There are many misconceptions, assumptions and misunderstandings about Pagans, Wiccans and Heathens. Some are rooted in age old myth and others are rooted in ignorance and fear. Whatever the case may be, there are several things that I would like to address. Here are some of the questions we are often asked:
No actually, we don’t. The “devil” is a Christian construct and not something/someone that Pagans, Wiccans or witches believe exists, much less worships. The Pagan Gods and Goddesses are in no way related to the devil or Satan although many depictions of the devil and/or Satan closely resemble the God Pan, who is guardian of the forest, the wild parts of nature and known for playing a wooden flute.
“Aren’t you afraid of going to Hell?”
Again, no. Like the “devil” is a Christian construct so is “Hell”. I personally am not concerned about damnation or Hell and neither are any of the other Pagans I know because it’s not a place that exists in our beliefs. I do believe in an Underworld, but it’s not somewhere that fire and brimstone, gnashing of teeth or torture and torment exists. It’s simply the land of the dead. A place that isn’t feared by most Pagans because we see death simply as part of the cycle of life, not something to be feared.
“Isn’t Paganism like a cult?”
No, it’s not. Not any more than any other religion, anyhow. Paganism is an umbrella term that includes many different recognized religious groups including Wicca, Santeria, Voodoo, Asatru, Druidism and many other earth-based and re-constructionist focused belief systems. The definition can seem a bit vague though. If you look it up in Merriam-Webster it defines a cult as: 1.”a small religious group that is not part of a larger and more accepted religion and that has beliefs regarded by many people as extreme or dangerous”. 2.”a situation in which people admire and care about something or someone very much or too much”. and 3.”a small group of very devoted supporters or fans”. Many Christians may argue that many of the rituals, practices and beliefs shared by Pagans seem “extreme and dangerous” to them, but that doesn’t make it true. There are rituals in every religion, some are unique to that faith and others are shared. For instance, lighting of candles and incense… Christians and Pagans share this ritual. Chants and spoken prayers… Buddhists, Christians and Pagans all share this ritual. Sacrament/Cakes and Ale/ Eucharist/Communion… shared ritual that Christians and Pagans both share.
I believe that the more common understanding of a cult is where a small group of people become isolated from the general public and are brainwashed into believing a certain set of extreme or fringe beliefs perpetuated by a single charismatic leader who uses his/her influence to control, manipulate and monitor their followers every move with fear/intimidation, guilt, seizing their money, relationships and time. Often times the leader claims to either be God or have a direct line to God where they insinuate their instructions, beliefs and requirements are inspired by God and failure to comply will result in damnation.
This is not something that Pagan groups do. Most operate transparently and although some covens or circles are secretive and limit those involved, they do not try to consume someones entire life or impose restrictions on who they can interact with, how they spend their money or where they can go.
“Do Pagans perform human or animal sacrifices?”
The short answer is no. I don’t know of any Pagans who believe in human sacrifices or of any tradition that promotes or condones human sacrifice. In ancient times, many cultures are believed to have participated in human sacrifice. This sacrifice of life was considered to be the ultimate offering to appease the Gods. The most well known culture to engage in human sacrifice are the Mayans. However, human sacrifice is not a practice that is accepted among civilized cultures in 2016. With the establishment of law and order, human sacrifice would be considered murder. So no, Pagans don’t sacrifice humans.
What about animals? Well, not as a universal belief or practice. However, there are many Pagans that are involved in animal husbandry and farming. Some of those Pagans may consider the slaughtering of their animals as a ritual sacrifice and offer some of the meat rendered as a gift to the Gods. As a universal practice though? No. Most Pagans do not practice animal sacrifice.
“Why don’t Pagans believe in God?”
Well, we do actually, just not in the Abrahamic God worshiped by Christians, Jews and Muslims. In fact, most Pagans are polytheistic, meaning that we believe in the existence of many Gods, but typically honor the Gods of our individual traditions. Others who identify as eclectic, like me, honor the Gods of many traditions depending on which Gods we are working with at the time.
“Do you guys have orgies in your rituals?”
Nope. While many Pagans do prefer to participate in ritual skyclad (naked), ritual orgies aren’t typically something that happens at public or private rituals. However, there is a sacred ritual called The Great Rite that is observed both symbolically (through the use of an athame and chalice) and literally (through the joining of two individuals in sexual union) by some Pagans. It’s not observed by everyone and those who do observe it generally do not consider it casual sex or an orgy, as it’s carried out with either their spouse/mate or close coven/circle mates, not usually strangers and is considered sacred in nature. This particular ritual is often carried out around Beltane, during the Spring Equinox, as a fertility ritual in honor of the God and Goddess and their sacred union.
