dying

Death as a Teacher

December, 2017

Death is a life teacher because it is unavoidable.  It makes life that much more precious to know that your death is around the corner.  It can teach you about what is important and what is not.  It can jolt you into an understanding of how each moment is fleeting.  It destroys the illusion that things remain the same forever.  Death is also present in every experience of change that you have because there are always losses associated with it.  Whether the change is good or bad, self initiated or a surprise, it creates a hole in the reality you have constructed.

-Hyemeyohsts Storm? from “Lightningbolt” 


Death is considered one of the “20 Great Teachers of Life” in indigenous teachings shared by Hyemeyohsts Storm. Most shamanic practitioners believe that our spirits are everlasting; they remain in energy form when we die and we are reincarnated into a new life. In traditions that connect with past lives for healing purposes, it is imperative to see life, death, and rebirth on a circular continuum that has no beginning or end. I believe we come to earth with a mission each time we are reborn. It is our job as humans to remember what the mission is and learn and grow while we are here. Though death is a natural part of life, most of us in North American society are taught from a very young age to fear and even fight death–as if such a thing were possible!  At some point in all our journeys, our illusion that we are immortal starts to crumble. But what if we raised children from the very beginning to see death as an ally?  

In my experience working with children, they are natural psychopomps in a lot of ways.  Psychopomps have been present in all shamanic traditions since ancient times. These people know how to guide departed souls through the spirit world to merge back into the Great Mystery we all originally came from. I am not necessarily suggesting that children be encouraged do this work without guidance from knowledgeable adults, but in a world that is so death phobic, many children with the ability to commune with spirits are unfortunately left to figure this out on their own. This need not be so: There are many shamanic practitioners that can train children properly if parents remain open-minded and are willing to seek these people out.

In my work with children and families, I openly explore death and dying most commonly from three different angles: moving through grief and loss of a loved one, moving through transitions and changes in life with more grace and acceptance, and helping the spirits of departed souls move on to the great round.  Children often speak to me of seeing spirits because they know I will take them seriously.  Other times, children are naturals at creating rituals to support grieving and loss. I notice that healthy, well-adjusted children often move through life transitions with ease.  Many children are curious about death–even if they are afraid to talk to most adults about the topic. One of the reasons we created grieving ceremonies in our book, “The Magic Circle,” was to address this gap in guidance that is out there for children.  In the book, we introduce the topic in simple terms children can understand and then we offer a ceremony that involves building a descansos.  This excerpt is from that book:

We all experience loss in life. Sometimes a pet or a loved human dies. It is often hard to lose someone we love and with his/her death can come many feelings that are maybe new and hard to go through. Emotions such as: sadness, anger, loneliness, confusion, denial, fear and anxiety are all normal during the grieving process.  Grief is a word that describes the emotion of deep sorrow someone feels at the loss of something or someone. Those feelings of missing the person are natural. Grief sometimes feels like it will go on forever when we are in it. Grieving is important because it helps us to transition into the next phase of life without the person we love. People grieve in different ways; there is no one right way.  Although it is healthy to go through the grieving process, holding onto grief long-term is not good for us.  Many people don’t allow themselves to grieve because they are afraid of all the feelings that come with it.  Some people are uncomfortable with death.  Other people feel that ending their grief means they will forget the person they love.

 

It can be helpful to remember that letting go of someone or something that is important to us is not the same as forgetting; we can still keep their memory our hearts even as we carry on living. Letting go bit by bit in an honouring way as a part of our grieving process can bring peace.

 

This ceremony may help you to answer some of these questions as you work with your descansos.  A descansos is a memorial put up by mourners when someone dies.  In Mexico, it is common to see ones like this by the side of the road with objects that remind mourners of the person they love.

Thankfully, society is now beginning to see the need to discuss death and dying practices.  Death Cafés are cropping up in cities all over the world and people want to know how to live, die, and grieve well; in fact, people are often surprised to learn that the three are all interconnected.  Unsatisfied with the big business of pharmaceutical and funeral companies and what they have to offer, more people are looking to cross over in ways that are reflective of the way they lived.  They want to be able to talk about death and dying in intimate, meaningful ways.


A lot of shamanic practitioners (myself included) are working in the realm of death midwifery. Reach out for support. If death makes you feel uncomfortable, I recommend reflecting on the following questions for some time to work through these issues:

Do you fear or embrace death and death as change? How come?

Have you ever held onto something that actually causes you pain because of this fear? If so, what is the cost of this in your life?

What has death shown you to be of greatest importance in life?

Have you learned to trust death? Why? Why not?

If you knew you were going to die in a year, what would you do now that you are not currently doing?

How does the natural world embrace death and change?  How is it a part of natural cycles?

What has grieving losses fully taught you about moving through transitions in life?

***

 

About the Author:

 

 

Jennifer Engrácio has been a student of shamanism since 2005. Jennifer is a certified teacher who has worked with children in many different education settings since 2001. She is a certified shamanic practitioner, reiki master, and lomilomi practitioner; in addition, she runs Spiral Dance Shamanics. Originally from Vancouver, Canada, she now lives in Calgary, Canada with her life partner.

Engrácio participated in self-publishing three books that are now available:

The Magic Circle: Shamanic Ceremonies for the Child and the Child Within”
“Women’s Power Stories: Honouring the Feminine Principle of Life”
“Dreaming of Cupcakes: A Food Addict’s Shamanic Journey into Healing”

For Amazon information, click image below.

For more information go to: www.spiraldanceshamanics.com

Celebrating the Old Ways in New Times

December, 2015

The Rites of Death for

Celebrating the Old Ways in New Times

I get to pick the topic this time!

It is one that addresses a major rite of passage, and perhaps the one that is most frightening and painful.

Death.

Over the course of human civilization, beliefs as to what happens to us after our bodies die have changed drastically. Many favor the belief that upon death, we go to a beautiful place and are reunited with loved ones. This is certainly what I like to believe. Not everybody has seen it that way over the years, and we all know monotheistic faiths tend to favor a belief in an afterlife of punishments and rewards that Pagans often reject. Not everybody has viewed it that way. Some cultures believed in one place everybody went. Some believe reincarnation happens immediately after death. Some believe the soul can stay among the living or go back and forth between the otherworld and this one.

This article will explore some of the differing beliefs through history and of course what some of today’s Pagans tend to believe, specifically talking about what my Priest taught me. I will finish with a simple suggested funeral rite and talk about a funerary rite from a publication one of my elders put out before he crossed the veil.

To begin with, let’s discuss exactly how death is defined.

What is death?

Medically, death is simply when the human body entirely stops functioning.

