A Litany for the Many Dead – Rebecca Lynn Scott’s epic poem celebrates our ancestors

Illustrations are from the Earthbound Oracle by AL Swartz.

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Poet, witch, spinner and crafter Rebecca Lynn Scott is weaving a tapestry. Not of fibre and thread, but of people. A Litany for the Many Dead is a work of devotion, a prayer to everyone who ever went before us.

A litany is a text – usually spiritual or religious in character – characterised by repetition. In this work, Rebecca repeats a process of acknowledging, naming and honouring the ancestors of the human race in turn. It’s a powerful work which looks pain, struggle and death square in the eye. It’s not an easy read but it is an uncomfortably meditative one. Rebecca honours those who went before us by acknowledging their deaths, but also naming the injustices that caused or contributed to these deaths, celebrating the righteous struggles of the oppressed, mourning the misfortunes of those who died by accident, thanking all for their services in life.

It’s an open and unfinished work, with Rebecca inviting anyone who wishes to add their own verses to do so, and to use these prayers in their own rituals, in their own ways. She herself regularly adds new layers to the tapestry on her website.

“A Litany to the Many Dead was and is a devotional work for me. I wrapped up and published when I hit sixty-five verses, but I’m still writing them, and I hope to have a new edition, with many new verses, next year. I began it because I could not stop thinking about those who have gone before us, and how they connect to us, and connect us to each other. All those connections make a beautiful tapestry – and I’m a weaver, I know tapestry – but one that not enough attention is paid to in many cultures, including mine.”

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We pray to the Falling Dead
You who tumbled from the heights
By accident or design
May you find stillness in death
We pray to the Falling Dead

We pray to the Buried Dead
You who went under the earth alive
In pits or caves or mines
May you have clear sky above you again
We pray to the Buried Dead

We pray to the Storm-Wracked Dead
You who were drowned or struck by lightning
Battered by wind or smothered by sand
May you find the calm at last
We pray to the Storm-Wracked Dead

We pray to the Frozen Dead
All your heat stolen by wind and ice
Until even the ice felt warm
May you never feel cold again
We pray to the Frozen Dead

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I asked Rebecca to share a little about how and why she created this work:

“It began during planning for a Dionysian ritual of catharsis, purification through intense emotion. I stepped forward to invoke the Dead, who originally had a large part in the ritual. The structure was changed, though, and only the invocation remained. But in writing it, I found a need for prayers I could use regularly, and a need to dedicate myself to the service of the Dead. It started with only three verses, and became sixty-five, and even that continues to grow. I wrote four more verses just before writing this.

I hope that other people will feel free to use the Litany in their own rituals. There are so many ways to use it. I have one version of a ritual that centers on it as a playable game (a ritual I hope to be able to perform at Many Gods West next year in Olympia, Washington, USA), and a few suggestions in the introduction to the book. I’d like to see it centered in some rituals, with people switching back and forth, each reading only one or two passages that hit them hardest. I’d like to see it a part of the background of a ritual, with two or three readers taking turns at chanting them softly while the rest of the ritual goes on. I’d like to see people using them as invocations and as memorials. I’d like to see people using verses of it in their regular observances. I had one person ask me if she could use it in a live-action role playing game, and I’d have loved to have seen that, too. (It didn’t work out.) I want people to use it to honor the dead, any way they feel moved to honor them.”

Litany for the Many Dead


You can buy a copy of Litany for the Many Dead here (or buy the e-book here.) You can also read another review here.

Find out more about Rebecca and her work at her blog, Hex.ink.

 

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