“Do Pagans, Wiccans and/or witches cast spells or hex people?”
Yes. Many Pagans, Wiccans and witches use spell casting the same as others use prayer. Magic is considered part of the natural world. Many Pagans, Wiccans and witches believe that they are able to tap into the energy around them and through spellcasting, using their will and intent bring something they desire to fruition. Spellwork is often part of ritual and devotionals used for healing, prosperity, protection, clarity, fertility, luck and other intent. Spellcrafting can be charged and cast alone or as a group.
As for hexing, Wiccans follow the Wiccan Rede and the Rule of Three which essentially says “An ye harm none, do as ye will.” and “Whatever you put out will come back to you threefold.” So Wiccans do not hex. As for other witches and Pagans, I believe that there are some who do. Many will say “A witch who cannot hex, cannot heal.” and I believe in that adage. The way that I personally use hex spells and symbols is to ward off negative energy, not send it to someone else. Rather than try to reinvent the wheel, I’ve found that using the hex symbols used by the Pennsylvania Dutch work well for my purposes. I suppose whether one chooses to use magic with the intent to hex or harm is up to the individual. So to answer the question, yes, some do hex. Those who do, understand the risk of using this kind of magic and generally do so very judiciously.
“What kind of people believe in witchcraft and the occult? Should we be afraid of them?”
All kinds of people from all walks of life. We’re every day normal people, with normal jobs and families who happen to believe in something outside of the mainstream religious ideologies of Christianity, Judaism or Islam. We are teachers, doctors, lawyers, engineers, clerks, writers, police officers, accountants, nurses and in all other fields of work. We’re parents and grandparents. We’re sisters, brothers, cousins, aunts and uncles. We’re business owners. We’re land owners. We’re straight, gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender. We’re Asian, Hispanic, Caucasian, African-American, Native American, Pacific Islanders and every other race, color and creed. We’re your neighbors. We’re your friends. We’re people you see and speak to on a daily basis. Some are quite overt about their beliefs and some are discreet. Not all remain hidden or afraid anymore. We aren’t looking to recruit your children or convert you. We just want to live, work, raise our families and practice our constitutionally protected right to believe in the God or Gods of our choosing. You shouldn’t be afraid of us, but you should be mindful of us. We’re everyday people and we’re everywhere.
As long as I’ve known about them, I’ve been fascinated with labyrinths. When I was younger, I always associated them with mazes that were so complex that you were sure to get lost in them or worse yet you’d end up arriving at… The Bog of Eternal Stench. It didn’t help that when I was 8 years old I saw Labyrinth and all I could think of was Sarah making her way through the Goblin King’s labyrinth in order to save baby Toby. What always stood out to me about that movie, aside from the maze Sarah had to navigate, was the magick within it. From fiesty Hoggle to brave Sir Didymus and his trusty sheepdog steed… within the Goblin King’s labyrinth was magick in abundance. Always magick.
It should make sense that the thought of labyrinths insights the images of magick to me even now that I’m a grown woman. I still see them through the eyes of a child in that way. They will always hold that air of mystery and magick. Even the most simple labyrinth drawn on the ground or laid in brick brings on the need to walk it, dance it, meditate within it… no way I could just breeze on by one without paying it some attention. They have and always will be special to me.
In many cultures they are thought to serve as traps for malevolent spirits and in others as a defined path for ritual dance. Still others believe they signify a symbolic pilgrimage; people can walk the path, ascending toward salvation or enlightenment. Since many people couldn’t afford to travel to holy sites and lands labyrinths and prayer substituted for such travel. Over time, most of the spiritual significance (especially in Christianity) of labyrinths faded and they served primarily for entertainment. Recently though their spiritual significance has seen a resurgence. Not just with Christians, but also with Buddhists, Pagans, Hindus and other spiritual people. Many newly made labyrinths exist today, in people’s personal gardens, in churches and in parks. Modern mystics use labyrinths to help achieve a contemplative state and for meditations.
The history behind them is especially interesting to me. Daedalus built the original for King Minos of Crete at Knossos. Its sole purpose and function was to hold the Minotaur, the half man and half bull creature. Eventually the Minotaur was killed by the Athenian hero Theseus. The story goes that Daedalus had made the Labyrinth so difficult and skillfully that he could barely escape it after he built it himself. Fortunately for Theseus, Ariadne provided him with a skein of thread, literally the “clew”, or “clue”, so he could find his way out after slaying the Minotaur.