Most simply stated by Wikipedia, “Death is the termination of all biological functions that sustain a living organism. Phenomena which commonly bring about death includebiological aging (senescence), predation, malnutrition, disease, suicide, homicide, starvation, dehydration, and accidents or trauma resulting in terminal injury.[1] Bodies of living organisms begin to decompose shortly after death. Death of humans has commonly been considered a sad or unpleasant occasion, due to the termination of bonds with or affection for the being that has died, or having fear of death, necrophobia, anxiety,sorrow, grief, emotional pain, depression, sympathy, compassion, solitude, or saudade.”

A wonderful link to what is called The Uniform Determination of Death Act is provided below. It is a recommended definition that most States in the US have adopted. It says, “An individual who has sustained either (1) irreversible cessation of circulatory and respiratory functions, or (2) irreversible cessation of all functions of the entire brain, including the brain stem, is dead.”

http://pntb.org/wordpress/wp-content/uploads/Uniform-Determination-of-Death-1980_5c.pdf

While that looks good on paper, all the complex things that an individual and their loved ones go through during and after death is not represented here. Religious groups provide much needed rites of passage, and that allows for closure as well as compassionate support for those who were left behind by the deceased. Not all funerary practices focus on the sacred, though.

Some focus on combating what the dead can do if they return to harm the living, as was the case with Eastern Europeans vampire hunts. Some others focus on how one may convince somebody they are dead so they may enslave them, as is the case with the creation of zombies in Voodoo. These two topics have become romanticized and are such a part of modern horror fun as well as being topics modern neo-Pagans often like to research. Another topic that few Pagans are not well read in is prehistoric burials. While researchers claim presence of burial is proof of belief in an afterlife, we don’t know for sure if that is the case. Read on.

Prehistoric burial

The appearance of burial is thought by some to mean people began to believe in life after death, and were thus religious. I always wondered about that, because the motivation for burying the dead could be as simple and not wanting to watch, and smell, the bodies decompose and to avert predators. My mom, having been in the cemetery business for 20 or 30 years always said funerals were for the living, not for the dead. Burials might have simply arisen out of the aforementioned issues, as well as the needs of folks to have closure and memorialize their loved ones who had gone.

Burial itself predates homo sapiens.

Early possible burials were discovered in the Atapuerca Mountains, Croatia, and are thought to be about 130,000 years old. Now a World Heritage site, this was discovered during construction of a railway. The bodies, numbering in the thousands, were all found in a pit within a cave. Animal remains were found also, as well as paintings elsewhere in the cave. Below is a very interesting scholarly article, which gives more information about the cave and information about remains found within. According to this scholar, chances are, the hominids bodies are contained there due to accidental falls into the pit. Also, however, it has been suggested by others, the bodies may have been cast into the pit by the living, or the remains could have been washed into the pit by water traveling through. It was noted that not just hominid remains were found in this pit, but those of animals as well. Provided is his article below.

http://blogs.e-noticies.com/david-rabada/were_there_ritual_burials_in_the_sima_de_los_huesos_outcrop_atapuerca_range_burgos_spain.html

Those that are currently the first undisputed burials were discovered in Skhul Cave in Israel, and are at least 100,000 years old. The bodies were found with red ochre on them and they were of hominids called paleoanthropus palestinensis. They were characterized as being similar to both Neanderthals, and homo sapiens. Their facial features were more like Neanderthals with the strong brow and chin, but the brain chamber was more similar to those of homo sapiens. Scientists do not know if these hominids were a result of Neanderthals having babies with homo sapiens, or if they were of a distinct line that has since become extinct. In the various graves found, the hominids were buried with things including flint, animal bones, shells, and the red ochre, of course.

Prior to this, burial like things have been found, but scientists cannot decide if they were true burials or not. While evidence shows these to be deliberate organizing of dead hominid bodies, some experts consider them more easily passed off as coincidence than the paleoanthropus palestinensis burials.

Human beings, and hominids that were a lot like us, have been at this burial thing for a long long time. An interesting timeline that discusses some burials and practices is listed here at this link if you want to read further.

http://www.spoilheap.co.uk/burial.htm

There is a lot of scholarly speculation as to what prehistoric religious beliefs are, and many theories came based on what grave finds were. I have a very unusual opinion about this.

I don’t think we can judge exactly what prehistoric people and hominids practices were based on what we dig up. There was no decipherable system of writing we can refer to, and simply looking at artifacts tells us little if anything besides the fact they used said artifacts for one thing or another.

And I am completely okay not knowing what they used those artifacts for.

Besides what researchers say, I hear a lot of other Pagans insist that artifacts were absolutely religious items, or a specific deity. I get vibes off artifacts sometimes too, but I understand that is how I relate to them, and it is possible that the people who created them related to them in different ways.

Moving along to our next topic in this exploration of death, I am taking a BIG jump in time and fast forwarding to more modern times in Eastern Europe.

Eastern Europe and Vampires

The various regions of Eastern Europe had their own distinct burial practices and what modern folk like to call superstitions. One so-called superstition many of the regions held in common was belief the dead could return and attack and even kill the living.

These beliefs came about for very understandable reasons.

For me, when a loved one has passed, sometimes, they come visit me. They sometimes touch me so that I actually feel a physical touch and turn and look behind me, only to see nothing. I see them in a crowd, or I see them in a dream. I am sometimes absolutely drained from these experiences. Sometimes, it’s just the grief, but some people believe the dead sometimes visit to draw strength from the living.

The first time this happened to me, a friend told me to light a candle for the deceased and put a little food out. It worked. The fatigue vanished. One could argue this was mere coincidence or the placebo effect. All I know is it worked, and I never questioned why. Gradually, the visits stopped too. Was it all in my head? I don’t believe so, but if it was, does it matter? If this worked for me, what harm could it have caused? Things are no different for other people.

One thing about me few people know is that I went through a time when I was absolutely fascinated with vampires. That was back before the time vampires were cool. I did a lot of reading both folklore and historic information. I discovered there were absolutely understandable reasons for belief in them, and there were equally understandable scientific explanations for the phenomenon.

Areas I will discuss include disease and contagion, sunken graves and fallen tombstones, and what happens to the body in the grave. All of these very real occurrences contributed to belief that the dead returned to claim the living.

But what did vampires even do?

Modern film, romance, and literature aside, the classic eastern European vampire was not handsome, sexy, loving, or charming. It was a monster. A soulless killer, and it was brutal and terrifying.

How a vampire was made varied by location. Mostly, though, one became a vampire for one of a very few reasons. 1) Being contaminated by another vampire. 2) Suicide. 3) Excommunication from the Church. 4) Having been a witch, or 5) having been mean or evil in life.

Other reasons such as a certain type of animal jumping over the corpse during the funeral or that the deceased was returning for revenge could cause vampirism as well.

The vampire was seen as a major problem for many reasons. Not only was this thing seen as ungodly, and destined to burn in hell, but if it made other people vampires, they would burn in hell too. Nobody wanted that. Aside from that fear, vampires were rapists and they caused death.

