Modern death rituals

Modern death rituals

You don’t go to church, but you religiously eat the same cereal every morning. You don’t believe in a higher being, but you find yourself crossing your fingers when you need some good luck on your side. So when it comes to death, does a little ritual help? Here we look at some of the rituals surrounding death, and our own alternative versions – minus the years of devotion.

Death and religion

Religion has long been thought to be one solution to the problem of death. Given religion’s long association with death, dying and the afterlife, it’s perhaps unsurprising that a 2017 study has shown that the very religious aren’t afraid of death.

Here at we don’t want you to spend your days worrying about death, either. So we wondered whether the death ritual could be brought into our modern lives.

Religious rituals to ward off death

Firstly, there are rituals that are meant to ward off death, early demise and any bad luck that comes in between. The Evil Eye symbol, found most prominently in Jewish, Christian and Islamic traditions, is used to ward off injury or bad fortune, symbolising the forces out there that seriously have it in for you.

Known in some circles as the Hamsa, or the nazar, and usually found attached to charm bracelets, or trinkets that hang up outside your front door, the (usually) blue evil eyes aren’t just souvenirs to buy on your all-inclusive beach holiday, but a potent warning.

The Evil Eye stems from the belief that someone who achieves great success also attracts the envy of those around them. Death is usually one of the only remaining threats to those in positions of power or the mega rich.

For us, though, it seems too much hard work looking over our shoulder all the time. In any case, we don’t think we’re going to be bathing in enough riches for the talisman to be necessary.

Rituals to make death part of the everyday

One of the tenets of Buddhism states that death is a natural part of life. The well-known foundational thought behind the philosophy is the fact that everything changes, nothing is permanent and suffering is inevitable. Death fits right in.

Reincarnation or rebirth (synonymous with death), is a given, and monks who practice hard enough in order to attain ‘buddhahood’ must shed their fear of dying, and the universality of death is as part of the everyday routine as waking up and washing your face is.

It’s a good one, but we don’t like the thought of coming back every 80 years or so as yet another ant, goat or accountant. We’re just too vain and selfish for that.

Alternative death rituals for our modern lives

We don’t really need anything that wards off death, or to turn ourselves into monks in the process. We just want to get a little more comfortable with it. Here’s some of our suggestions for modern death rituals.

Write a letter to be read after you die

The best selling author Stieg Larsson, author of The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo series, wrote a letter to be read only after he died. Getting his farewell note in early, he was 22 years old when he wrote it. You can read it on Letters of Note here.

While it might not sound like a ritual, usually the only way we communicate beyond the grave is through the boring stuff such as our Will. So it might be a fulfilling practice to jot down a few thoughts in the face of death while you’re still alive enough to come up with something half-decent or, even, profound.

Create your own mantras

We all know those strange famous people that spew out platitudes such as, “Live every day as if it were your last!”, all the while smiling over their 25-room California mansion, and injecting Botox into their smooth faces.

This mantra, at first, seems somewhat taxing. Living every day as if it were your last might mean a lot of forward planning. Skydiving, eating a tonne of oysters and quaffing ample champagne, let alone trying your luck at poker – all these are hard to fit into your weekly schedule, let alone a day. But reminding yourself that it’s all going to end (at some point!) can spur us to get on with things. Or to not take things too seriously.

Hold a death dinner 

Have regular dinner with friends, the purpose of which is to contemplate the fact you might be gone tomorrow. Alternatively, make a Sunday afternoon tradition one where death takes centre stage.

Death Over Dinner is a project that’s spawned in the US, and we think it’s a great model. Jesus, of course, leads the way with his dramatic last Supper that spawned not just one of the greatest narratives in the Catholic world, but really set the standard for our own dinner parties.

Go to cemeteries

Cemeteries certainly aren’t a product of the 21st century, but finding out that they can actually make a fun day out is a new idea. Visit the dead, speak to the dead, reconcile with the dead – do what you like. With cemeteries such as Arnos Vale

Do you have your own rituals? Let us know. In the meantime, visit our funeral planning pages, our financial planning pages and our legal matters page. 

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