According to Through the Labyrinth by Hermann Kern, “In colloquial English, labyrinth is generally synonymous with maze, but many contemporary scholars observe a distinction between the two: maze refers to a complex branching (multicursal) puzzle with choices of path and direction; while a single-path (unicursal) labyrinth has only a single, non-branching path, which leads to the center. A labyrinth in this sense has an unambiguous route to the center and back and is not designed to be difficult to navigate.”
This leads me to wonder where the idea that mazes and labyrinths were synonymous came from. Many people, not just myself, think of the labyrinth in the movie with many ways to go and many twists and turns… and we’re all wrong according to Kern. So what was so difficult about navigating the original labyrinth built to hold the Minotaur? Magick, of course! I mean, what else could it be? Surely, if the Minotaur really wanted to he could just plow through the hedges and find his way out, but something kept him trapped… if it wasn’t the branching puzzle of a maze it could be magick, right? Well I think so!
Most labyrinths I encounter now-a-days are brick laid or made with stones. It’s quite a rare occasion to see a garden hedge labyrinth anymore, at least it has been for me. Hedges or stones, labyrinths are something I go out of my way to indulge in. However inaccurate the movie is about the true nature of the labyrinth, I’m not sure labyrinths would hold the same mystery and magick that they do for me if it wasn’t for the way it was portrayed. Besides, a story loosely based on a myth is bound to be embellished a little… especially when the embellishment makes it that much more magickal!
Whenever I walk a labyrinth I find myself counting steps and inhaling a little more deeply than usual. It is more often than not, a very relaxing and cleansing sort of thing to do. It doesn’t take long to get into a meditative head space and as long as I am feeling inspired, I may decide to offer up thoughts or prayers to the Gods. Even though these spaces are not “nature” in it’s truest sense… they are IN nature. Since they are set aside for the purpose of spiritual nourishment I believe that is why I feel strongly connected to the Goddess when I’m counting paces inside the defined space of a labyrinth. They are beautiful both aesthetically, but their purpose is as well. I hope that if you have the opportunity to walk the paces of a labyrinth, that you will.
To find labyrinths near you check out the Labyrinth Society.
To most Pagans, when you hear about “jumping the broom”, that means someone is getting or has gotten married. Jumping the broom is an act carried out after the completion of a wedding or handfasting ceremony. It is a time-honored tradition that signifies leaving the single life and crossing over the threshold into a new life together as a couple. The broom itself is symbolic, as it represents the ability to sweep away the old life and any negativity. In addition, jumping the broom is believed by many to bring fertility to the couple and as you “jump into a new life” you are leaving the old one behind ready to take on the world as a team.
The origin of the tradition is unknown, but many people have associated it with many cultures including: Roman, Celtic, Welsh and European Gypsy cultures as well as West African cultures. They have all practiced this custom in their own ways. Many of these people did so in secrecy either because they could not afford traditional weddings or because they were forbidden.
During the time of slavery in the American south, many African slaves performed “broom-jumping weddings” in secrecy because they were not allowed to legally marry one another. Once African-Americans were legally allowed to marry, the tradition of broom-jumping pretty much disappeared because it was no longer needed. However, there has been a resurgence in its popularity, due in no small part to the miniseries Roots. Due to this, many modern-day African-Americans choose to honor this tradition.
It’s no wonder that many gay & lesbian couples have chosen to take up this custom and make a place for it in their wedding ceremonies. After all, in many places, they too aren’t afforded the right to marry whom they love.
You could say this tradition is indeed cross-cultural. Interestingly enough, the implications of the act of “jumping the broom” mean relatively the same thing to all people who decide to incorporate it into their wedding ceremony, regardless of cultural identity. I think more than a religious symbol though, to those people who started this tradition, it was a cultural custom. One rooted in superstition and mystery. Who wouldn’t want to make sure they put forth every effort to ensure a successful marriage?
This is just one of many wedding customs that Pagan couples may choose to incorporate to make their ceremony more meaningful for them. Similar to lighting a unity candle or binding their hands together with cords, what it comes down to is a symbol of unity and togetherness. It’s one that I happen to really like and hope to incorporate into my ceremony should I ever get married again. Whatever your cultural identity, you might consider adding this tradition to your handfasting or wedding, as the symbolism is universal and can add a little bit of fun to the ceremony!
Fire in the forge that
shapes and tempers.
Fire of the hearth that
nourishes and heals.