One very famous vampire case was that of Peter Plagojowitz. Not only did he demand food from his son after his death, but his son wound up dead soon after refusing to feed him. Nine people died in eight days, all of whom had reported they had been throttled by him after his death. Another case was of Jure Grando of Tinjan, Croatia. He died in 1656. Not only did he drink people’s blood, but he sexually harassed his widow. Necrophilia is seen as a laughing matter in mainstream culture, but few seemed to have that fetish in past times when it was believed dead people would try to have sex with you.

People noticed that after a certain person had died, sometimes members of their families or the general community started dying one by one. They would find out who had died first, assign the blame for all the deaths to this person, and use whatever remedies they believed would stop the vampire on this corpse. Outbreaks of tuberculosis and other diseases triggered suspicion of vampirism. It is also speculated somebody suffering from rabies would have been accused as well.

Premature burial before the days of machines to diagnose death without a shadow of a doubt triggered vampire accusations, and cannibalism of dead bodies due to starvation did as well.

Those great bodies!

Unfortunately, little was understood of what the human body does after death. If you do not embalm the body, then blood will bubble out of the mouth and the bodies gasses will make it bloat. Descriptions of bodies dug up and being “engorged with blood” with blood spilled on their lips can be accounted for by this. Lack of fast decomposition depended on methods of burial. One woman named Mercy Brown who was accused of being a vampire due to lack of decomposition had ironically been buried in an aboveground structure that was described as being like a form of freezer.

Growth of new hair and new nails and lengthening of the teeth has also been seen as signs of a corpse being a vampire. Truthfully, hair and nails do appear to grow a bit after death. Dehydration of the skin causes retraction of the scalp as well as the skin around the nails, so they appear to be longer even thought they really are not. It is the same way with teeth. The gums recede giving the illusion that the teeth have grown when they actually have not.

Dead bodies do more than just appear to grow, or gas up, or have body fluids come out through the mouth. They move sometimes. Bodies can sit straight up, and have been reported to do so on the death table or in the coffin. Eyes can spring open, as can the mouth. Imagine being at a funeral and having the corpse sit straight up, the eyes and mouth fly open, and a sound seem to emit from the mouth when this happens due to gasses making sounds.

Mom explained to me this is why eyes and mouths are sewn shut, and bodies were embalmed.

Those graves

One other thing that caused people to suspect vampiric activity was the fact that graves shift over time. While at times a white horse was released into a graveyard out of belief it would lead people to a vampire, graves that were altered that no living person had touched were suspect as well. After all, the vampire supposedly came out of the ground and reburied itself after feasting on the living. It was perfectly understandable the grave would not look the same as before this occurred. What people failed to realize was that those wooden coffins would decay due to water damage and sheer weight from the earth atop it. That would cause the ground above the coffin to sink. Thus it is called a sunken grave. Tombstones would likewise shift due to weather…or when a grave sank. Many of todays in ground burials combat this by using materials that withstand the weather and weight.

I scream you scream we all scream “VAMPIRE!!!!!!”

A short period now known as the vampire craze happened in Eastern Europe in the 1700’s. It resulted in a lot of bodies being dug up and mutilated in various ways designed to stop the undead for good. Things done to stop vampires included the ever famous stake through the heart or otherwise securing the body to the ground to keep it confined to the grave. The vampire could be buried upside down because it was believed the creature would not realize this had been done, and it would just keep digging and digging , thus burying itself deeper. The thing could be beheaded or burned. Blessings from the church also were considered effective in stopping a vampire. The vampire craze did not calm down until the Empress Maria Theresa of Austria intervened and ordered the practice of desecration of graves and bodies to combat vampirism as unfounded and had it shut down.

Although the craze died down in time, belief in real vampires exists to this day.

Voodoo and Zombies

Another undead “monster” that science debunked is that of the zombie.

A lot of white Pagans are fascinated with Voodoo although many have never attended a real voodoo rite nor would they dare kill a chicken in ritual. The focus on ancestor veneration, which is huge for modern Pagans is undeniable in Voodoo. While we share a practice, remember this was designed for people of African descent. They are the ones who cultivated this faith for countless generations before the Trans Continental Slave trade brought them to the Americas where they combined their indigenous practices with Catholicism.

I can tell you from experience, the lwa do not seem picky about race or whether you are initiated or not. They reach out to many, regardless of these things. I would never question the lwa or how they choose who to have a relationship with. I just know the difference between reading a couple of mainstream books on Voodoo and actually being in a closed door ritual officiated by ordained Voodoo clergy.

I have my relationship with Papa that does not entail me keeping communication with ordained clergy, but having seen what the actual practicing initiates do both in the US and in Haiti and Africa showed me this is not something to be entered lightly into. Nor is it something you do temporarily or for fun.

Voodoo often gets a bad rap because this discipline allows for curses, death spells, revenge, and there is a whole group of people trained specifically to use these workings. Torture is not frowned upon by these individuals and harsh physical punishment can be used at the discretion of the ordained clergy if they feel the initiates deserve it. This aspect of Voodoo is conveniently forgotten by white neo-Pagans eager to break from Christianity and find revenge spells when they feel wronged. I have spoken with people from Haiti who claimed many convert to Christianity because they believe Jesus will protect them from harm inflicted through Voodoo.

Zombies are part of Voodoo that fit in with the scary stuff. Zombies are real.

One of the best pieces of literature about Voodoo I have encountered is The Serpent and the Rainbow, a book by Wade Davis. A really fun horror film was made in 1988, which bore no resemblance to the book, but if you like horror, watch it.

In Davis’ book, he investigated the process of creating a zombie. This consisted of drugging somebody, burying them for a few days, and then digging them up once the drug has worn off a bit. According to Davis, brain damage from the drugs or regular doses of drugs keep people in that zombie-fied state. Supposedly the bokor , a sort of sorcerer, creates a zombie and keeps the zombie as a slave. It is believed zombies have no will of their own, and thus do everything the bokor says. If you get fed up with somebody, you can always pay the bokor to go and turn them into a zombie for you.

While Davis’ theories have been criticized and dismissed by some, another possible explanation exists. Naturally occurring mental illness is viewed differently in different cultures. Some researchers have suggested zombies may actually just be individuals who have mental illnesses.

Is it drugs, or mental illness or both or neither? We may never know, but zombies are out there.

Moving on from our scary death topics of vampires and zombies, let’s discuss some modern Pagan funerary customs.

Pagan funerals today

Many of us just go to the funeral and let other people officiate. Let’s face it. Most of us live in families that are not strictly Pagan. So we wear black, go to the funeral home, send flowers, and cry by the gravesite. Just like most American’s do. Yet, even if you are Pagan in a Pagan family, gone are the days of setting fire to a ship at sea or having your servants ritually murdered and buried with you and all of your possessions.

