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The Pagan Cleric
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On Grief: Beacons of Light in the Shadows
Article ID: 15731
Age Group: Adult
Days Up: 1,713
Times Read: 3,452
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Author: Sage Runepaw
Posted: August 17th. 2014
Times Viewed: 3,452
There is no avoiding it, no matter what we do to dance around it as we are so often inclined to as we journey through this life. That gut-wrenching recognition that suddenly that small or large light in your life is absent, that smiling face or friendly phone call or email is no longer present.
One of your loved ones is dead.
Hit like a sledgehammer to your guts, it often throws you into an internal surrealism in which your world is suddenly different outside of your own creation- and lacking that special someone. No matter how used to it you may be (or perhaps more accurately, deconditioned) , you cannot escape that whispery, subtle touch of death that leaves absence where it has been.
Society tells us to keep our mouths shut about it, that it's intimate and personal. And perhaps this is correct- though it is also strangling people in society. Communication is what we live on, and ever more present in our daily lives. When death comes to take someone, arrangements are hastily but thoughtfully laid out, grieving runs deep, emotions and family tensions run at an all-time high, and above all, others are instructed (or taught growing up) not to discuss it. Silence, it is said, helps give the grieving person time to heal. Time to get used to that blatant gap and sudden upsetting disruption in their lives- be it a simple, easy passage from old age and the body yielding the spirit loose to travel to the place it desired in life, or something life-changing and horrifying beyond words, an internal scar which can never fully heal.
A tear-streaked griever ridden with body-wracking sobs, barely able to compose themselves, shows up and tells you the horrible news: their friend, their lover, their relative, even their child, has passed. Not to mention it could even be their beloved pet of many sunny years, their companion through thick and thin, their rock of stability and meaning. They are now faced with a grievous perception of loss. Somehow, it always feels like a loss unless we receive the news and are (again) deconditioned or simply have come to accept it without being emotionally stirred beyond the surface for a few days before returning to our sense of normalcy.
You, my fellow ministers, witches, clergy, as well as myself are beacons of light. In times of extreme darkness and crisis we may appear untouchable or irrelevant, especially within mainstream beliefs within a family setting. Through the grief of non-pagan relatives, they must not only work with setting up a mass, a funeral, a wake, or other such thing like a fund to help others who similarly suffered a medical condition like their loved ones in their lifetimes. Their family may be thrown into financial distress or have been already at that point for numerous years trying to support their now-gone loved one. So when a grieving person seeks you out, it is both your ethical responsibility as well as spiritual mission and purpose in life to dedicate your irreplaceable time into doing what you can to ease their suffering and help them regain balance.
What can you do? What do you say? Simply say I'm sorry? Offer them the usual words that they have likely heard too many times already and were hoping somehow for something a little different, something more comforting and nurturing that they could latch onto and hold close inside to help them feel a little relief in their agony? Have you ever experienced something like this before? If not yet, then you may be 'fortunate' - but at some point, it could happen. Compassion, unconditional love, and empathy- what hallmarks us as spiritual figureheads, not simply how well we teach what we know and reciprocate in the community- is critical in these instances. You have been sought out to provide more than what others have been giving (apologies and gifts of comfort) . Even if you are not, it is your responsibility to do something- anything- and what it is is up to you to determine, not to mention simultaneously manage your own grief if need be.
This is part of our sacred duties to Divinity. It is the side perhaps looked upon least in the cycle of life, death and rebirth, but nonetheless still there. We warmly congratulate the newborns coming into the world, bless our companion animals and those brought to us, offering counseling of various forms as we are called to and properly equipped to through our educational background. We perform rites of passage as per our particular religion or spiritual practice*, we aid the living. We must afford the dying those same respects, if not more so, for in roughly one hundred years or so none of us will be alive save those who have come after us and are younger- and even then, there is no guarantee. We are all in this life together. We have taken oath to dedicate our lives to the brotherhood of mankind and uphold peace, harmony, understanding and not just these basics of human respect, but empathy and compassion! The dead must be given all of these. Throughout history we have found many elaborate burials across the globe as different cultures honored their dead.
So just how do we do it?
I was offered this opportunity to write this article for the Universal Brotherhood Movement with whom I am ordained as a reverend, as I offer funerary services as a part of my ministry. Reading onward with an open mind, my path is that of a Tameran Wiccan - a form of witchcraft which espouses "And it harm none, do as you will" with an Egyptian slant- to find our true will within our lives, and harm as little as humanly possible in our path through life (right down to determining what food we choose to eat) . I will not go onto a podium and describe what we are not; kindly understand that I truly appreciate and believe that all religions are able to find common threads within one another and unify through those to form bonds of respect and harmony with one another. Simply know that we are healers who have been persecuted for far too long- and still suffer across the globe today, even to death, by those with lesser understanding and too much prejudice born and carried from previous centuries. For those of you already within the witchcraft and Wiccan categories, you can certainly understand.