Fire in the head that
incites and inspires.
In more than 2,000 years the flame in Kildare has only ever been extinguished twice. Once by Henry of London, the Norman arch-bishop of Dublin who ordered it to be put out as he considered the tending process to be a Pagan practice and not to be tolerated. However, it was quickly relit by the locals and the Sisters continued tending the flame secretly until the 16th century’s British Reformation. During the Reformation, King Henry VIII had a campaign to destroy Catholic monasteries and in this process, attacked the St. Brighid foundation at Kildare, thereby extinquishing the flame. On February 1st of 1807, the Bishop of Kildare, Daniel Delany, restored the Sisterhood of St. Brighid and thereby re-lighting the Eternal Flame of Brigid. The Sisterhood of St. Brighid’s mission was at this point to restore the Ancient Order and bring back the legacy and spirit of St. Brigid to Kildare (and thereby the world). Today Brighid’s flame is tended in Kildare by Brigidine Sisters at their centre called Solas Bhride. It is by the dedication of those who follow her and the deep love for this Goddess that her flame, whether tended by Priestesses or nuns, has continued to burn bright not only in Kildare Ireland, but across the world. Every day there are men and women from many different paths who find themselves drawn to the warmth of her flame like moths. They light candles, tend hearths and keep the oil in their lamps filled in her honor.
While the calling to be a keeper of the flame is personal and the reasons one would feel compelled to do so varies, the most common reason is simply to honor the Goddess Brighid. Since fire is sacred to her, it becomes sacred to those who follow her. In lighting and tending her flame, the spirit and power of Brighid has a physical presence in our home. Some of the other reasons someone may feel drawn to tend a flame:
- As a healing request
- For creative inspiration
- For guidance
- To request protection
- As a reminder of her presence
- As a focal point in meditations
On the Daughters of the Flame site they say: “The reasons for rekindling are many. It is a celebration in our own lives of Her triple aspects of poet, healer, and smith. It is one effort to address the need for a global network of magical prayer, with special emphasis on some of the traditional concerns of Brigit. These include peace and reconciliation, sharing of wealth so that all will flourish rather than protecting wealth for a few, guarding the land and the creatures which nourishes us and share our lives, being tender with and caring for ourselves and each other. It touches on the need of individual women for a focus and a community through which to develop our personal spiritual practice, to reduce isolation and aid in developing our thought and learning while maintaining the autonomy of working as a solitary, if that is what we prefer or how we find ourselves due to life circumstances. It is, however, very much a self-motivated discipline, both in terms of tending the flame and in connecting with others in the group.”
Traditionally, tending the flame was done by 19 Priestesses who shared the task of tending the flame in 20 day rotations. Each of them tended the flame for a 24 hour period starting on sundown to sundown the following day. On the 20th day the Goddess Brighid tends the flame herself. At sundown following the Goddess tending the flame, the rotation starts anew.
Today in similar fashion as what was done by the Priestesses, each Flamekeeper is assigned a shift to tend Brighid’s flame on a 20 day cycle – 19 shifts, plus one day upon which Brighid tends the flame herself. Since the Celtic day runs from sundown to sundown, we tend from sundown to sundown. The expectation is that you will tend the flame for as much of the day as possible, taking safety into consideration. If you can only manage a few minutes, that is acceptable, although tending the flame the entire day is optimal. The longer you are able to tend, the more energy will be generated: an offering to this world and the otherworld, as well as to Brighid. Tending the flame isn’t meant to just be literal. The point of tending the flame is to spend time with your lit flame in prayer, meditation or silent contemplation. It is the best time to work on strengthening your spiritual bonds.
As a child of Brighid, I have always been drawn to fire and especially intrigued by those who are called to be flame keepers. There have been many times that I have considered tending her flame myself, but for whatever reasons have not followed through as a consistent vigil. This year that has changed and I feel the call louder than I ever have. As a member of Ord Brighideach International I have committed myself to tend her flame starting on June 5th. From June 5th until July 15th I will have 3 shifts where I am honored to keep her flame lit from sundown until sundown. Between now & August 1st I am trying to find 18 other people who are interested in creating a 19 member cell so that we can tend it in rotating shifts together. I’ve put out a request to members in my circle, but not all of them follow Brighid. My hope is that some of them will want to join, even if they don’t follow Brighid, as an offering to her and in honor of my devotion to her. Once I see if anyone from circle is interested I’ll open up the offer to join the cell to others in the broader Pagan community I’m a part of.
