Honoring Those Who Have Passed


I learned some sad news the other day.  One of my favorite fantasy authors, Sara Douglass, passed at the end of September from cancer.  Her books are fantastic, filled with rich detail, action, and the strands of mythology and history woven into new stories.  Her series, The Troy Game, even featured reincarnation as part of the basic premise of the plot in all four books.  It is a fascinating series.  I’m saddened that she is gone, though I’m glad she’s out of pain.  I never met her, though I would have liked to, but her work spoke to me and became a staple of my library.  Her spirit lives on in her work, and I can think of no better way to honor her or express my appreciation than by passing the word on to others about her books and to reread her work when the mood strikes me.

The reason I’m mentioning this on my Pagan blog is to ask the question: how do you honor the dead?  Especially when you’re honoring people you don’t know, have never met, but feel some sense of kinship with or appreciation for?

I like to light a white candle for the person and leave it lit as long as I can.  The flame, to me, speaks of the flame of the soul and the eternal spark of life.  Then I may close my eyes and say a thank you to the person’s soul, or send out a wish that their soul rest in peace.  I just want to focus on that other person, maybe remember their life and their work, and not focus on me for a time.  It reminds me that there are other people in the world and it’s not all about me.  Even if the act is not public (and most of the time, such acts are not), I think it’s important to honor and remember those who have come before us, whether they came before us in our bloodline, by creative work, or just before us in age.

Even if you don’t think the souls or spirits of the passed appreciate such acts, if can be good for the living to acknowledge the deceased.  It makes a good reminder that life is short and shouldn’t be taken for granted.  It makes a good reminder that each person’s life intersects with others and can have profound effects, for better or worse.

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2 responses to “Honoring Those Who Have Passed

  1. I have photos of the deceased on my dresser. They are all people I met in person. All but one, I consider myself to have been close to. The one I’m not close to is a powerful spirit whose death deeply affected me. I don’t wish to exploit him or intrude upon the grieving process of those who were close to him, but I can still honor him.

    I figure if our spirits are free when they’re inside our bodies, they must be even more free when our bodies are no longer an issue, if not gone altogether.

    Since I don’t know what happens after death, I don’t set a specific intention. I simply light a candle as a way of saying “hey, my door’s open for you if ever you need something from me, or feel like helping me out.” The altar is a sacred space of friendship and unconditional love, since once a person you love is dead, all else tends to be forgiven. Usually. 😉 So in that way, it’s an energetic drinking fountain for any spirit welcomed. That’s what I mean when I say they can take something from me, whether or not they help me in return. (I have a hunch they have. Very recently, actually.)

    I could write volumes on what the Death card means to me. Suffice to say, the altar is in deep conversation with the Death card.

    It’s also a handy place to put stuff dedicated to the deceased, such as a dried violet I randomly found on the floor. I had no idea where it came from, but it’s the type of flower that used to grow wild in my grandmother’s backyard. I would always go in and give her a fistful of them, and she’d put them in a little cup of water. When I found it, I took it as a sign that she’d dropped by. Now it rests by her photo.

    Depending on where I happen to live, the altar has been:
    -in the west, facing east (ancestors to youth)
    -in the south, facing north (spirit to earth)

    • I like to put up photos of my ancestors, or at least have their names displayed somewhere, sort of as a reminder that these people existed and lived and came before me. Eventually I’m going to make a calligraphic portrait of the names of my ancestors, along with display of the pictures, if I have them.

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