Ritual Framework for the Litany

Galina Krasskova, after using the Litany for the Many Dead in a group ritual, wrote to me to suggest that it needed a ritual framework. Not everyone who might use it has experience working with the Dead, she pointed out, and working with them can be difficult and even dangerous. The Litany is an invocation of a great many groups of the Dead, too, not all of whom might get along, with each other or with the participants.

The idea was something of a revelation to me. Honestly, I hadn't thought very much about how it would be used, hadn't considered things that way. It worked for me, of course it did, I wrote it to work for me. But now I needed to make it work for others in a ritual context. So I wrote back and said, basically, that that was an excellent idea and I'd get right on it.

I wrote this a little while ago, and never did get around to posting it. It will, eventually, be in a second edition of the book that I'm planning, with additional verses. The introduction to the new edition will also have the suggestion that if people have a problem with a particular group of the Dead that they simply leave out that verse rather than invoke spirits they don't get along with, or that might not get along with their ancestors. It's important to exercise some discernment in these matters, and some discretion. Reading it alone, over your ancestor altar, as a way of simply acknowledging those of your ancestors whom it fits, it might not be such a big deal, but in a group ritual, some of those verses can be a very big deal. It is, as Galina pointed out to me, a political work, and it's political because I'm political. Every verse in there represents some of my Dead, whether the connection is of blood or feeling. Personally, I feel like almost all of them apply to at least some of everybody's Dead (for exceptions I'm thinking specifically of the verse about the AIDS dead -- possibly not everyone knows someone who died of that disease -- and of course of the Shoah, Porajmos, Stolen and other very specific groups of the Dead), but everyone knows their own Dead better than I possibly could. When read privately, it can be that kind of acknowledgement and praise of one's own dead. When used in a group ritual, it inevitably calls on the greater body of the Dead. So use your own best judgement. (I'd prefer, of course, that people not leave out groups of the Dead based on bigotry, but there's not much I can do about it.)

I feel like I shouldn't hold this ritual back waiting to publish, especially this month, when so many are honoring the Dead. So here it is.

Ritual Framework for the Litany for the Many Dead

This ritual can be done by any number of people, from one to many. If you have many people, you may wish to assign the initial ritual parts to different people, and to arrange attendees in a circle and give them each a verse to read when it's their turn, or you might wish to have it take the form of a presentation by a few people or one person. If you are two or three, you might want to pass the book or paper back and forth and take turns. If you are alone, you can do it by yourself quite easily.

As part of the planning for this ritual, I suggest that you pray to your own ancestors, including making offering to them, telling them what you're planning, and asking them to act as a sort of crowd control. If you don't already have an active ancestor worship practice, know that you can just tell them conversationally. Summon them, using the Beloved Dead verse if you like, and just say, "I'm going to be doing this ritual for the Many Dead. Can you please help me with it?" Make an offering of some food or drink traditional to your family, or that particular ancestors liked. Call them first when you begin the Litany.

Have ready a bell or chime, incense, one or more candles, water and a bowl or cup into which it will be poured, and any other offerings you want to make, either to the Dead in general or to specific groups or individuals. Wine, milk, honey and flowers are all good choices. For individual Dead, some food or drink they loved in life.

Begin by creating sacred space and boundaries for it in whatever way your tradition usually does. Include a cleansing of the space and all participants. It is important to have both a space that is clean spiritually, and one that is safe and can be maintained as safe, for you and for the spirits you call.

Set a limit on how long the Dead may stay. I recommend having a bell or chime that you ring three times at the end, but you might also allow them to stay until midnight or dawn, or some other time, as long as you continue to maintain the ritual space until then. If you choose that, of course modify the following accordingly.

Ring the bell three times before you begin.

Setting the boundaries:

We come now to summon the Dead,
To do them honor and make offering to them.
But while all the Dead deserve honor,
Let only those who are of good will and intent come near,
Let there be peace among the Dead who come,
And let them stay only until I ring this bell three times,
And then depart in peace and honor.

The opening invocation:

We call on the Many Dead
Here is a candle to light your way to us
Here in incense, burned in your honor
Here is cool, clear water for your journey
We call on the Many Dead

Then begin as much of the Litany as you plan to read, beginning and ending with:

We pray to the Many Dead
All over the world and throughout history
All those who have gone before us
We remember you, and hold you in our prayers
We pray to the Many Dead

When you are finished, make any offerings you wish, which may be as simple as more water and incense. While you are placing or pouring the offerings, say,

We make offering to the Thirsty Dead
Who are relegated to the Dry Lands
Beyond the Rivers and Springs
Please accept our gifts
We make offering to the Thirsty Dead

If you want something from them, now is the time to ask. Pray, in your own words, for whatever blessings you might want. Address specific Dead people and make offerings to them individually. Allow everyone who wishes to speak time to do so, or omit this entirely. Do not leave people out, but also do not pressure anyone who does not wish to to speak aloud. Large groups are advised to skip spoken prayer, but to give time for people to pray silently.

Simply be, and commune with the dead.

After a time, if you wish to do divination or oracular work asking the Dead for advice, use the following prayer before beginning:

I pray to the Speaking Dead
Tell me what I should know
Pass on to me the messages I need
To help me on my path
I pray to the Speaking Dead

You may then ask a specific question if you have one.

If more than one person wants divination, each should say it before asking their question.

Take time to contemplate the answer you receive.

When everyone is finished, give thanks.

We give thanks to the Many Dead
For all that you have given us
For our bodies and our selves
For the whole world passed down to us
We give thanks to the Many Dead

Ring the bell three times. Blow out the candle. Release the sacred space. Remember that in many traditions, contact with the Dead carries some form of ritual pollution, so you may wish to cleanse yourself afterwards, whether by sprinkling with or washing hands and face in purifying water, or by a ritual bath or shower.

If you are reading the Litany as part of a larger ritual, finish the rest of the ritual before ringing the bell. You may also write your own rituals for it, but they should include purification, defining sacred space, setting limits on the summoning, an invocation, offering, thanks, and a formal closing.


A Litany for the Many Dead can be purchased in hardcopy on Amazon and CreateSpace, or as an ebook for Kindle or on Smashwords. More verses of the Litany, both by me and by others, can be found on the Litany page here on Hex.Ink.