If anyone feels drawn to the ideal of being a flame keeper or feels a calling to dedicate themselves to Brighid, I would suggest looking into Ord Brighideach International. You have the option of being an individual flame keeper, joining an existing cell or creating a cell of your own. In addition, you can request and have a candle that was lit with the Kildare perpetual flame of Brighid sent to you for a nominal fee of just $3. If you think you might be interested in keeping the flame with me, please let me know as I am certain that I will need several people to make up my cell of 19 even after some of my circle members join.
I am looking forward to honoring Brighid in this way and hope that my relationship and understanding of her will deepen with each flame of hers that I have the honor of tending.
From the moment I became acquainted with “hex symbols” I’ve been fascinated with them. Both because of their beauty and because of their connotations. I’ve never been the sort of witch who is afraid to protect myself. So discovering a way to hex without being the aggressor seemed like a fine concept to me. It also gave me ideas for creating similar meaningful symbols to protect my personal belongings.
The Pennsylvania Dutch hex symbols give me inspiration. I love them! Contrary to popular belief, they are not used by modern Amish communities. So where did they come from?
About 300 years ago, groups of religious refugees from the Rhine region of Germany and parts of Switzerland migrated to south eastern Pennsylvania. These settlers, peasant farmers, came to take advantage of the religious freedom being offered by William Penn. They included Amish and Mennonites – people of “plain” dress – and Lutherans and other Reformed groups of more worldly dress called “fancy”. Over time, these people became known as “Pennsylvania Dutch”. Naturally, during the waves of emigration to the United States, these settlers brought their old world customs, traditions and folk magic with them to Pennsylvania. Some of the artwork is very simple and primitive, but often it is quite complex and detailed. The “fancy” farmers decorated their distinctive bank barns with large, colorful geometric patterns. Mystical bird and floral designs graced birth and marriage certificates and some furniture. These very colorful symbols, now called hex signs, had meanings or “legends”. A design was selected based on both its aesthetics and meaning for the family. Some of the more popular symbols included: sun wheel for warmth and fertility, hearts for love, birds (called distelfinks) for good luck and happiness, tulips for faith and stars for luck. The specific colors used also had meaning: red for your emotions, yellow for love of man and the sun, green for growing things, blue for protection, white for purity, and brown for Mother Earth.
Although hex signs are not generally associated with modern or even ancient Pagan religions, they are certainly worth taking note of. These hex signs are symbols painted on homes, cradles and barns for a variety of magical purposes. Typically, the designs are painted on a circular
background. Each symbol has a different meaning, and so some hex signs may include multiple symbols, depending on what the property owner wants to accomplish. These symbols include protection against fire and natural disasters, magical attack and illness. Sometimes, rather than being for protection, a hex sign may include symbols for prosperity, good health and even weather magic.
I know that many practitioners of the Craft may feel that hex signs or symbols are against their personal beliefs because they have the potential to do harm. Those that follow the Wiccan Rede may not care to use hex signs or symbols and I can respect that. However, I am neither Wiccan nor do I follow the Rede. The way that I feel about them is that: Hex signs & symbols are clearly displayed and serve as a warning. They do not impose on the free will of anyone. If someone chooses to intentionally disturb or mess with property that clearly displays a hex sign or symbol then they are knowingly risking harm to themselves. These signs are no different to me than casting a protective circle around myself prior to entering a space I know is volatile towards Pagans. They do not cause harm to anyone else unless harm is first intended by them.
As with any spell casting, hexing in this fashion should not be taken lightly. These symbols are not just lovely decorations, they have meaning and if used as a true hex symbol, they have the potential to cause harm. It is always wise to use such powerful magick judiciously. While it may not be a popular school of thought, I am someone who believes that “a witch that cannot hex, cannot heal.” Life is all about duality and balance. Knowing the gravity of the power you possess is paramount in keeping things in perspective. Newton’s Third Law of Motion comes to mind: “To every action there is always an equal and opposite reaction.” While it is possible to try and live in such a way that causes no harm to anyone or anything, it is unnatural and unrealistic. With that in mind, I’d advise any of you who would like to use hex symbols, to do so with the understanding that they are more than just pretty pictures, they are powerful spells.
When I think about grief and loss, as a Pagan, I feel that how I deal with it is much different from many of my friends and family who are Christian. Death has never been something frightening or scary to me. I’ve always seen it as the next phase of the cycle of life. I don’t believe in the existence of hell in the Christian sense so I think that maybe that removes much of the fear so many others seem to have surrounding death. That’s not to say that I don’t respect death, I do. However, I believe in celebrating life over mourning death. So when those that I love have passed through the veil, my inclination has been to celebrate the life they lived, play the music they liked, toast them with the alcohol they enjoyed and spend time with those they’ve left behind to reminisce and share our fondest memories of them.
