“Prayer for the Dead” sundown rituals surge in community

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TWH – A growing number of Pagans have been involved in a movement surrounding the COVID-19 outbreak, that has rituals performed at sundown every day for the deceased.

The  #prayer4thedead conjured up by Byron Ballard, has gained traction over social media when the author posted her poem titled, A Prayer for the Dead from her book, Earth Works: Ceremonies in Tower Time on April 10th, 2020. 

Her post has prompted those who feel compelled to be part of the collective, to work their own ceremonies for those who have passed. 

Casimira Davie is one of those who felt the pull to be part of the collective. She shared her practice by saying, “All you need is an altar with a cup of water and salt.”

The addition of a bowl of rocks, aged crucifix, candle, songs, and the aforementioned poem are also used in the Louisiana practitioners ceremony.

“Byron’s poem is a beautiful receptacle and a wonderful tool to incorporate into the practice.”

Casimira Davie [courtesy]

Two weeks ago, Davie had a dream with strangers coming to her back porch asking, “Where do I go?”

After mulling over the meaning of this vision, she began her journey to help those that have passed on. Asking for the help of her grandmother to guide the souls and the Goddess Hekate to stand with her torches, leading them through to the other side.

“The practice can be daunting but I feel a responsibility to help,” Davie goes on to say. “Keeping up your spiritual hygiene practices, shielding and grounding are all very important to the work.” 

As a solitary practitioner, Davie is not working with specific traditions. “Many of us are making it up as we go along. The gifts of words, poetry, music, and other riches that have been shared are welcomed tools in my magic toolbox.”

Gifts like the song put together by an acoustic husband and wife duo out of Tampa, Florida. The solemn tune by  Koala Fire  is “..not without joy.” Davie goes on to say. She has been one of many who have incorporated the song into her ritual. 

Leah Treeheart Songweaver Clark gained inspiration after she had seen the shared prayer on a Facebook page. After reaching out to the Ballard, to gain permission to use the piece, the songwriter received a returned message stating, “I love it!”  Leah then reached out to her partner, Michael Rashas, who answered with, “Sure! That sounds great!” 

With Clark’s vocals, along with drums and Rashas on both the acoustic and bass guitar, the song began to take shape.

Rashas praises Clark for her easy to follow melody. “It was a smooth process,” the guitarist remarked. “Originally, I just wanted to have the acoustic guitar in the song but Leah encouraged me to add the bass guitar in, as well.”

After the song was completed, a video followed composed of photos taken by Clark.

With their own adaptation, the two worked in the studio to produce their finished product within days of the initial contact with Ballard. Clark went on to express that she had hoped that people would take to the song and use it.

The pair echoed that they feel honored and grateful for those who use their creative work in their personal ceremonies.

“We are living in uncertain times with negative energies,” Rashas conveyed. “Sometimes it takes a cataclysmic event to bring people to stand together. We are forced to slow down and I hope we all come out better at the end of this.”

The couple included their own spiritual practices during this working. Clark denotes that it is all about your intent and commitment to the working. Rashas added that being in the moment and being positive are key elements to his practice. Both are praying for the victims of COVID-19 and the healers that are working on the front lines. 

Many have shared their personal workings online, building a state of “communal mourning” that Davie had mentioned during our conversation.

Salvatore Culotta, Heathwitch, Sonya Hamrick are some of those that have posted and shared their readings on social media.

The response to the poem has left Ballard with a feeling of gratitude. “I am so glad that it has touched people and given them a focus to honor the dead,” the practicing witch of 47 years states. 

Ballard’s work with the dead has stemmed back as far as 1995. Her daughter’s 2nd-grade teacher mentioned that her husband worked at a cemetery. The teacher noted that there were some of the departed that had no one at their burial.

After hearing that, an action plan was put into place by joining three of four prayers from Catlin Matthews, Book of Days, and used those words to conduct the graveside services. 

“Some of you will remember that I did the prayers for the dead here over “paupers’ burials” for people who had died and no one had claimed their remains.” – Byron Ballard Facebook post excerpt.

The devotion to help those who had fallen from the disease came again after seeing Hart Island potter’s field in New York. The event inspired the heartfelt verses which turned into inspiration for a plethora of people. The sundown rituals have been mostly solitary in nature due to social distancing but not everyone is participating in this working. 

Nathara, who is ordained by both the ULC and ULC Monastery, plans on waiting until the first wave of the pandemic is over to conduct her work for the dead.

The California resident has conducted last rights for a number of individuals but feels that it would be best to conduct a collective rite.

“There are people on social media who show their alter set up for COVID-19 and offering ‘how to’ guidance as well,” Nathara commented. “It is all about your comfort level from how you feel about community, consent, the afterlife and what afterlife you are bringing the souls into. My idea of the afterlife or theirs?”

The full-time Tarot reader and owner of CrowSong Lodge does not downplay the importance of working with the dead but strongly emphasizes the importance for everyone from those with family to the unclaimed and uncared for.

She then goes on to explain what her basic altar set up would look like when the time comes to engage in her ceremony and goes on to say, “There will be a lot of praying. With so many religious beliefs out there, all Gods will be acknowledged in prayer.”

Nathara [courtesy]

“We chose how we deal with this,” Ballard remarked.

She is not alone in that line of thinking. With a number of pagans participating in one form or another with their prayers for the dead; the sharing of song, poetry, art, and ceremony is impacting the community overall.

Whether the practitioner chooses to keep their work silent or engage in a social rite, the living are grieving for the widespread loss that this pandemic has caused.