How to Hold a Night Vigil

night vigil

We get a lot of requests for rituals. I get it. Lots of people want step-by-step directions and outward signs that they are practicing animists. The night vigil is a very flexible, common ritual that can be used for many purposes. Keep reading and I’ll explain how to do one.

What is a Night Vigil?

A night vigil is a keeping a watchful presence in the dark when you’d normally be sleeping. It generally takes place from sundown to sun up the next day. It is often held on the eve of a holy day, but can be done whenever there is a need, such as when someone dies.

Why Do We Do Night Vigils?

Everything in animism is symbolic and holistic. We do vigils at night because the darkness symbolizes the unknown or something scary. We generally have a candle, lamp, or bonfire at a vigil to illuminate the darkness. So, we perform vigils to raise awareness or move into the darkness or discomfort so that we can see our way through.

Define the Purpose

As always, we start any ritual by setting our intention. Without a clear purpose, we could be all over the place. Some examples of reasons why someone might do a night vigil are:

  • help the recently deceased in their journey to the Otherworld
  • express grief or other emotions that are too dark or heavy to feel without the container of a ritual
  • honor the ancestors
  • raise community awareness about social or political issues
  • enhance your own spiritual connection
  • find answers or guidance on issues that are eluding you
  • to remember victims of a tragedy
  • observe a holy day/celebrate the change of seasons

Create the Boundaries of the Vigil

Now it’s time to look at the details. What would be a suitable location – your backyard, a cemetery, a community center, a public park? Is it solo or for a group? Is it public or private? Do you want it to be highly structured or spontaneous? What is the mood? Festive or somber? Do you want to highlight particular issues through song, storytelling, speeches, or meditations? Or do you want everyone to have their own experience?

Be sure to have a clear beginning and end. A simple way to do this is to open and close sacred space.

Lots of animist holy days are observed with a night vigil. Some rituals also are framed this way. This is a rather strenuous commitment, so don’t be worried if you can’t maintain wakefulness the whole night. Perhaps it is feedback that you need to work on your discipline. Or maybe it’s as it should be, and you got what you were meant to get out of it. If you go into it with pure intentions, I am sure it will be fine.

Generally speaking, the more a ritual asks of you, the more you get out of it. So the night vigil can be really powerful. It’s not something to undertake lightly. I’d love to hear your experiences with this practice.