• Kathleen Phalen

What to Place on Your The Day of the Dead Altar

It’s that time of year again. Samhain, Halloween and Dia de los Muertos, or Day of the Dead. It is the time of year, when the veil between the worlds, is said to be the thinnest. What does that mean exactly? It means that if you have ever wanted to connect to your beloved and deceased friends or family members, making contact should be easier and if we put out some offerings, they will come to our homes and be ready to party. Here is what you will need:

· A Large Table with a Smaller Table on Top-this serves to represent the 3 levels the underworld, earth and spirit realm. The floor Can Represent the Underworld and you can place a cross or mock gravesite you have left over from Halloween

· White & Purple Tablecloths- Representing Respectively Purity & Mourning

· Incense, preferably Copal which is said to attract the spirits & Candles…(insert link to Day of Dead Candles) A crucifix (insert link)

· Large Glass of Water- A Mainstay on Any Type of Altar. Who Knew the Spirits Were So Thirsty?

· A Bounty of Food- Uncle Bill’s Favorite Pasta Dish and Your Mom’s Favorite Chardonnay. Day of the Dead bread and Sugar Skulls.

· Be Sure to Leave Out Sweets or Chocolates for the Angelitos, or Children That Have Passed Over

· Pictures of All of Your Dearly Departed

· Marigolds and Their Petals in Vases and Scattered About. Their scent is said to attract the souls and aid them in finding their home

The first time, I clearly remember speaking with the dead, I was 16. I was one of a small gathering of people, in my sister’s hospital room, where she was being treated for a broken pelvic bone from a fatal car accident. Her roommate, the driver, had been killed on impact.

I felt a tap on my shoulder. When I turned to see, there was nobody standing there. At least nobody I could see with my naked eye. I heard her sweet, kind voice. She pleaded with me to “tell them it’s all OK, tell them we will see each other again. We don’t die-I am right here! Let them know, it’s ok, we will see each other again!” It was one of those life changing moments. Where chills covered every inch of my hair, skin & scalp and I knew with every fiber of my being, what I just heard was the truth. It was a life changing moment for me. It was also late May of 1985, long before crazy-ass Shirley McClaine wrote her books that set the Metaphysical/Past Life Regression

Therapy/Mediumship/Intuitive Counselor/ Channeling conversation back further into the stone ages.

Any time I recounted that story, be it the 80’s the 90’s or early 2000’s I was met with disbelief and opposition. “Maybe you just dreamt it?” “Are you sure you weren’t imagining all of this?” Or “Didn’t you say you were sleep deprived that day?” I stopped sharing because I was tired of being looked at like I was totally insane, and was tired of being dismissed for an incident I know happened!

If you don’t think Mediumship is your calling, or it feels creepy; why not honor your loved ones, invite them closer, memorialize and remember them with a Day of the Dead Altar? It is a lot easier than you might think. The benefits might be greater than expected. Who doesn’t want just one more moment, one more conversation, with their favorite grand-parent, parent, spouse, or child who has passed on?

Of course, I can’t promise a tap on the shoulder and clear-as-the-day-is-long sweet, voice offering her version of proof that we don’t die, but it might help to honor and remember the ones you love that are no longer of this world. It could also start a new family tradition and teach your children the importance of ancestral magic. 

The Day of the Dead is a tradition starting November 1 and ending November 2. It coincides with Halloween and All Saints Day in our traditions. Again, the premise is that the veil between the worlds is thinnest on this day.

Like so many other awesome traditions, festivals and food, our Mexican neighbors can be thanked for bringing the Day of the Dead here. A long-standing tradition in Mexican homes since, well before the Spanish invasion in the 16th century. The indigenous folks had their own traditions and spiritual leaders. They were called Shamans. After 5 centuries of organized religion, it seems we are all searching for a local shaman or at least trying to connect to our own inner shaman.

Start with these simple suggestions and make it your own family tradition. If you don’t live in an area with a lot of “Panderias” and don’t feel like baking your own Pan de Muertos, (Bread of the Dead that represent the soul of the dead), grab something similar. I have found over the years, if a dead person wants to make contact with you, they will do so with or without bread.

However, all of this symbolism and tradition, putting out a feast and partying with the departed, could be one of the most fun, entertaining & soothing family gatherings you have ever attended. Invite friends, eat Chicken Mole, drink and have fun!





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