid in the focus. You can find some stunning momento mori rosaries, chaplets, and prayer beads from Etsy artisans such as Artista Muerte (who made the gorgeous rosary pictured above), Elegant Medical, Forest Glen, and others. Use search terms like "bone rosary", "skull rosary", and "rosary of the dead" to find interesting items. Of course you are not required to have special prayer beads or any prayer beads at all - you can just pray from the heart.
Here are some of the lovely prayers that I offer. I usually will start with one of these prayers and then move into praying in my own words. I originally did not resonate with the idea of a Purgatory which is present in so many of these prayers, but I came to personally understand it as the state of being for soul's who have not perfected yet, and is subject to at least one further incarnation before being able to become One with the Divine (at that would be most of us, I think). And of course, lost souls who are bound to earth through some tragedy or another can of course use our compassion and our prayers for them to be relieved of their burdens so that they may move on. Spiritualist prayers will often include phrases asking for blessings and elevation for the souls who have passed, and I see this as another form of that same practice. So for me, praying for the souls in Purgatory, is praying for blessing for and for the elevation of the souls in between lives who still have work to do in their evolution. I realize this is not the orthodox Catholic doctrine on the matter, but it is how I connected with the practice in my own path.
A similar but simplified practice involves a specific prayer on each day of the week for the dead. Each short prayer is followed by an Our Father, a Hail Mary, and a De Profundis.
A PRAYER FOR THE POOR SOULS FOR EACH DAY OF THE WEEK
There are plenty of other prayers for the dead that are available. I will provide some links that you can browse if you so wish. There are some moving and powerful ones out there, so it's really just a matter of finding which ones resonate with you and will be pleasing for you to incorporate into your own practice.
I particularly like and use is the Short Prayer for the Faithful Departed:
The Memorial Prayer for the Suffering of Souls in Purgatory I really like because you connect with so many different souls from all walks of life and pray for their wellbeing.
There are also some other litanies for the dead as well that, if you find this form of prayer moving, may wish to peruse.
I hope this has inspired you to consider praying for the dead as part of your spiritual practice. I have found praying daily for the welfare of my ancestors has deeply enriched my path and opened many doors for me. This has in turn heightened my awareness and compassion for other souls, and initiated my desire to pray for blessings for other spirits as well. Of course I've always felt a connection with the dead that many others simply do not, and found comfort and beauty in funerary art. I guess that is why the joyful play that the Latin American countries display towards death have always appealed to me. Perhaps praying for the dead is not for everyone all the time, however during this time of year when the veil is thin, I feel it's more fitting for more people. And so it is in the spirit of the season that I offer this information to you!
Blessings to you and yours, both here and in the hereafter!