While I was doing a bit of research for this article, I found an amazing you tube video of a lecture on Viking burials that was done at Cambridge University. While it’s over an hour long, it’s a good watch. I actually learned a lot. Here is the link if you would like to watch it.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uu2gN8n15_A

Times have changed drastically. I highly doubt any of us would be buried with our pets heads in a bowl in our laps or with our family members and possessions.

Different neo Pagan traditions have entirely different practices than one another, of course,. There is one Pagan author’s funeral rite I would like to share parts of with you.

Celebrating Times of Change

Stanley Modrzyk published Celebrating Times of Change: A Wiccan Book of Shadows for Family and Coven Growth. Chapter 5 is Beyond the Veil-The Funerary Rite. This rite made me cry when I read the chapter. In it is embodied the elements of Paganism as well as modern times and could be used by any group wishing a truly Pagan funeral rite.

There are readings for Priest and Priestess, One of the parts I especially like comes from a reading for the Priestess, on page 76,saying “ We meet here today in both sadness and in joy. In sadness because a loved and respected friend (name of the departed) has left us…Yet we also meet in joy in the knowledge that his/her passing signifies that the work of his/her lifetime has reached it’s time of completion.”

Another intimate expression of neo-Pagan beliefs about death is reflected in a song many of us know and love, “Do Not Stand on My Grave and Weep. “ It comes from a poem written in 1932 by Mary Elizabeth Frye. Her poem was twelve lines and is below:

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 sunlight 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”

 

The poem has been set to music by many musicians, and while it was not written by a neo-Pagan, it expresses the belief that life is never ending, and moving from one body to another is just a transition.

Another modern source of neo=Pagan funeral practice comes from the Covenant of the Goddess. Here is the link that shares not only some history as well as suggested workings and some essays.

 

http://www.cog.org/merry-part-a-collection-of-neo-pagan-funeral-rites

 

I am also including the link to one of the eulogies for Issac Bonewichz that ADF did.

His passing was and still is felt by many.

 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=skAcJ3RwXWc

 

I keep going back to my mom’s words

Funerals are for the living.

 

As modern neo-Pagans we may believe in communication with the dead, but it is not the same as having our loved ones with us when they were living. We may be happy they have moved on to the next part of their journey, and believe we will join them again in time, but that does not make the time of physical absence any easier to deal with. While we may not believe the same the majority who are monotheists do- that death is final- we suffer as much when we lose somebody to death as anybody else. The rite I will offer will both memorialize the dead and comfort the living.

One thing you will have noticed by now is absent from the rituals I write is music. I do wear devices that allow me to process sound, but I am severely hard of hearing. So music is not something I use in ritual, myself. If you like to sing or chant, insert that anywhere in any ritual I write that you would like to use. For death rites, specifically, I always recommend that if a Highland Bagpiper is available, book them for your funeral.

Bob Dunshire published a Bagpipe Web Directory that lists some pipers for hire. When in doubt, you can always call your local police or fire department, as quite often , they know of a piper who does funerals.

Here is Dunshire’s link

http://www.bobdunsire.com/bagpipeweb/bpwpersna.html

 

And here is my favorite bagpiper leading a procession at President Ronald Regan’s funeral. Bagpipes have been carried on the battlefields for centuries. They lead celebrations, and memorialize times of grief.

 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Wo7MexlaQ30

 

Finally, here is the funeral rite I offer.

 

 

 

 

 

The Rite

 

Setup

-Set up your funerary room as you see fit, but set up a working space where speakers stand. A podium, if available or just a table, as you see fit. A few individuals should prepare the space, and call everybody in once everything is ready.

– You may or may not have the remains present, according to your preferences. It is important that if you are doing a service without remains that you have a representation of the deceased. You may just use a portrait of them, or have things that belonged to them present.

-The speakers should be near either the deceased or the items representing them. While the formal funeral of speaker and audience is not really on that I favor, my rite has the wake along with the funerary service, although this can be tweaked if you like.

-Have this service in the room where the meal will be. Have everybody sitting at tables or in a circle as you prefer for the service.

-There will be multiple parts and readings. Divide these up as many ways as possible.

-This will be open circle and there will be no banishing.

 

 

 

What to bring

-Have those present bring a dish to share for the potluck following.

-Bring one white tealight candle for each attendee. Place the candles in a bag or basket or plate and place on the altar. I use white tealights because 1) white is a universal magical color which contains all and nothing. It represents life, purity, enlightenment, as well as death in some cultures. 2) It is a very affordable way to have a lot of candles available.

-Hand a single candle that is a color or scent that was meaningful to the deceased, or use a white one. This candle will be sent off with somebody and can be used as they see fit.

-A candlesnuffer.

-Incense or smudging herbs.

-A pitcher of water and small cups, such as Dixie cups.

-Bring whatever you prefer to decorate the potluck table with. You may use the deceased’s favorite colors and flowers. You may put mementos out. If you like, combine the potluck table WITH the altar.

 

An explaination

Years ago, I noted a lot of pre Christian Pagans had ceremonial meals and they fed not only the gods, but also the living. Some cultural traditions such as those in parts of China and Africa, regularly set food aside for the dead. Memorial meal traditions call for a place at the table for the dead and food for them is provided while the living eat, thus they share a meal together, just as they did in life. This tradition is one I will incorporate in this rite. This is also a group rite as opposed to one that clergy officiates and everybody else watches.

 

Begin

Part1 – Hail and welcome to this scared space! I welcome you all to the celebration of life of (deceased’s name). Come inside and be seated.

(Then wait until everybody is seated.)

Part 2– (Have somebody light a stuck of incense) (Say the deceased’s name) We call you from the other side to be with us in spirit for our rite to say goodbye to you.

 

Part 3– (Have the youngest attendee who can safely light a candle light the taper candle either near the remains of the deceased or by their picture or mementos. If they are too young to do this reading, have somebody else read it for them. )This represents the light (deceased’s name) brought into this world, and into all of our lives. Like the needfires of the children of the old gods who have gone before us, we will take light from this light into our homes and take a part of light of (the deceased’s name) with us when we leave this celebration tonight.

 

Part 4– (Place your hand over a pitcher of water placed on the altar, enough for everybody there to have a little. Say the deceased’s name) Put some of the love you felt for us all into this water, Bless it, and we will drink it later. When you mean for us to, let a message of our life together come to each of us in the silence of our hearts, and comfort us that while we mourn your passing, that we will be together again.

 

Part5– (Stand over the food table) (Say the deceased’s name) Look upon the meal we have prepared to share with you. Draw strength and be nourished together with us.

 

Part 6-(Pick up the incense. Hold it up ) (say deceased’s name) Guide our hands in blessing one another, as we bless you. (Use it to first smudge the deceased, then sit the incense by the deceased for a moment. When you feel it is blessed, move clockwise, and take it and bless the first person, who in turn blesses the next person, and so on and so forth, moving clockwise. The last person in turn will be the one blessing the first person. Replace the incense.

