A Wiccan Priestess Plans a 'Traditional' Funeral
Article ID: 12447
Age Group: Adult
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Posted: July 6th. 2008
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Like many Neo-Pagans and Heathens, my Mother was a Christian. Unlike many, I had her full support on my spiritual path. While my religious upbringing was relaxed and could be considered “eclectic” it certainly was not Pagan.
I am documenting the preparation for my Mother’s funeral service, and the eulogy I wrote for this ritual not only to honor her but also to help those who find themselves surrounded by the symbols and language of another religion in a time of great emotional stress and pain. With a little modification I was able to honor who my Mother was as well as comfort myself in a time of sorrow.
The beauty of symbols is that they have many meanings. Words are symbols too this is why they are so powerful. Why they have the ability to bring us together or tear us apart. One word can have many meanings and often the personal and emotional associations over ride the strict definition of a particular word. What this means is that people do not always respond to what is actually said rather, they respond to what they “feel” has been said. This part of the reason communication with others can be so difficult. Especially in emotionally charged situations.
I found out that the funeral industry has a language all its own. When I inquired about having a candle at one or both ends of my Mother's casket at the wake, I was asked if I wanted a “Catholic set up”. I inquired as to what this meant and was told that there would be a candle placed at both ends of the casket. I replied that I did indeed want a “Catholic set up”. This term did not offend me in the least. What I wanted was the element that, for me, best represents Spirit and life force.
In placing a flame at each end of the casket, I hoped that people would be reminded that my Mother was not the body that was contained in the casket, that her Spirit, the essence of who she is, continued to thrive in another place. My Mother would call this place Heaven. I call it Summerland.
I easily got the candles-the symbols- and that is all that mattered to me. Who cares what the funeral industry calls it? I didn’t have the energy at the time ask them to use a more inclusive term. That would have to wait for another time.
On a personal note, pre-planning one’s own funeral is one of the kindest things a person can do for their loved ones. As is a living will. There is nothing more comforting to those who are left to make decisions for a loved one who is dying or has crossed over. However, even with arrangements in place there are still a surprising number of details to take care of and decisions to make.
For instance, I was also going to ask about making the strings on the balloons we sent up at graveside paper or biodegradable. However, I simply ran out of energy. This happens. Grieving is physically, emotionally and spiritually demanding. It is difficult to attend to every small detail in the short amount of time that is generally given to plan a funeral.
From experience, I recommend that those who do plan for their own funeral try to take care of as many of the small details as possible. Questions such as: open or closed casket at the wake and graveside service, whether to have a graveside service only, flowers or donations to a favorite charity?
All these details can become over whelming and even divisive to a family under stress and coping with loss. These are just a few of questions that come up for a “traditional” funeral. Imagine how much harder it is to make plans for a loved one whose religious beliefs include being buried in a manner that is less traditional? Say, eco-friendly?
For those of us who want to handle the disposal of our physical remains in a less traditional manner and a ritual that is more Pagan in orientation, pre-planning (including the legalities) is not just a matter of being sensitive to our family, it is essential. Otherwise our families will retreat to the more traditional manner of handling this rite of passage. And who could blame them?
I want to thank the members, both past and present, of Chalice Well Coven. Especially Aurora and Cuj. Not only did their friendship, support and love help guide me through this difficult time but without the training I received in Chalice Well Coven, I do not believe I would have been able to plan my Mother's funeral, write her Eulogy and speak at her funeral. I was working on my 3rd degree when my Mother died.
Before my Mother’s funeral, I was very concerned that I would not be able to write a ritual for this particular rite of passage. Without this ritual, I would not be able to finish my work and move through my third degree. I had only been to a couple of funerals before my Mother crossed over and, to be honest, I was afraid of attending them. My training not only allowed me to write this ritual but also allowed me to write something I was proud to honor my own Mother with.
Throughout this process I kept reminding myself that I was a trained Priestess and that I could do this-for my Mother, my family and myself. This experience has also allowed me to honor this rite of passage with less fear.
Helen Grace 1941-2006
My Mother died at the age of 64 on January 27, 2006. She was a survivor of Polio and spent a good deal of her childhood learning how to walk without braces or crutches. In the last years of her life she was in a wheel chair due to the physical complications of Post Polio Syndrome. Still, she was able to get around on her own and live an independent life until she went into the hospital for the last time two months before she died. At first, I was angry that she only lived to the age of 64.
While I still feel that 64 is too young to die, I also remember that the fact she survived Polio as a child and was able to live a normal life. This is no small miracle and something that should be remembered and honored.
I was the only person who was able to plan the structure of the services and speak at her funeral. I was lucky enough to have the support of the clergy person in the planning my Mother's funeral. “Cowboy” (yep, you read that right) told me that he would aid me in the creation of what I felt would be the most appropriate services to honor my Mother. He really seemed to connect to the symbols and message that I wanted my Mother's funeral to convey. In reality, he did much more than that. He completed the message and helped us send my Mother on her new journey with love, care and support.
As my Mother did not belong to a church, I was very concerned I would get a “fire and brimstone” Bible-belt preacher. What my family got in Cowboy was a true gift in a time of great need. He never once questioned the vision of the service or its overall message. Never did he ask about my religious beliefs or attempt to force his on me. While I am sure he suspected that I was not Christian, the focus and content of our conversations were always on the details of my Mother’s funeral.
