This insightful little book begins with an author’s note on the topic of cultural appropriation, which means using another’s cultural traditions for selfish purposes. Talking about the Day of the Dead and appropriating some of its rituals has become increasingly popular among people who know little or nothing about it. Wisely, the author begins by cautioning readers to consider carefully their intentions, such as: “For example, if you are planning to set up a Day of the Dead altar, is this because you only want to post a picture to your social media or because you genuinely would like to honor your dead loved ones and ancestors?” Chapter 3 then covers setting up and using a Day of the Dead altar in your home1.
Gironés also suggests that readers try to connect locally with others: “Do you treat Mexican culture and the Day of the Dead with respect, and at the same time, do you treat Mexicans and Latin Americans with respect? For example, if there is a Mexican or Latino community in your area, it might be a good idea to first check if they have any activities open to the general public for Dia de los Muertos.” Chapter 4 is then all about celebrating the Day of the Dead, using your altar1.
Marking the Day of the Dead is an inspired way of celebrating loved ones who have passed away. Llewellyn’s Little Book of The Day of the Dead takes seriously this aspect of the spirit world. It is about more than celebrating a holiday or holidays — there are many special days throughout the year for marking these rituals and observances. The book will also inspire you to reevaluate your own relationship with death, to enhance living1.
Given the Indigenous Mexican origin of these observances, the book is filled with Spanish words and phrases. Gironés does a good job of defining these in English, writing in a way that is easily understood by those who are new to the subject1.
Modern representations of death, familiar in Indigenous Mexican traditions, are introduced. You meet La Llorona, “The Weeping Woman,” who appears periodically on the streets of Mexico City looking for her children; and more famously, La Santa Muerte, the Mexican folk saint of death. She is a saint who protects people devoted to her and seeks justice in their lives1.
But the central feature of the book is 23 activities and exercises. Many of them incorporate the use of candles, flowers, drawings, and other means of creative expression. A partial list of the activities and exercises in the book includes “naming” and “drawing” death, creating a family tree, making paper marigold flowers, collecting pictures of ancestors, making gratitude lists dedicated to ancestors, baking Pan de Meurto (sweet “Dead Bread”), Catrina face painting, and writing a literary Calavera — a satirical poem to death (see the excerpt accompanying this review below)1.
How to write a literary Calavera, a satirical poem to death.
A Book Excerpt on Imagination
“The literal English translation of the Spanish word calavera is ‘skull.’ However, there is a type of calavera that does not refer to bones. Literary calaveras are satirical writing compositions in verse that make fun of death and the living. They tell a story in rhyme of how death tries to take lives and exaggerate the traits of the people. Literary calaveras usually mention public figures or politicians. They started in the nineteenth century as mocking epitaphs and political statements2.
“First, think about who you are going to write about. In this case, the subject should not be dead. It can be a friend, a family member, a teacher, a coworker, or a public figure2.
“Then think about a special aspect or trait of the person, something that person is known for: that the person is always late, that the person is funny. Next, think about a funny way that person is going to meet death, related to their characteristic trait2.
“Start by writing some rhyming phrases, introducing your subject and the trait of the subject. Then introduce death as a character and set up how the subject encounters death2.
“For example, let’s imagine I have a cousin named Maria who will be my subject. She is very young and is always looking at her mobile phone, barely noticing what happens around her. Her use of technology and how it consumes her attention is the trait I will use2.
"If you've ever been curious about Dia de los Muertos, Llewellyn's Little Book of the Day of the Dead will enlighten and inspire you. It packs much in-depth knowledge and information about this beautiful Mexican holiday. Whether you just want to deepen your understanding or would like solid practical advice on how to respectfully connect with your ancestors in this tradition, you have a complete guide in Jaime's delightful book. It's filled with activities that can involve the whole family and wise advice on how to approach the ancient seasonal rituals with reverence. Anyone who is passionate about Mexican culture and spirituality or interested in the unique ways spiritualism is expressed around the world will love this book."―Madame Pamita, author of The Book of Candle Magic3.
"What an absolutely terrific book! There's nothing 'little' about Gironés work in these pages, either. It's the perfect mix of history, doing, and nuance for anyone interested in Day of the Dead celebrations. You'll be coming back to this one at the end of October year after year."―Jason Mankey, author of Witch's Wheel of the Year3.
"A compact compendium of well-curated info, experience, and insight into Mexico's Día de los Muertos holiday by an authentic practitioner; the perfect starting point for people of all backgrounds who are new and curious about our culture's ancient celebration as well as a great resource guide for the experienced and adept who are well familiar with Underworld and ancestral magic."―Tomás Prower, author of La Santa Muerte3.
"Jaime Gironés dispels some of the myths around this cultural phenomenon and offers simple methods to honor this holiday, regardless of your own cultural background. Gironés gives us context by examining the history as well as the multifaceted practices and lore necessary to have a balanced understanding of this important and culturally rich celebration."―Storm Faerywolf, author of The Witch's Name3.
"Jaime Gironés is a charming and wise guide to exploring the Day of the Dead traditions, sharing the past and present while acknowledging the living traditions of the future with a variety of activities the reader can do. He deftly handles such topics as the line between appreciation and appropriation; the ancestors' ability to appear at more than one altar at the same time; and most importantly, our fears, grief, and relationship with death, all while joyfully taking us through the celebration."―Christopher Penczak, author of The Temple of Witchcraft series3.
Jaime Gironés (Mexico City) was born in 1989 and has followed the Wiccan path since he was 13 years old. He writes about spirituality, magic, minority religions, myths, and Witchcraft, focusing in Mexico and Latin America. He's also an international columnist of The Wild Hunt, a daily news site for Pagans, Heathens, Wiccans, Witches, and Polytheists3.
Packed with activities, recipes, spells, and rituals, this pocket-sized guide is a must-have tool for honoring the sacred dead. Author Jaime Gironés shares authentic ways to respectfully enjoy this holiday, from creating an altar to baking pan de muerto (bread of the dead).
- Llewellyn's Little Book of The Day of the Dead by Jaime Girones: Review: Spirituality & Practice. Llewellyn's Little Book of The Day of the Dead by Jaime Girones | Review. December 20, 2022. https://www.spiritualityandpractice.com/book-reviews/view/29150/llewellyns-little-book-of-the-day-of-the-dead
- Llewellyn's Little Book of The Day of the Dead by Jaime Girones: Book Excerpt: Spirituality & Practice. Llewellyn's Little Book of The Day of the Dead by Jaime Girones | Book Excerpt. December 20, 2022. https://www.spiritualityandpractice.com/book-reviews/excerpts/view/28765/llewellyns-little-book-of-the-day-of-the-dead