In the Northern Hemisphere it is the beginning of Spring, the season of Fertility, new life, conception and growth. Pagans of many stripes see this time as a time to start new things, as a time for fertility of imagination as well as biological fertility. It is a time in which the Goddess is a young, vibrant Maiden, and the young God, reborn in Winter, grows into a playful, virile young man. The two flirt and tease each other until the holiday of Beltaine, where the God and Goddess unite in love and cause the abundance of Summer in crops and beasts.
As a time of life’s beginning, it may not seem appropriate to discuss the end of cycle, Death, but all things are connected. Living things die and return to the earth, helping to create fertile soil from which plants grow and thrive. Living things feed on other things, causing death but also ensuring their own survival. The cycle is just that, a circle, connected both ways from beginning to end.
Unfortunately Death strikes when it will, and humans in all our wisdom can only sometimes delay that inevitable moment. Even in Death, however, all is not lost. The energy that defines us, our soul, continues on in its own cycle of reincarnation, a journey through lifetimes of new challenges and wisdom to be gained through them.
Several years ago, a friend of mine made the decision to take her own life and end her suffering here in the physical world. I am not going to get into the “morality” of that choice – I do believe it was hers to make, and whatever extra challenges in subsequent lifetimes she may have to face are also hers. It is not my place to judge her decision. However, because of the pain she felt here on Earth, I felt it was possible she may have too many ties here and it might have been hard for her to move on to what came next for her. Also, I was unable to grieve with others who knew her at the time. So, I created a ritual, based off of this rite I found on the internet at the time, plus some customized thoughts for the situation at hand. Later I wrote it into my Book of Shadows (a Wiccan’s guide to her/his personal Tradition) in a slightly less specific form in case I wanted to use it again for another funeral. Fortunately, I haven’t had occasion to use it since then.
Another Pagan blogger, Brenda Lee of PaganInMe and Four-Legged Mom, who is just beginning to explore the depths of her new Pagan faith, wrote today about previous deaths in her family, with questions about her own post-life choices. While I can’t answer her questions specifically, because the answers are hers to make, I thought I’d post my little (ok, not so little) funeral ritual as sort of a companion post to her. Because Death for us survivors sucks and can be traumatic. But the Other Side is not to be feared – it is a place of transformation only. We live on.
**Note: to include every step of the ritual the way I would set it up would make this post twice as long. Instead, I listed steps but did not elaborate for “common” ritual tasks like Casting the Circle, things that you might do the same every time you performed a ritual. Since this is customizable, feel free to perform these tasks the way you prefer, or in the way that makes sense to you in the context of this rite.
This ritual can be performed with just 4 people (taking the roles of the Directions/Quarters in the rite) or adapted for an audience or other participants, as needed. Depending on your situation, you may even use this at the grave site or funeral home.
I hope you find this helpful. Please feel free to comment with questions or your own ideas about death/rebirth and funerary rites. I look forward to your thoughts.
A Wiccan Funeral Rite
Preparation/Cleansing of Self
Preparation/Cleansing of Space
Casting the Magic Circle
Calling the Quarters:
The circle members should Call the Quarters in much the same way that they are normally called, except in reverse order (widdershins) starting in the West. That is to say that each individual in turn names their Watchtower, invites the spirits of the Watchtower into the circle, and renews his/her connection to the Watchtower as usual. However, after the connection has been renewed and before moving on to the next individual/direction, there is an added passage that each should say. These are listed below. At the end of this additional passage, the directional candle should be lit.
West: “As the Sun sets, so (name of the deceased) has left us. The water of our tears, like the salt water of the sea and the water of our Mother’s womb, blesses this circle.”
South: “As life is a day, so (name) has passed into the Night. The fire of our life, the memories and courage, and the strength given to us by (name) blesses this circle.”
East: “All that falls shall rise again, so (name) shall also rise again. The air we breathe, this treasure of our life, and the compassionate caring we give each other blesses this circle.”