 

Part 7– (Cup hands over the candle) All of you gathered here, focus the love and good memories you have of (deceased’s name) into the light of this flame. (Pause for the attendees to focus on this) Together, we consecrate this flame with the blessings and wonderful experiences we all shared with (deceased’s name). We ask (deceased’s name) to consecrate this flame with the love and good memories he/she has with all of us. Send these blessed thoughts and experiences away with us in our hearts and send with us a part of this consecrated flame into our homes. The steps on our journeys we were fortunate enough to walk with you are a permanent part of the rest of our journey. You have made a valuable impact none of us will ever forget, and one we are grieving has temporarily ended until we see you again on the other side.

 

Part 8– (Pick up the candles and hold them towards the deceased.) Each of us will light a candle from your blessed flame. We share what you share with us with one another. (Give each person a candle , then put the basket of candles down. This person will first light their own candle from the consecrated candle and flame. Then they will move clockwise, and light the first person’s candle, who in turn lights the next person’s, moving clockwise, until everybody’s candles are lit in this fashion.)

 

Part 9– (pick up the candlesnuffer) (say the deceased’s name) Thank you for giving each a blessed flame to take into our homes. We snuff this flame to preserve it, and each will relight when we get home. (Each person takes turns, snuffing their own candle, and passing the snugger clockwise. Do not blow the candles out. It is believed by many neo-Pagans that blowing a candle out as opposed to snuffing it out acts as a form of banishing, which we don’t want! The last person to use the snuffer replaces it on the altar.)

Part 10-(Two people do this part. One will pick up the pitcher of water. The other, the cups, and begins to pass the cups to each person, moving clockwise, while the other person speaks. The speaker holds the water up towards the deceased.) We thank you for your blessing, and we first offer a drink for you. (pour a little out on the ground or into a cup) (Say the deceased’s name) Refresh yourself with our love and blessings as we refresh ourselves with your love and blessings. (Moving clockwise, fill everybody’s cup. When this is finished, place any water left over on the potluck table.)

 

Part 11– Now, all of us can share a memory of (say the deceased’s name. This speaker goes first, and everybody either shares or passes. Once this is done, the food will be blessed and the celebratory meal will begin.

 

Part 12– (The person who is the elder of the group or who was closest to the deceased should do this part. Stand over the food table) I ask that you all gather in a circle around our table and join hands. (All join hands. ) May the Lord and The Lady bless this food before us. May we all have good health, much wealth, long life, and may we enjoy this meal with our beloved (say the deceased’s name) Blessed Be.

(All say Blessed Be, and un-join hands.)

(The same person will now make a plate for the dead and sit on it and a drink near the remains or the mementos) (Say the deceased’s name) As we have eaten with you in the past, so we share a meal with you again. You and the gods have blessed this food and drink as well as our lives in countless ways.

Losing the connection with your body does not change the fact our lives are interwoven beyond these lives, and we will physically abide in the same world with you once again.

Stay with us, and draw strength as we draw strength.

Blessed Be.

(All say Blessed Be, and begin the meal.)

 

Some traditions like to use “Merry have we met, merry shall we part, and merry shall we meet again” at the end, but I am not including it here. You can add it if you prefer.

 

………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………….

 

This was one of the most difficult articles I have written. That is because I am currently dealing with grief from the death of an Aunt I had really bonded with. In a nutshell, I am literally an outcast from my mom’s side of the family. This Aunt was the only one who reached out to me. Now, my family is big. There are people who never uttered a word against me, but they were not around due to distance or because we were not raised together. There are relatives on mom’s side of the family who would never hurt a fly! But, a long time ago, I stopped attending family functions because I was condemned by some of my family for standing up to my mother, who severely abused me. I did, however, spend a lot of one on one time visiting with this Aunt. I attended her funeral two days ago and was thanked for coming by a surviving relative who was unaware of the special relationship. I was in no mood to explain this. I was not in any state of mind to stay composed, and I was unable to be of comfort to any of the other people there. The reality of the possibility that I may never see anybody on mom’s said of the family after this is unbearable, but something I cannot change.

This is the first major death of somebody I was close to since I began moving through degrees in Wicca. I thought I was more prepared for handling things. I thought my view of death would make me immune to falling to pieces and because talking to the dead is so easy for me.

It’s not the same. I will never sit on the couch next to my Aunt and hold her hand again. I will not be able to call and see how she is and I will not get another phone call from her seeing how I am. There will be no more trips to visit and give her a pedicure. I will never listen to any of her remarkable stories again.

She will never take my hand again and tell me that if I ever felt I needed a mother, that I could come to her and she would be as a mother to me. She was the Aunt I could introduce all my friends to. My transgendered friends, my drag queen friends, my left hand path friends, my atheist friends, my housewife friends who did not work, my bad girl friends who got into trouble with me. There was not anybody on the earth who she would not be nice to based on their beliefs or lifestyle.

She was the aunt who always played practical jokes and was full of ideas for fun. In her youth, she wqas very outspoken, and was unapologetic about it, even raising her voice as she saw fit. As she aged, she was very sick, and could not raise that voice above a whisper sometimes.

She always said “I love you, come up when you can.”

She waited for me to come to her after she could not get out and go see people anymore. Now I find myself wondering when she will come back to me.

Hail Aunt Wanda, wherever you have reincarnated to. May we meet again, and happily so.

So mote it be.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Celebrating the Old Ways in New Times

August, 2015

I live in Westerville, Ohio. In the past weeks, big things have happened that have reminded me that I was a historic tour guide and am the daughter of a cemetery worker. My understanding of the dead and the past is unusual due to these things.

First off, as to the cemeteries, mom sold cemetery property and directed funerals for over twenty years. I went along for appointments in people’s homes while they were discussing grave markers, caskets, what type granite they preferred, what size urn or vase they preferred, etc. I knew how to behave at a funeral and how to be a comfort to strangers mourning the death of loved ones when I was not even ten years old. At one of the cemeteries where mom worked, the grounds keeper, affectionately called “Old William” used to let me tag along while he did his maintenance work. I remember our walks in the Georgia sunshine.

Years later, I would work in nursing homes, doing bedside visits with dying people.

Now, I can tell when a death is about to occur within my own family and friends circle sometimes.

A friend of mine introduces himself as “John, who speaks to dead people.” Well, so do I. And I always have, ever since I was a child. A lot of people who come to Paganism, witchcraft, New Age disciplines, and the other groups we circle with do, too.

What a lot of people forget is that this is nothing special. It is a normal human ability. I always say dead people are still people. They just don’t have bodies anymore. They still communicate with us. The thing that makes me and other people like me unique is that I have not forgotten how to communicate with the dead, despite the fact modern society does not support or encourage this. It encourages us to take a pill or go to a psychologist if we “hear voices”. While I do believe in the existence of psychotic illnesses, I also believe they are over diagnosed, and I am well aware of the fact that a lot of people, like my mother, ignore their natural abilities because mainstream culture believes it is all make believe or the topics for good fiction.