I will admit that I do not like to attend funerals. I tend to prefer to grieve in private or surrounded by only my closest family or friends. While tears are shed, I somehow have found ways to laugh during times of grief. Those moments seem to heal and cleanse my aching heart more than any fancy funeral procession could. I also do not like the idea of being buried in a casket. I’d rather be cremated and returned to the earth. I hope that when I die, someone will plant a tree and bury my ashes with it or scatter them in the Pacific ocean.
I really like having an ancestor altar during Samhain and making it a point to honor those who have gone before us. I think that many Pagans find a lot of peace and closure in rituals done for or surrounding the memory of their loved ones. How we see death and treat it seems to be very unique to our community. We seem less afraid and more comfortable with talking about and dealing with grief than many other spiritual communities. So much that we are willing to commune with them, invite them into ritual space and seek their guidance when dealing with important issues in our lives. I know that after losing my cousin, my circle family was very integral in helping me cope with his loss. The year that he died, I lead Samhain ritual and was able to release a lot of the pain and turmoil surrounding my feelings about losing my vibrant 24-year-old cousin to suicide. Their support and love saw me through to the other side of my grief with peace and solace. Not to mention… a lot of gratitude.
Grief is defined as deep sorrow or mental anguish, esp. that caused by someone’s death. It is a reaction to loss and varies from person to person. Some people are very solemn and quiet about grief and others are very vocal about grief, sobbing and may even collapse to the ground. Grief will also vary with each loss; meaning that your reaction to the loss of one loved one may not be the reaction to the next.
Most people go through a grief process that comes in stages. It takes awhile to work through all of the stages, but they are good to know in the event you are dealing with grief or helping someone else through it.
7 Stages of Grief:
1. SHOCK & DENIAL- You will probably react to learning of the loss with numbed disbelief. You may deny the reality of the loss at some level, in order to avoid the pain. Shock provides emotional protection from being overwhelmed all at once. This may last for weeks.
2. PAIN & GUILT- As the shock wears off, it is replaced with the suffering of unbelievable pain. Although excruciating and almost unbearable, it is important that you experience the pain fully, and not hide it, avoid it or escape from it with alcohol or drugs. You may have guilty feelings or remorse over things you did or didn’t do with your loved one. Life feels chaotic and scary during this phase.
3. ANGER & BARGAINING- Frustration gives way to anger, and you may lash out and lay unwarranted blame for the death on someone else. Please try to control this, as permanent damage to your relationships may result. This is a time for the release of bottled up emotion.
You may rail against fate, questioning “Why me?” You may also try to bargain in vain with the powers that be for a way out of your despair (“I will never drink again if you just bring him back”)
4. “DEPRESSION”, REFLECTION, LONELINESS- Just when your friends may think you should be getting on with your life, a long period of sad reflection will likely overtake you. This is a normal stage of grief, so do not be “talked out of it” by well-meaning outsiders. Encouragement from others is not helpful to you during this stage of grieving.
During this time, you finally realize the true magnitude of your loss, and it depresses you. You may isolate yourself on purpose, reflect on things you did with your lost one, and focus on memories of the past. You may sense feelings of emptiness or despair.
5. THE UPWARD TURN- As you start to adjust to life without your dear one, your life becomes a little calmer and more organized. Your physical symptoms lessen, and your “depression” begins to lift slightly.
6. RECONSTRUCTION & WORKING THROUGH- As you become more functional, your mind starts working again, and you will find yourself seeking realistic solutions to problems posed by life without your loved one. You will start to work on practical and financial problems and reconstructing yourself and your life without him or her.
7. ACCEPTANCE & HOPE- During this, the last of the seven stages in this grief model, you learn to accept and deal with the reality of your situation. Acceptance does not necessarily mean instant happiness. Given the pain and turmoil you have experienced, you can never return to the carefree, untroubled YOU that existed before this tragedy. But you will find a way forward.
You will start to look forward and actually plan things for the future. Eventually, you will be able to think about your lost loved one without pain; sadness, yes, but the wrenching pain will be gone. You will once again anticipate some good times to come, and yes, even find joy again in the experience of living.