North: “As the Earth forms us, so (name) shall return to the Earth. Our Mother feeds us and clothes us. She gives us everything, and in the end she takes our bodies back into herself. The earth that forms us and receives us after death blesses this circle.”
Invoking the God/dess(es)
A photo and/or items belonging to or representative of the departed should be placed upon the altar.
At this time, those who wish to speak to the dead or say something about him/her may do so.
The following should then be read by the most appropriate person in the group, or the words can be divided up among two or more individuals if necessary.
“(name) has died. No one who has died should ever pass from this world to the next without knowing the loving grief and hope felt by those around him/her. We are here to share our grief and our hope and our love for (name) that it may aid in the transition from this life to the next.
Our lives are formed of many others, and we form other lives in return. And we are here after your death, (name), to honor your life.
There is only Love, the greatest Mystery. We open our hearts and our eyes in the light of this Love. The Love of the Goddess gives birth to the Universe. The love of our parents gives birth to us. The love of our friends and family sustains our life. Kindness, love, and pleasure – we are formed from these and we form each other. When we die, we leave them behind us as we prepare for the life beyond this one.
You have left your family. You have left behind sex and even gender. You cannot be a woman or a man to enter the other wold. You have left behind your body. None who have bodies can pass into the other world.
The Goddess is taking you back now (name), the Great Mother. Her womb is the Earth that will receive your body. Your body is a seed now, a seed of other lives. You will return to the mother and when the time is right, you will be reborn through Her.
In sacred space we have gathered to honor you and to give you some things to take on your journey with you.”
Each member should place an offering upon the altar, in front of the photo of the departed. The offering can either be of some significance to the departed or represent the relationship between the member and the departed (a photo, keepsake, letter, etc), or it should be symbolic based on the direction or element of the person giving the offering. The offering should be named at this time, as should its significance:
East: “The East is the direction of beginnings, birth, and knowledge, and the element of Air. Things that begin must end, but things that end can begin again. Please accept this offering of (item). May it aid you as you as you prepare for a new birth and new life through the Mother.”
South: “The South is the direction of fire and passion. Please accept this offering of (item), and may it help you remember the love that was yours in this life, and may it call forth an abundance of love in the next.”
West: “West is the direction of emotions, intuition, and endings. As every ending makes way for a new beginning, please accept this offering of (item) to help you let go of the pain and sorrows of this life and prepare for the joyful experiences of the next.”
North: “North is the direction of Earth, of the physical, and of stability. Please accept this offering of (item) as a reminder that, although you are for now formless and sexless, you will soon be reborn through the cycle of life and again experience the world through a physical body.”
We All Come From the Goddess
“We all come from the Goddess,
and to her we shall return,
like a drop of rain
flowing to the ocean.
We all come from the Goddess
and to her we shall return,
like a drop of rain
flowing to the ocean.
Corn and grain, corn and grain
all that falls shall rise again
hoof and horn, hoof and horn
all that dies shall be reborn.”
Cakes and Ale:
Be sure to save two offerings of cakes and ale, one for the God/dess(es) and one for the departed.
The following words can be spoke by the same person(s) who spoke before, or by someone else if desired:
“Samhain is the time of the year when the veil between the worlds is thinnest. It is a traditional time to honor and call upon those who have left before us. We will remember you, and all those who are no longer with us, and bless you at Samhain.
Journey on now, (name). We will follow when our time is right. May you be reborn when you are ready in a place and time that best suits your needs for learning and spiritual growth, and may you also experience in your new life the love and happiness you so richly deserve.”
There may be a moment of silence as each member of the circle silently says goodbye.
Saluting the God/dess(es)
Saluting/Dismissing the Quarters:
The Directions are thanked and dismissed as normal, but as the directional candle is extinguished, the following words should be spoken:
East: “The Sun will rise again.”
South: “Life continues.”
West: “Love is all we can be sure of.”
North: “Only the Mother is Eternal.”
Banishing the Magick Circle
Note: The offering of cakes and ale to the God/dess(es) is buried with thanks, and the offering of food and items is left at the graveside (if possible) or near the ritual site for the departed.