Friday, March 1, 2013

Returning to the Gravesite: Thoughts on Pagan Last Rites

Back in 2010, I wrote a guest post for the then operating blog, Pantheon, which is now defunct, as happens. That post can be found here. I recommend you go read it to see my thoughts at that time. Note that the picture is not related at all to this service. Lately, I have posted a lot about death and I figured it would be a balance to discuss physical death just a bit, albeit via ritual.

For those that don’t know it, I have in the course of the past several years attended an estimated hundred and fifty or so graveside services of many different religions. Most were Christian, some Jewish, many of no faith, at least one Islamic, and a couple that I cannot identity. Some of them were only the funeral director, our small contingent, and the maintenance folk. These were always touched with a bit of sadness but also with another consideration. I may not have known these people or even recall their names, but I can say and hold their memory up because I was there to witness their rite of passage unto the pale halls of the great unknown. I have also been to services where entire towns come out and line the roads and on foot follow the procession, with hundreds upon hundreds crowding the cemetery. These are no less or more a sacred time because of the quantity of people.

This familiarity with death has done much to shape my thoughts on the subject. Death is natural and it is a very sacred rite of passage. At the time that I had to perform the rite I discuss in the article, I had already been witness to all of this. Yet, until then I had never been the one conducting the ritual whereby the carriage of flesh is set into the earth.

The liturgy I settled on was formed from the private rite our Coven/Tradition uses and modified to be more familiar to all those in attendance. Of the forty or so people that would be at the gravesite, all but a small handful only know the Christian form. It was my duty to make sure these people were included in the rite; they were just as much a part of the family and community as us. They needed to be brought into this threshold and shown the beauty and sacredness of the life that was moving on.

Death is the great unknown and so in Traditional communities it is often referred to as the Last Great Initiation. This time is just as an important part of life as is birth or any other rite of passage. However; in this moment the mystery to what happens after life is finally known. It is a moment that comes for us all whether or not anyone marks it or not. It is not only rite of passage for the dead but for the community. In these moments our own death is placed upon the table and informed by this recognition of the cycle of life, death, and rebirth.

Initiation rituals universally follow the same format, regardless of the religion. They follow the same format of the cycle of the wheel: life, death, and rebirth. Simply put, one comes out of the ritual a different person than when they entered. Rites of Passage are all a form of initiation and as they are a group activity all participants undergo the process, either as the initiate, those reliving the transition, or having their own threshold primed. This last one is especially applicable when physical death is concerned.

As part of the ritual I performed, I followed this same basic format, but only part of it had to be the focus. The rite of passing is done post death vice per-death as with other rites of passage; just as birth rites are done post-birth and not before. So focusing upon the post-death rebirth into the great mystery portion I attempted to bridge the life of the person through into the now. I did this via memory; memories that were invoked in the minds of the assembled by issuing forth the various names of their life and then sealing those into the moment. For a quick aside, the red dirt in the cauldron was ochre I had collected myself and mixed with a bit of ash from incense that I had remaining from an ancestor rite.

Below is the rite with light commentary (thus):

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-Opening prayer

(This prayer was taken from a piece of traditional prose but with exerts removed or altered so the language did not alienate or separate anyone due to unfamiliarity. I have purposely not shared it publically because it is a bit too personal to this particular rite and I only want to share format, not specifics that may be private.)

-Naming

“Into death, the true initiation, we name you just as you were named when you came into this world. We name you with the many names of your life, and may their beauty echo from our hearts and into the next world.” (The various names used will vary from person to person. The below are the ones I used. It was a lot of work to work through, I had to put myself in each relationship/role.)

(pause)

“_____________: the name given at birth by those who loved you before they had met you.”

(pause)

“Beautiful in all her names.” (This is normally repeated by all in the Coven Rite, however, at the graveside only several people did so. It was still awesome.)

(pause)

“_____________: the name you chose as Priestess and honored the Old Ways by taking.”

(pause)

“Beautiful in all her names.”

(pause)

“_____________: the name your god children gave and you lovingly accepted.”

(pause)

“Beautiful in all her names.”

(pause)

“_____________: the name your siblings gave because although sister you may be, to them you were more.”

(pause)

“Beautiful in all her names.”

(pause)

“Crone: the name you took in honor of the life you had led and the many things you had to share.”

(pause)

“Beautiful in all her names.”

(pause)

“Mama: the name your children called you because no one else is quite like Mama.”

(pause)

“Beautiful in all her names.”

(pause)

“_____________: the name you accepted from the love of your life.”

(pause)

“Beautiful in all her names.”

(pause)

“Many have been your names, more than could ever be listed”

(pause)

“Beautiful in all her names.”

(pause)

“Beautiful in all her names.”

(pause)

“Beautiful in all her names.”

(slightly longer pause for transition)

-Anointing

(I read the part and traced the degree sigils in the air towards the casket after which visualizing it descend into the remains.) (Also Intitiates will recognize the basic format but note that it was purposely altered.)

“Thus you are named and blessed be thy feet, that walked a path you made your own.”

(pause)

“Blessed be thy knees, that knelt in reverence of the wonder and beauty of this world.”

(pause)

“Blessed be thy womb, that brought forth life.”

(pause)

“Blessed be thy heart, that loved both fiercely and generously.”

(pause)

“Blessed be thy lips, that broke the silence with the presence of you.”

(pause)

“Blessed be thy nose, that breathed the many fragrances upon the wind.”

(pause)

“Blessed be thy ears, that learned to listen to the beat of the heart.”

(pause)

“Blessed be thy eyes, that marked witness to your journey.”

(pause)

“Blessed be you, in all your names.”

(slightly longer pause for transition)

-Descent

“The veil has parted and you are returned to the cauldron of the mother, and we are blessed to have been a part of your life. Blessed Be!”

(I then lightly spinkled some of the dirt mixture on the casket and made the offer that anyone who wanted to offer their own blessings could come up and sprinkle some as well. Several people did and while they did the below poem was read by someone that brought it to contribute at her gravesite.)

(Note: Author Mary Frye 1932)

Do not stand at my grave and weep I am not there;
I do not sleep.
I am a thousand winds that blow,
I am the diamond glints on snow,
I am the sun on ripened grain,
I am the gentle autumn rain.
When you awaken in the morning’s hush I am the swift uplifting rush of quiet birds in circled flight.
I am the soft stars that shine at night.
Do not stand at my grave and cry, I am not there;
I did not die.
Blessed be! (This line added.)

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I hope my review of this rite is helpful for others.

Boidh Se!

-SM

“Lost in a thicket bare-foot upon a thorned path.”

2 comments:

Shoshannah Rain Storm said...

Beautiful.

blausternschlonge said...

Beautiful and well done. I have always loved that poem also.