Having said that, don’t let me discourage you from seeking doctoring if you think you are hearing voices that are not there. You can communicate with your ancestors, but still have an illness…like me, for example. Without dumping personal information on readers, I will reveal, I do struggle with anxiety, but I DO talk to dead people also.

If you think dead people are telling you to jump off a building…and you take a pill and the voices go away, you need pills. If voices tell you to jump off a building, and you get blessed by a holy person, and the voices go away…you need to stay blessed, keep banishing, and be careful about conjuring. This is a case by case scenario, and nothing to play around with. The human body is so complex. One little part of the body could break down at any time. There is no shame in doing what is necessary to feel better!

I also worked as a tour guide at a Cavern. The site included local Native American History as well. I do research on my own and have befriended some people who are Native Americans.

In Ohio, the mound builders disappeared by 600 C.E. , but they left behind their burial mounds. Serpent Mound is certainly one of the most famous sites, but other mounds are all over the state.

One site that people are talking about right now is Shrum mound. Some sources state it has NEVER been excavated, but it is maintained by the Historical Society and it is accepted that it is a mound builder burial mound, meaning it is basically a cemetery site. Groups of people, some of whom are friends of mine, like to do drum circles there. An uproar ensued when trees were felled from the site.

Having studied as much as I have, I immediately knew it is accepted that mound builders kept the mounds cleared of trees. Could archaeologists be wrong? Sure. But attempts to keep as close as possible to historical accuracy is important. So, I knew that is why the trees were felled.

A lot of modern Pagans do not see it this way. “THEY KILLED TREES!!!!!” HOW COULD THEY!!!!”

This raises an issue white Pagans run into every time they come to a historic site. Not only one of misappropriation, but one of inability to wrap our modern minds around historic mindsets.

For one thing, we are inundated with messages that planting trees will save the earth and that because we use so much paper, deforestation will be the death of us. Actually, much of the paper we use comes from trees planted specifically to produce paper. Yes, some companies are tearing down rainforests, but it is not to get trees for paper, it is to get land. Deforestation was actually much worse when people relied on wood burning fires in their homes, and people preach that electricity is evil, but they forget coal pollutes the air and coal miners suffer excruciating back injuries and if falls or collapsing mines do not kill them, oftentimes, black lung makes them miserable later in life. These are lies the mainstream fills our heads with and get us riled up.

So some trees were felled at a mound because some trees were dead, and it was decided to fell all of them because it is believed mound builders kept trees off the mounds. It was decided to try to keep things historically accurate, and frankly, it is respectful of the dead to keep their burial site as they intended. But some people in town disapprove because trees are living things and people like to go to the mound and enjoy the trees. Some have said they feel the trees pain.

I am guilty of visiting mounds, myself. I am basically visiting the gravesites of people who I do not know for my own gain. I like to learn. Some people go for drumming. Some because it is a pretty day. Whatever the reasons, we are all basically visiting a cemetery that none of our family is buried in for our own gain if you think about it, and none of us think anything of it.

We do not think of ourselves as misappropriating ancient ways, but in many ways, we really are. How do we know that it is okay to do our Neo Pagan services at Stonehenge, and did you see the articles about all the garbage that was left there? Was that respectful keeping the old ways alive? Do you think the old gods and the ancestors were pleased with all the trash? I doubt it.

Somebody drove their truck upon Serpent Mound and left ugly tire marks on it. New grass can grow, which is no big deal. The deep disrespect shown is more disturbing. More news will come out. Was the individual drunk or stoned? Was he ill? Was he doing it on a dare? Was he lost and thought he was on a road? Now he is in jail, so we will get answers. He is only nineteen years old. What a horrible start to adulthood.

Can we truly say the Aztecs, Olmecs, Incas, and Mayans want us climbing their pyramids and touring their temples? What about visiting the pyramids in Egypt that are actually burials for the great Pharaohs and their families? Have you seen the programs that show people who go inside and lay down in the pyramids to try and be reborn sometimes?

What about the famous white “shamans” who do sweat lodge retreats including the one where people died?

One of the speculations at my Caverns is there may be indigenous remains in some of the closed off passages. I have often wondered if this is true, would the people who left their dead there want us leading tours down there?

The Rainbow Family had their gathering this year at The Black Hills. A lot of Native American people are very upset. Native Americans have lived in The Black Hills since at least 7000 BCE. Most recently, it was taken from the Cheyenne by the Lakota and promised to be off limits from white settlers in 1868 The Treaty of Fort Laramie. But it was discovered less than ten years later, there was gold there, and of course, white Americans took over the Black Hills. Aside from being owned and promised in treaty, various tribes consider The Black Hills to be the sacred center of the world. Some are very insulted by the fact Mount Rushmore, showing four US Presidents is carved into the mountainside.

In 1980, The Supreme Court ruled The Black Hills were unfairly seized and offered settlement money to The Sioux, which still stands. The Sioux to this day refuse the settlement, which is about $ 757 million, and instead want the land. I have not researched enough to see if they want to share with the Cheyenne and other tribes who had lived there. I would like to think so.

Some Sioux have been very vocal in expressing how much they do not what the Rainbow Family having their gathering at the Black Hills. Concerns about sanitation have been raised. Due to the fact the group is known for not renting porta johns, and instead creating makeshift toilets in the ground, and just leaving the human waste, people have asked the gathering to move elsewhere, but the group has refused. I did not like remarks some people made that I thought were discriminatory. Some people disapprove because some folks who come around the Rainbow Family smoke pot and some of them are nudists. Live and let live, people.

However, an article from July 10 states the gathering came to a close and drew about 2,000 attendees and cleanup has begun and is going well. You can read it at www.blackhillsfox.com/home/headlines/Rainbow-Family-cleaning-up-after-gathering-in-Black-Hills

It appears all the fuss was for nothing, and unless the 200 or so cleanup crew members get lazy, the group seems have been spoken against unfairly. I feel this group is accused of misappropriation, but misappropriated nothing.

Unfortunately, there really is a lot of misappropriation that goes on.

A lot of us Pagans, and those we circle with do not see it this way. We oftentimes do whatever we feel like. Then we call ourselves children of the “Old Ways”. This is not old practice. This is new practice. I am not saying people are necessarily wrong for this. I am saying we cannot claim we are practicing the old ways unless we are.

What we are actually doing is going to old sites, and doing modern things. We are modern people trying to reconnect. That is okay! Unlearning everything we have been taught since the day we were born is not going to happen. While we may temporarily feel at home with camping at retreats, or time in the garden, we get there via automobile as opposed to by foot or horse. We probably wear synthetic sunscreen and bug off. We do not eat the foods they did. Likely, we are not speaking the languages they did.

