The dead who become angels: bereavement and vernacular religion in the 21st century

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Some twenty-first century mourners describe the deceased as becoming an angel. Using published research, along with opportunist and anecdotal sources, the following questions are explored: who becomes an angel? who addresses them as angels? what do once-human angels do? what are they? where and when are they encountered? and in what sense are they believed in? Once-human angels are found in cemeteries, in memorial tattoos, at the deathbed, but mainly online - both computer and angel are mediums or messengers linking this world and the next. Unlike passive souls cut off in heaven from the living, angels have agency, a) continuing their earthly activities in heaven and b) looking after those on earth who still need their care and guidance. The once-human angel thus expresses a continuing bond between the living and the dead, particularly important for younger mourners who may live many decades before joining the deceased in heaven. This notion is taught by neither churches nor popular culture; it is not a creedal belief, but an idea, a meme, that some mourners use – and creatively develop - in particular contexts for particular beloved deceaseds, and may be understood as vernacular religion.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)3-28
JournalOmega: Journal of Death & Dying
Issue number1
Early online date25 Mar 2015
Publication statusPublished - May 2016


  • continuing bonds
  • folk religion
  • vernacular belief
  • bereavement
  • angel
  • soul


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