Below are the funerary practices & rites of some of the ancient cultures many Pagans base their modern-day practices off of:
In researching ancient funerary customs I discovered that the Celts buried their dead in burial mounds usually with weapons, food and other ornamental items. Most believe that the ancient Celts & Druids burying them with those items was an indication that they believed in reincarnation or an afterlife.
The traditional wake was held in the home of the deceased or at the home of a close relative; this is known as the wake house. A room will be prepared for the deceased, in the past it would have been a parlor but more often these days a bedroom is used.
After death a window is opened to allow the spirit of the deceased to leave the house, no-one must stand or block the path to the window as this may prevent the spirit from leaving and will bring misfortune to the person who blocks the route. After two hours the window should be closed as this will prevent the spirit from re-entering.
The body is washed and dressed; in times gone by they would have been clothed in white. If the deceased was a male he would have been freshly shaved. This is known as being ‘laid out’.Candles are placed at the head and foot of the coffin and remain lit while the deceased is still present in the house. Family members or close friends will stay with the deceased at all times taking it in shifts to watch over the departed. All clocks in the house will be stopped at the time the person died and all mirrors will be covered or turned to face the wall as a mark of respect. Also, traditionally all the curtains will be closed.
In earlier times ‘keening’ would have taken place. This is when the women family members would cry and wail over the deceased. This took place after the body had been laid out, if the women started ‘keening’ before the body was ‘laid-out’ it would invoke evil spirits. ‘Keening’ would have carried on for some time. One wonders if this has some bearing in the legend of the banshee.
In ancient Rome, the eldest surviving male of the household, the pater familias, was summoned to the death-bed, where he was supposed to try to catch and inhale the last breath of the decedent.
Funerals of the socially prominent were usually undertaken by professional undertakers called libitinarii. These rites usually included a public procession to the tomb or pyre where the body was to be cremated. The most noteworthy thing about this procession was that the survivors bore masks bearing the images of the family’s deceased ancestors. The right to carry the masks in public was eventually restricted to families prominent enough to have held curule magistracies. Mimes, dancers, and musicians hired by the undertakers, as well as professional female mourners, took part in these processions. Less well-to-do Romans could join benevolent funerary societies (collegia funeraticia) who undertook these rites on their behalf.
Nine days after the disposal of the body, by burial or cremation, a feast was given (cena novendialis) and a libation poured over the grave or the ashes. Since most Romans were cremated, the ashes were typically collected in an urn and placed in a niche in a collective tomb called a columbarium (literally, “dovecote”). During this nine-day period, the house was considered to be tainted, funesta, and was hung with Taxus baccata or Mediterranean Cypress branches to warn passersby. At the end of the period, the house was swept out to symbolically purge it of the taint of death.
Several Roman holidays commemorated a family’s dead ancestors, including the Parentalia, held February 13 through 21, to honor the family’s ancestors; and the Feast of the Lemures, held on May 9, 11, and 13, in which ghosts (larvae) were feared to be active, and the pater familias sought to appease them with offerings of beans.
The ancient Greek funeral since the Homeric era included the próthesē (πρόθεση), the ekphorá (εκφορά), the burial and the perídeipno (περίδειπνο). In most cases, this process is followed faithfully in Greece until today.
Próthesē is the deposition of the body of the deceased on the funereal bed and the threnody of his relatives. Today the body is placed in the casket, that is always open in Greek funerals. This part takes place in the house where the deceased had lived. An important part of the Greek tradition is the epicedium, the mournful songs that are sung by the family of the deceased along with professional mourners (who are extinct in the modern era). The deceased was watched over by his beloved the entire night before the burial, an obligatory ritual in popular thought, which is maintained still.
Ekphorá is the process of transport of the mortal remains of the deceased from his residence to the church, nowadays, and afterward to the place of burial. The procession in the ancient times, according to the law, should have passed silently through the streets of the city. Usually certain favourite objects of the deceased were placed in the coffin in order to “go along with him.” In certain regions, coins to pay Charon, who ferries the dead to the underworld, are also placed inside the casket. A last kiss is given to the beloved dead by the family before the coffin is closed.
Cicero describes the habit of planting flowers around the tomb as an effort to guarantee the repose of the deceased and the purification of the ground, a custom that is maintained until today. After the ceremony, the mourners return to the house of the deceased for the perídeipno, the dinner after the burial.
Two days after the burial, a ceremony called “the thirds” would take place, while eight days after the burial, the relatives and the friends of the deceased assembled at the burial spot, where “the ninths” would take place, a custom that is maintained until today.