We do not live like people did way back when. Yet when we visit their sacred sites, those of us who are sensitive are bound to get messages anyhow, and read energy at these sites. At a South American site, for example, I was picking up on a massive fire, and I asked our tour guide about it. I also asked about human sacrifice at one particular monument. He said no. Upon visiting a museum the next day, there was an entire room devoted to the site we had visited. I had never researched the site before, and was just “listening” to what I was picking up on. Guess what? I discovered, by reading the museum information, that I’d heard right.

For those of us who are aware of the dead, and who practice magic, going to these sites means we sort of “plug in” to the power there. Not everybody can. It is still important to keep certain things in mind and not overstep boundaries. We have an advantage over a lot of other people, and with that comes great responsibility.

Rather than a ritual, since we are in between Sabbats, I will include a guidelines for those of you who are aware and communicate with the dead and who share their magic when you are visiting sacred sites.

Touring Historic Sites for Those who share the Old Ones Magic

  1. Getting there and Planning– Dress for the weather, and dress in layers if needs be. Find out where the bathrooms are when you first arrive. Call ahead to find out hours of operation, parking costs and nearby lodging, and food arrangements. Ask admission costs and do not forget to find out what form of payments they accept. Leave before closing time. Do not make the staff chase you around to get rid of you. If this is a site that is not run by a business or Historic organization and is off on its own, make sure you are allowed to be there. You will be arrested if you are caught trespassing. I know people this happened to, and it was not fun for them.
  2. Taboos and Keeping Rules– Doing as we are told is an unpopular topic in our circles. A lot of us ascribe to modern thinking, claiming we do not follow herd mentality. This is in, and of itself, however, herd mentality. When you get an entire society of people whose collective mantra is the same, it does not matter if it is something like “Nobody can tell me what to do, because I am an INDIVIDUAL!!!!” That is still herd mentality. We often make fun of people we refer to as “sheeple”, and then in the next breath say trying to organize Pagans is frustrating and like “herding cats.” Ancient people did not share this frustration. Besides, cats are actually easy to herd. All you have to do is get out the treats! While we may feel they lived in constrictive societies in the past, they cooperated with one another very well. That is how they built things like Stonehenge, Skara Brae, and fed villages of thousands of people without the technologies we utilize. They cooperated for the good of all. When visiting a site ran by the descendants of these ancient people, it is an expectation that visitors mind the rules of the event or site. That may include staying on trails and not touching certain things. You may be asked to switch off your cell phone and not talk out of turn. Remember, we are guests at these sites, and even if we pay admission, it is a privilege to be there, not a right. The hosts, living and dead, do not owe it to us to allow us to do everything we please. I will never forget the day a man brought his kids into the Caverns with trowels and told them to dig and hammer into the Cavern walls and allowed them to yell at the top of their lungs. He came into the office to complain to me when my boss kicked them out. He felt that because he paid admissions that they should be allowed to do anything they wanted to. Not so. It is very American to say “The Customer is always right”. On sacred sites, you might get by with something because the staff cannot stop you, but then again, you might not. Usually, though everybody is on the same page with expectations and everything goes quite smoothly.
  3. Take nothing but pictures, leave nothing but footprints.” Do not take anything, even rocks, leaves, and wildflowers. You could get fined. If you get permission to take something, that is different. Do not disturb wildlife. Some wildflowers are endangered and will not survive transplanting. As for animals, unless you are a professional wildlife expert, leave the animals alone. They are cute and fuzzy, and whatnot, and they can give you rabies, or you might unintentionally scare the little dears. You might think you are “rescuing a lost baby” when in fact the mother just went off to eat, and will soon return. ifacts are always off limits, no ifs, ands or buts.
  4. Do Research Before Arriving– If this is a well known historic site or indigenous group of people you are going to visit, the Internet is your best friend. You can learn a whole lot. People make fun of Wikipedia, but I have found it to be pretty reliable. Most groups, tribes, and Nations have websites, and you can find out plenty.
  5. When in Doubt, Ask– There really is such a thing as a stupid question, but I seriously doubt that anybody who would take the time to read a list of suggestions would ask a stupid question. So nobody reading this asks stupid questions. By stupid question, I mean one like the question asked by a stereotypically white, middle aged male hick who was wearing “God Bless The USA” Tee shirt to a Pow Wow. He asked a seventeen year old Native American speaker what the speaker thought of the bombing of the World Trade Center. The boy said, something along the lines of ‘Well, I am an American, too. It’s my country, too. So I was bombed, too.’ Another white hick who was wearing almost the same outfit asked the same speaker the exact same question a few minutes later. I believe these were stupid questions. What did they expect the boy to say? “Terrorist bomb good! Kill many white man!!!! Make Indians big happy!!!!!!!” At a Highland Festival, a friend of mine asked a kilted athlete what men wore under their kilts. He was so used to it, he didn’t even think about it. He just lifted his kilt up and showed her that he had on custom made shorts that matched his plaid. People are curious and want to learn at these events and sites, and people who know the answers come prepared to teach.
  6. If You Feel Uncomfortable Don’t Go– It is that simple. If all your friends are going, and something does not sit well with you for whatever reason, find a way to wriggle out of going. Most especially if this is a site that is sacred. Your gut might be telling you to stay away. Just because a site is sacred does not mean it holds sacred meaning for everybody. That is alright.
  7. The Dead Like to Connect to The Living– They always have, they always will. So if you are like me, you will communicate with them. You might have life changing experiences after visiting sites. But keep your shields up, and make sure to banish or smudge or cleanse.
  8. You are on Their Turf and Their Time– Think of it as another time and another world where modern life ceases to be. We judge history and historic people through modern eyes, simply because that is the only way we know to view things. Try to suspend judgement. I am not saying you should condone crimes and atrocities like brutalities and abuse. But to assume that food was weird, their religion was barbaric or sinful, their clothes were uncomfortable, the music was lame, transportation and technology was inferior, life was unbearable, etc. is taking a bias that people failed in the past to lead quality lives because they did things differently than us. Different is not wrong. Different is just different. It can be interesting to discover how they did things. I was having a conversation with a feminist once. She was under the impression that all husbands always brutally beat their wives and children constantly in all parts of the world until the American feminist movement gave women a fair shake. She also believed that all women in all other parts of the world but America are oppressed and miserable. There are so many things wrong with this misconception. I told her human beings could not have survived as a species if they had done nothing but beat on one other constantly since the dawn of time. I have met so many people from so many different Nations. Even hijab wearing women. They are not covered in bloody cuts and bruises or brutalized and miserable. You will be pleasantly surprised by all the wonderful similarities despite our differences, which are quite interesting, and you might learn a new way of doing something you like even better.
  9. Enjoy!!!!!!!!

May you enjoy your trips and gatherings with the living and dead. Life is full of so many wonderful experiences. I have to admit, being a witch makes it all the more wonderful for me. Have blessed experiences. Blessed Be.

