Thesis Title

Ofrendas: Altar-making Traditions in the Mexican Days of the Dead and Art Therapy Applications for Grief and Bereavement

Graduation Date

Spring 1997

Document Type

Master's Thesis

Document Form


Degree Name

Master of Arts in Marriage and Family Therapy

Degree Granting Institution

Notre Dame de Namur University

Program Name

Art Therapy


The creation of ofrendas, or altars, in the Mexican Days of the Dead (Dias de los Muertos), comes from a very old tradition of remembering and honoring the deceased and includes customs, rituals and art expressions which can be adapted cross-culturally as therapeutic interventions to help heal the grief of loss and bereavement. This heuristic study evaluates the core meanings of the phenomenon of altar-making as experienced and reported by ten co-researchers. Two males and eight females were selected as co­researchers based on their having created altars in the past and/or currently creating altars for the 1996 celebration of the Days of the Dead. Tape-recorded interviews with individual co-researchers included seven theme-oriented, unbiased open-ended questions. Data were processed using a heuristic procedure. Results support the use of altar-making as an art therapy intervention in healing the grief of bereavement.