According to historical sources, a Viking funeral consisted of cremation in a ship. Many funerals took place on land with the deceased being cremated on a pyre, (a structure, usually made of wood), in a boat and piles of stone and soil being lain on top of the burnt remains. Pyre’s were built on a ship, usually shaped like a dragon’s nose.
A funeral for a Viking could, at times, be a considerable, but necessary expense. It was also very common for gifts to be left with the deceased. The amount and the value of the goods were dependent upon the social group to which the deceased belonged and, therefore, it was important for them to be buried in a manner which allowed them to have the same social standing in the afterlife, and to avoid becoming an eternal wandering soul. The manner in which they were buried was also used to provide strength to the grieving family to carry on with their lives. In addition, it is said that sometimes thralls (slaves) were sacrificed upon funeral pyres so that they could serve their master in the next world.
In Viking funerals, there existed an element of fear surrounding death. If a proper burial were not provided for the deceased, the bereaved would be visited by the deceased as a form of revenge. Such a possibility was frightful, as it was interpreted to mean that additional family members would die. It was during the Viking period of starvation, when communities were seemingly struck with series of misfortunes that rumors about the revengeful souls began to flourish. The sagas tell of drastic precautions being undertaken during the Viking funeral ceremony such as a stake being be put through the body of the deceased, or its head cut off, as a way of stopping it from finding its way back to the living.
Modern Pagan Practices
I wanted to talk about some of the modern Pagan practices of honoring the dead. Ways in which you can help yourself or other Pagans through the process of grieving a loved one.
- The Dumb Supper:
In this case, the word “dumb” refers to being silent. The origins of this tradition have been fairly well debated — some claim it goes back to ancient cultures, others believe it’s a relatively new idea. Regardless, it’s one that’s observed by many people around the world.
When holding a Dumb Supper, there are a few simple guidelines to follow. First of all, make your dining area sacred, either by casting a circle, smudging, or some other method. Turn off phones and televisions, eliminating outside distractions.
Secondly, remember that this is a solemn and silent occasion, not a carnival. It’s a time of silence, as the name reminds us. You may wish to leave younger children out of this ceremony. Ask each adult guest to bring a note to the dinner. The note’s contents will be kept private, and should contain what they wish to say to their deceased friends or relatives.
Set a place at the table for each guest, and reserve the head of the table for the place of the Spirits. Although it’s nice to have a place setting for each individual you wish to honor, sometimes it’s just not feasible. Instead, use a tealight candle at the Spirit setting to represent each of the deceased. Shroud the Spirit chair in black or white cloth.
No one may speak from the time they enter the dining room. As each guest enters the room, they should take a moment to stop at the Spirit chair and offer a silent prayer to the dead. Once everyone is seated, join hands and take a moment to silently bless the meal. The host or hostess, who should be seated directly across from the Spirit chair, serves the meal to guests in order of age, from the oldest to youngest. No one should eat until all guests — including Spirit — are served.
When everyone has finished eating, each guest should get out the note to the dead that they brought. Go to the head of the table where Spirit sits, and find the candle for your deceased loved one. Focus on the note, and then burn it in the candle’s flame (you may wish to have a plate or small cauldron on hand to catch burning bits of paper) and then return to their seat. When everyone has had their turn, join hands once again and offer a silent prayer to the dead.
Everyone leaves the room in silence. Stop at the Spirit chair on your way out the door, and say goodbye one more time.
- Setting Up an Ancestor Altar:
In many cultures, ancestor worship is an ancient practice. Although traditionally found more in African and Asian societies, more and more Pagans of European heritage are beginning to embrace this idea. After all, we all want to know where we came from. You can build an altar to honor your ancestors, featuring photos, heirlooms, and even a family tree sheet. Leave it up all year-long, or set it out at Samhain. This is a good time to perform a ritual for Honoring the Ancestors.
- Last Rites:
Whether you officiate at the funeral your family attends or you choose to have a ceremony in honor of the loved one you’ve lost by yourself, with a small group of family/friends or with your circle or coven, honoring your loved one in a meaningful way is something you should participate in. You may choose to call upon your patron God/Goddess for guidance & strength, sing songs or play music you believe your loved one liked, read a poem, spread their ashes, or any number of ritual practices that you feel will help to bring a sense of peace and closure to your loss. There is no right or wrong way to do this. Do what is in your heart.
Hopefully when grief is upon you, you will find strength in your spirituality and those people around you who care most about you. Knowing that I can honor those who have gone before me has always been a great comfort. Even in my greatest despair, I have found peace and respite when I have turned towards ritual as a means to alleviate the burden of a heavy heart.