When there is a death in the family, a strange mix of emotions will emerge for days and weeks after the death. These emotions are natural and are part of the grieving process. Recently our family lost a beloved family member, my grandfather. He had a long blessed life and as part of my duties, I was placed in the difficult position of honoring his last wishes against the desires of some members of the family who wanted to do it ‘their way’. Grandfather had stated in writing that he wanted to just to be cremated and placed to rest by my grandmother. No wake, no funeral, nothing involving his body but simplicity and rest.
This small but vocal fraction of my family was exercising pressure to divide the grandfather’s ashes in 3 parts to be distributed amongst his children and to perform an ecumenical service to be held in the presence of his ashes. However, there was an official document signed outlining in no uncertain terms what was not to be done. Grieving people do all sort of nutty things, but while in my guard, no one in my family would be allowed to disrespect the desires of an elder.
His last wishes were upheld. After all, how could I live with myself if I do not respect an Egún? There is such a thing as leadership by example and this was the right time to demonstrate to non-believers in my family that Egún are precious and our best way to honor them is to show due respect. Practicing the Way of the Orishas requires doing the right thing when others would rather you gave up and have them do their will.
Grandpapa was not an initiate in Santería or any other African Traditional Religion, thus no special ceremonies such as an Itutu (ceremony to honor a dead olosha/babalawo) needed to be held.
There are no rules in the Lukumí practices that regulate the ceremonies for the passing of a person who did not had Kariosha. However, a period of 9 days is observed for a brother, sister, or one’s oyugbonakán. In the case of the main godparent the period of mourning is of 3 months. That said, I will voluntarily withhold from working anything related to the Orishas, in honor of my gradfather because without him, I would not be in this world. My work will be centered in honoring him at a special White Table set up in his honor. Every night, the family will gather to pray a Rosary and / or any other prayers we feel like including, such as the Prayer for the Recently Departed.
In the case of the death of an Olosha, the Itutu ceremony is held and it is a quite complex affair where the body is ritually prepared, the Orishas of the deceased olosha are consulted and sorted between those staying with a relative or godchild of the olosha, and the ones that will be buried with the olosha. The orisha will descend lead by Oyá to cry over the olosha and cleanse him/her. Other ceremonies follow the Itutu.
However since that was not the case of my grandfather, I will stick to the honor given to new Egún. Anyone following the Lukumí practices who has a death in the family has a required commitment to honor that person by observing 9 days of prayers.
I am sure that Voodoo and Umbanda, Macumba and other ATRs have their traditions and particularities with regards to honoring recently deceased.
Here is one of my favorite prayers from the Alan Kardec Book of Selected Prayers:
Prayer for the Recently Departed
“All mighty God, may your mercy be extended to our brother/sister, who has recently left this earth. May your light be the light that shines in his/her eyes. Take him/her out of darkness, open his/hers eyes and ears. May your enlightened spirits surround him/her and aid him/her to hear the words of peace and hope.
Great Spirit, as unworthy as we are, we dare to implore your merciful indulgence in favor of our brother/sister whom you have called to destiny, let his/her return be like that of the prodigal son/daughter. Great Spirit, forget the faults that he/she has committed, and remember the good deeds that he/she performed. We know that your justice is immutable, but your love is immense. We beg that you apply your justice through the fountain of mercy that flows from you.
May the light be there for you my brother/sister as you have just left this earth. May God’s enlightened spirits come to you, surround you and assist you in separating from your earthly chains. Recognize and understand the Great Spirit’s greatness, submit to His justice without complaint, but do not despair in the light of His mercy. Brother/sister take a formal look at your past, open the doors to what is before you and recognize the ill deeds that you have left behind, and the work you have to do to repair these wrongs.
May God forgive you and may His enlightened spirits empower and sustain you. Your brothers on earth will pray for you and we ask that you pray for us.”
Omí Yemayá Achagbá