Lifting the Boat

I pray for the dead.

People throw out random prayer requests all the times in pagan circles, and whether or not I respond varies widely. But I pray for the dead. Always.

I forget who said it – if it was Somé or an Ifa priest or someone else – but our tears make the water that lifts the boats of those crossing to the other side. The dead need the love and support of the community to reach the far shore. Our emotions offer power, offer guidance, offer strength.

And here is a thing: this is, as far as I’m concerned, one of the first moral obligations that a Kemetic has. Pray for the dead. For all of the dead. Especially in those first seventy days, the time of transition between living and the imperishable stars.

The spirits in transition exist in a place of confusion. The systematic ordering of souls and members has been snapped and the unifying force unravelled. Without help, those parts will drift away and be lost, a breath on the wind and a fading memory – or, perhaps worse, be trapped in fragmented ruins, a clutching wreck trying to seize wholeness from the living. Grief provides a structure, a system, a format around which the one who has been separated from the familiar can start to re-forge the connections between souls. We, the living, are the light that holds steady so that the Westerners can find the West.

When we give that gift, our tears, our wails, the candles we light, our murmured prayers, we breathe a little unity back into the system. We reach across the rift, we affirm that the dead are whole and the dead are with us, and that we are with them, in mutual support. We address the breach in our community, even as we see them on their way and acknowledge that this is a change of address for which mail forwarding gets a little complicated.

It is the nature of the energy of life to flow. We know this – trivially – from the cycles of ecosystems, of eating and being eaten. This holds true in broader terms; we know this mystically from the dance between the Beautiful Festival and the Mysteries, or – if more neo in our paganism – Beltaine and Samhain. We bring this knowledge when we pray for the dead, giving life, life, life, offering up life and love to the dead that they may be filled with life (for millions of years, a matter so many times true) and that we, being givers of life, may be filled with life.

It is sometimes tempting to hold back the prayers for the dead, when the dead are not our own, or when they have crossed some moral line of which we do not approve. In fact, one of my first experiences in Kemetic community was with such a person – difficult at best, widely hated – whose mooring day came by his own hand, and who many people declared should not be mourned. (I will note: a suicide almost certainly has major dissention among their souls, and needs our help to find integration far more than the peaceful dead.) But the unmourned dead, the unprayed-for, they do not find peace, they do not make the transformation, they do not go away, and that, if nothing else, should be good for a mumbled thousand of bread and thousand of beer.

Ancient tombs would have stelae set out before them, with demands of the traveller and passerby: read out this stone. If you cannot read, pour out water over the glyphs, that they might be fed and thereby activated. Speak the name of the dead, remember the dead, give life to the dead. A thousand of every good thing.

Pray for the dead.

(Temporal note…. I was writing this before I heard the news.)

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5 thoughts on “Lifting the Boat

  1. […] is an amazingly beautiful piece on honoring the dead from […]

  2. Anne says:

    Beautifully written…. I find myself humbled.

  3. This is so clearly written. I hope many will read your article and be touched by it. It is a huge part of my work, I am so glad to read you.

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