I keep tabs on my calendar and to-do lists on a daily basis, but somehow, the end of October still managed to sneak up on me. The ritual that follows is a highly condensed version of what I do over the course of the week leading up to the festivals of the dead that predominate this time of year.
October Ritual -Honoring the Dead
- End of October.
- Remember and reflect upon the lives of those of who have passed.
- Gather supplies as needed.
- Decide on foods to be prepared and shop for ingredients as necessary.
- Prep or buy any offerings, gifts, and incenses to be used.
- There isn’t one, as far as my own practice is concerned. If you’d like to do a minimalist version, I would suggest that either a roll call or placing photos of the beloved dead at the dinner table might suffice.
- Ward all of the spaces that are to be used during the ritual, including any areas used to transition from one part of the ritual to another. This kind of work tends to draw all sorts of ‘out-of-town guests’, so it pays to lay down some strong boundaries. Unless of course, you really enjoy banishing rituals.
- Personal cleansing/purification ritual as desired. Dress as you feel is appropriate.
- Part I – Dumb Supper for close family and friends. I’m not going to go into a lot of detail on how-to, as this is pretty well described other places. For those not familiar, this is a dinner held in silence in which the honored guests are the dead.
- Part II – Dessert. For those who I’ve known but were not invited to the dumb supper, I put out dessert and pour wine. For specific individuals that I want to invite at this time, I light additional tealights. This is the time that I set aside for the dead to make any requests that they need to (with the understanding that I am not a granter of wishes but will do what I can within reason).
- Part III – The Unmentionables, Unknown, and Unnamed. Place a plate of food outside, away from the other ritual areas for any wandering spirits, any dead that you don’t want to name, etc. This is a simple acknowledgement that there are others who are not part of the main celebrations. A simple prayer gets offered for these souls.
- Part IV – The Naming (aka The Honor Roll). The tealights are moved to the central ritual space. I begin this portion with music – specifically, Leonard Cohen’s “Who By Fire?”. The names of the honored dead are then read slowly, a bell tolled between each name. This list begins with those who have departed in the past twelve months, followed then by the names of those that were of special significance in my life. When all the names have been read (I do recommend writing a list before you start), finish with “And all those beloved who have come before. May you never be forgotten.” At this point, I’ll usually throw in a reading or piece of music that is appropriate to this particular celebration (this year, it will likely be series of quotes from Robin Williams, Dr. Maya Angelou, and Nelson Mandela).
- Part V – The Blessing and Release. I end with a petition for a blessing of those who have died and a request that their memories be preserved another year in the minds of the living. Prayers are offered for those who will be passing in the coming twelve months and a request made that the deceased help to guide those who will soon pass. The guests of honor are thanked for their presence and invited to return for next year’s ritual. The tealights are allowed to burn until they are extinguished.
Modifications and Notes
This one has a similar disclaimer to the April ritual: Unless you’re at least somewhat seasoned with rituals involving multiple deities/entities, do not try this one at home. Start small if this is something beyond the scope of your experience. No matter what your experience level, be prepared to do a banishing ritual if needed (as in, be familiar with one and be able to do it quickly and on the fly if needed).
There’s room for variation throughout the ritual. The timing of this one is flexible. While I prefer this one to be done on October 31st, this isn’t always practical. I typically try to keep this one confined to the period of October 30th to November 3rd. If there are budgetary limitations, a single plate can be set for the dead at the supper (same with tealights). While most of my rituals are written for solitary practice, this one easily accommodates shared practice.
A final word of caution: This ritual can be very draining for a variety of reasons. For this reason, I don’t hold fast to a specific date, but try to schedule it when I can have a full day’s recovery time (i.e., no work or other major obligations the next day) or alternatively, break it up over several days.