Spiralled Edges: Finding Nature in the Edges

June, 2015

Spiralled Edges – Looking at Death and Dying

A recent report released by the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman highlights the tragic number of people who are dying without dignity here in the UK. Specifically mentioned were too many incidences of people not receiving adequate pain relief, poor communication between health teams and families leading to family members not being present at time of death, inadequate out-of-hours services, and people being wrongly denied the right to die at home.

One can only hope that the recommendations for improved palliative, end of life care are acted upon and improved. While not mentioned specifically, dying with dignity includes more than just tending to physical needs and communicating effectively and sensitively. It must also include providing for a dying person’s spiritual and/or religious needs, however that may be expressed.

Every major religion has rituals designed to ease a person’s spiritual transition between living and dying. There are prayers and rituals to be whispered in the dying person’s ear in the moments before death, rituals of atonement (sometimes called Last Rites), and prayers to ease a family’s grief.

In my studies I have found a small amount of very good resources for Pagans on the subject, but they are an exception rather than a rule. “The Pagan Book of Living and Dying” by Starhawk, M Macha Nightmare and The Reclaiming Collective is one of the only books currently available to give guidance to Pagans on the subject.

Death and dying is a subject which we, as Pagans, need to look at and address, and put into written form for future generations to look to for guidance. It would be impossible to sit down and say when someone is Pagan you do X, Y, and Z readings and rituals. As individuals though, we can say, “I am Pagan and this is what death means to me.”

As part of the written work to become a Soul Midwife I was asked to take a look at what I would want my own end of life to be like, both in the days and weeks before and after death occurred.

While reflecting on these questions, I discovered many things, some trivial and some major.

I would want time for quiet reflection and introspection. While I might at times want the comfort of having friends near me, I wouldn’t necessarily want conversation. I would not want people around me who insisted on filling silence with words. Silence and solitude are both very important to me.

While I love music, I do not like it to be played loudly so any music would need to be soothing and kept to a very low volume, if played at all.

I like things that are soft and textured, and feel calmer when I have something to keep my hands busy. Fiddle patches, prayer beads, and textures on blankets to trace work well for me if I am confined to bed or a chair.

I am particularly sensitive to smells, so would not want any strong scents around me. Many essential oil scents give me headaches including lavender so I would not want these around me, unless it was very subtle and in the background only.

In visualising what I would want to happen after death I realised one thing that is important to me, but would seem trivial to most anyone else. I don’t want my feet to be wrapped in shrouding or covered.

Given a choice I would rather die at home, surrounded by my life. I don’t know if I would want family and friends around or not. Perhaps I would be able to handle having one at a time, and only those who would be comfortable sitting in silence.

I do not fear death, and have not feared it for a very long time. Death is not an enemy to be fought off at any cost; it is a necessary part of life. Without death, nothing could live. Even the soil in which we grow our food in is made up of plant and animal life which has died and decomposed. Death is part of a great cycle we all must travel – birth, life, death, rebirth (whether one believes this to be the rebirth of the soul or the decomposition of the old life and birth of new life or both together).

I would ask my friends and family to hold a celebration of my life rather than a mourning of my death. I have already discussed with my eldest adult son some of my wishes with regards to organ and tissue donation and the disposal of my body (cremation) as well as my desires for a Pagan-centred memorial service.

I would want to know that my children were going to be okay when I was gone. And I would be more at peace if I had had the chance to make final plans for them. I would most want to be able to speak final words with my children. I wouldn’t necessarily want to say goodbye because I don’t believe that death means goodbye. While we may have a time of being apart from each other, in time we will be together whether after being reborn again in a new body or in the spirit realm.

I encourage you to spend a bit of time talking to your family and friends about your own death. What things would bring you comfort? What things would help you to have a “good” death? And have these conversations now because next year it may be too late.

For more help and information, and guidance on forming these discussions with friends and family, I would recommend these websites:

http://www.dyingmatters.org/ Dying Matters

https://www.finalfling.com/ Final Fling

http://deathcafe.com/ Death Café

Herbal Creations

March, 2009

Crafty Natural Dyed Eggs and Herb Salad with Champagne Dressing

Crafty Natural Dyed Eggs

With Ostara just around the corner, everyone in my house is preparing for the coming spring.  Our yearly routine, after cleaning and clearing is the preparation for the celebration at Ostara.  I decided for this month’s column I’d add my families method of creating Ostara eggs and the herb salad that we serve with lamb.  I always use herb and vegetable dyes for eggs, as I am not about to eat or serve boiled eggs coated in chemicals.  Doing the herb dyes takes quite a lot longer than it does with the variety you buy in the local store. I personally don’t mind the extra time it takes, as I know they’re safe to eat, without any mysterious additives.  I hope you’ll all forgive me for adding some veggies to the dye list, as sadly the eggs can’t be done with herbs alone.  This method requires a bit of preparation and a lot of experimentation, but it’s all great fun.  You’ll need a pan big enough to allow the eggs to roll around in the boiling herb/veggie and water mix.  I always add my herbs first, then the eggs, cover them with enough water to leave about 2 ½ inches above them so they can roll around well.  For each quart of water you add, add about a teaspoon of white vinegar (the vinegar makes the color more bold).  Allow the eggs to come to a rolling boil, then reduce the heat and simmer for 30 minutes.   Remove the eggs, and allow them to sit in an egg carton long enough to dry, then decorate with glued-on dried herbs, markers, or similar things.

How to get the color: (Of the list below, you can add a single item or any combination you wish, it’s all experimentation to get the result you desire).

Purple:  crushed violets, purple pansy, geranium, grape juice (frozen concentrate seems to work well), blueberries or blackberries

Yellow: Chamomile tea, goldenrod, dandelion tops, daffodil blossoms, orange or lemon peels, carrot tops (yes I mean the green part), green tea, celery seed, cumin

Red: Hibiscus flowers (I use the tea), red onion skin (you’ll need a good quantity of these, ask in the produce department if they’ll save them for you), pomegranate juice, cranberries, raspberries, fresh beets (cut up, sometimes this produces a more pink color)

Blue: Red Cabbage leaves, liquid grape juice

Green: Spinach leaves (these may take a bit longer than 30 minutes, use your own judgment on the color)

Brown/Tan: I use discarded coffee grounds (about 3 pots worth), black walnut shells and black tea (used tea bags)

Herb Salad with Champagne Dressing
Herb Salad

4 cups baby spinach leaves

1-cup fresh mint leaves

¼ cup fresh parsley

¼ cup fresh basil leaves

Goat cheese (to your personal flavor)

Champagne Dressing for Herb Salad

1 cup of extra virgin olive oil (the best quality mild flavored oil you can get)

¼ cup champagne vinegar

½ cup champagne

A dash of sea salt (to taste)

A dash of freshly ground pepper (to taste)

½ teaspoon of white sugar

Blend all of the above in a blender, refrigerate for at least 30 minutes before serving.