I wanted my Mother's funeral to not only honor her life but also help her move forward. The symbol would be a circle, the focus on cycles. That all endings are really beginnings. With this in mind I asked Cowboy to read Ecclesiastes 3:1-8 (to everything there is a season) during the funeral. There would be no mention of hell, the Devil, temptation, sin or a vengeful God. Nor would there be any questioning of whether my Mother was worthy of Heaven.
I prepared the clothes my Mother was buried in. I selected a dress of spring green, washed it then hung it out to dry in the sun. After ironing the dress, I wrote a note to my Mother on a small piece of paper. I rolled the paper up and sewed it into one of the shoulders of the dress. A friend of mine had given me a piece of rose quartz to help me move through my grief. I also sewed this into her clothing. I then sewed a tiny, tin, enameled cross that had a small, pink rose painted on it. I sewed this to the bodice of the dress along with a small, pink satin ribbon. I have had this cross since I was a baby and felt that it should remain with her.
I spoke to my Mother throughout this process. I showered the dress with messages of love and with tears. The day I was to take the clothes in, my mother received a package from one of the shopping networks. Inside were a couple of pairs of socks that had designs of cats on them. One of the items of clothing the funeral director asked me to bring was socks. I figured these would work just fine. Mom would get to wear her new socks with the kitty designs.
My Mother was a lifelong Elvis fan. With this in mind, I listened to a few of her many Elvis CDs to find the music for this ritual. To say that this was difficult is a vast understatement. It was at the same time painful, joyful and cathartic. I selected “I Believe”, “Peace in the Valley” and “Amazing Grace”, to be played at her funeral services. Amazing Grace was also played at my maternal Grandmother's funeral over ten years ago. My Grandmother's first name was Grace. My Mother and I share the same middle name: Grace. Together, we were the three Graces of the family.
After the funeral, at graveside, Cowboy read, “Do not stand by my Grave and weep”. We all had balloons. I asked that everyone take a moment to think of a positive message that they would like my Mother to take with her as she begins her next journey. As people thought of their message, they let go of the balloon. We watched the colorful balloons float into the air and out of site, in silence.
Most people went up to the casket to touch it before we were asked to step away so that it could be lowered into the ground. My Father then invited everyone to his favorite local diner to eat. Those of us in the Wiccan world would refer to this as “grounding”. It is a way of reconnecting to the physical world after a ritual.
The following is the eulogy I spoke at my Mother's funeral services. Many will recognize several of the passages that I modified. As I was the only Pagan/Wiccan in attendance, I wanted to create something that would speak to everyone. Once I started, I was an amazingly easy thing to do.
This is a time that is not a time, in a place that is not a place, on a day that is not a day. We stand between the worlds beyond the bounds of time. Where night and day, birth and death, joy and sorrow meet as one. I feel this passage reflects the way that my Father, brothers and I have felt over the last few days as we have prepared Mom and ourselves for this ritual. Between the worlds, where the rhythm of time is changed or has little meaning. Where what once seemed so important, is put aside in recognition of what is important.
We are here today to honor my Mother's life. To speak of the life that was and to move her forward on her journey with wishes of love and peace. While we experience sadness, there is also beauty to be found in this ritual of transformation. The beauty of having friends, family and community speak of their affection for my Mother. Throughout the last few days people have described her as: kind, caring, considerate, strong-willed, open-hearted, generous, a bit eccentric (when it comes to her cats), loving and most of all “a good person”.
Mom would often make special treats or pick up some small gift to let people know that she cared for them. She made a special effort to keep up with friends and family and to remember their important days. She was a devoted champion of the underdog, giving much of her time, energy and efforts to animals that were considered “undesirable”. I also know that those around her returned her generosity in way that she was never made aware of.
There seems to have been a flow of kindness that moved back and forth between my Mother, her friends and members of the animal rescue community. It is comforting to know that others appreciated Mom and that many will miss her.
As with all rites of passage, there is the honoring of what was and the celebration of what will be. We send my Mother on her journey of transformation with messages of love, hope, abundance and peace. It is through these bright messages that we can remain connected to her as she moves on to the next phase in the great cycle of birth, death, rest and renewal. For this Rite of Passage is not really about endings at all but about transformation, change and new beginnings.
What is it that the Divine asks of us? Keep pure your highest ideals; strive ever towards them. Let nothing neither stop you nor turn you aside. For mine is the secret door that opens upon the land of youth. And mine is the cup, the wine of life, the cauldron of regeneration that is also the holy grail of immortality. I am the gracious Creator that gives the gift of joy unto the hearts of all. Upon Earth, I give knowledge of the spirit eternal, beyond death I give peace and freedom and reunion with those who have gone before. Spill no blood; take no life in my name. For I am the Giver of all and my love is poured out upon the Earth. *
There is a saying, “Merry meet, Merry part and Merry meet again”. This saying asks us to remember that there are no endings without beginnings. That regardless of the nature of the parting, that we will be brought together again with those we love.
So Mom, Merry meet, merry part and merry meet again. Abundant blessings upon your journey.
*modified from Doreen Valiente's “Charge of the Goddess”
Location: Farmington, Illinois
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