As a Wiccan minister, I welcome the newborn when called to do so- by performing a blessing of love and protection on the child/children in the new couples' lives. I perform handfastings- for either the traditional way of a year and a day before a permanent handfasting thereafter- or for the more modern, actual wedding ceremony, wherein they are blessed by Divine to have one another, and for their marriage to be a happy and fulfilling, honorable one. Coming of age ceremonies also occur- empowering our youth of today who often are in too much a rush to grow up and then grow up too soon, too hard, and crash and burn when too much is asked of them before they have been given adequate time to figure it out (at eighteen, I was expecting to wake up dead and had no idea that I'd ever be clergy- I laughed when someone once suggested it as a joke. I laughed harder when Anubis pointed that out to me years later down the road; the joke had been assuredly on me) . We empower our elders through the Crone/Sage ceremonial blessing, when our women and men become of senior age and have accepted all the glory of their lives and are ready to focus on their remaining silver years.
And then... the funerary work begins upon death. I offer as part of my ministry to my religion and community of fellow pagans (those of non-mainstream, Judeo-Christian religions) funerary rites, ceremonies designed to honor and exalt the recently deceased loved one of a family with dignity, asking that Divinity bless and gently pry loosen and awaken their sleeping spirit from their earthly vessels which supported them in life, and invite the family and friends to regale one another in tales of the individual no longer among them. It is a bittersweet event in which we recognize that death is merely a gateway to the Summerlands (a place of blissful, healing rest) , before moving on to determine if the spirit will reincarnate and return to us again in a renewed form in different circumstances, or to find a comfortable place in which they may choose to reside and guide the family from spirit form and a greater capacity than directly in this physical manifestation. It is a celebration of life everliving - always eternal- rather than a mourning of a permanent event that separates us. Life is a joy, regardless of what form of existence we find ourselves in. Spirit or matter, it doesn't matter: love is eternal.
I have sat down and spoken to the people who have come to me affected by death. I have led them to peaceful locations to help them clear their mind from the hustle and bustle of the city; listened to them pour their souls out about their passed relative or friend, and with many Kleenex later and some comfort food at times, asked them if they have any unsolved issues they would like to bring clearance to with the passing. Most have simply said they wanted to say goodbye and felt upset more at the lack of being able to than the absence, and agreed to or requested my services in the form of opening up a sacred space and calling on their loved one. As a clairaudient/clairvoyant and empath, I can hear, see, and feel spirits around and their needs as keenly as those still alive. Bringing such tools as candles, runes, the tarot and other necessary components of our religion to help clarify and understand things going on around us, the spirits become more familiar with their new life and not needing a physical body, and both the grieving person and their ancestor get to spend time together with me as the facilitator for a properly safe, holy place to do so until they feel ready to let go with the understanding that love is the doorway to reconnection again. Being keen to the astral realms enables me some perks as well with tracking out those who have been on their way for longer spans of time, or already reached their place of rest.
It has been profoundly life-changing and an honor to bring this even to my Roman-Catholic grandmother, who moved from California to Massachusetts to take care of her mother in hopes of starting a relationship she never had with her after a history of neglect and despite a long, rocky, painful past with her. When she passed just a few years ago, I reached out to her to say goodbye. She said to tell her daughter "I'm sorry for everything, and I didn't know what I was doing until now to her. I was too focused on the lack of my husband and living my own life after he passed, wanting to reconnect with him that I omitted our relationship for her entire life. Will you tell her that I hope she understands and that I still love her and thank her for taking care of me at the nursing home when no one else was there?" ... I said yes, and my grandmother understood, despite still being unsure of how my abilities worked. We had a good, long, heartfelt talk then, and it deeply reconnected us. By being trained and offering funerary work, I have helped many folk reconnect, get that final sense of goodbye over with, and they have healed and hold their "lost" loved ones closer in their heart knowing that that is where they truly are- in spirit within love.
Many within our pagan practices, walks of life, and beliefs hold animals in high esteem. Our beloved companions hold spiritual meaning for us and guide us with their wisdom and time in our lives. Some may find it too hard to let go completely, and I have already been requested in advance to do funerary work for one friend's small dog when her time passes. Funerary work for our beloved animals varies significantly from our people-based funerary services. The spirit of the animal is greeted and thanked for its time in the owner's life over its favorite belongings in life and offerings of food and liquid. Tales of its lifetime are offered and recalled, and we sit down together to focus on photos, favorite toys, etc, to say goodbye in spirit, much the same as the people ceremonies.
Taxidermy then becomes a question: some are unable to say goodbye fully just yet by letting the body go back to the land it came from, and as such, request that snips of the fur, claws, teeth, feathers, etc, be saved in the form of jewelry (bottle pendants, for example) or as full pelts to grace the corner of a room as an echo of the living, for example. Some have even requested the whole pelt and as many bones as possible, to keep working with them (with the spirit's consent) in the afterlife. This is long, grueling, yet rewarding work and yet the most nerve-wracking; so much can go wrong in the preservation process and the last thing that anyone wants is for their loved one's pelt to be destroyed if they wanted to hold onto it to help them heal in their grieving process. The arts of preservation are a part of my personal devotion to my patron god, Anubis- the god of the heart in the Egyptian pantheon- as are all matters of the heart in our lives. Before engaging in this work, the spirit is asked for its permission or whether it would like to continue on as a spirit guide to the person or simply move on with its body buried or cremated. Animals generally give concise answers and aren't troubled by the outcome of their bodies (unless they died horrifically, which has yielded upset, anger, grief and confusion) - they don't have the attachment that we do to our own. Then it is invited to go to sleep after its favorite offerings and the work begins for the grieving owner. Funerary work for animals is as necessary as it is for humans.
The people preceding us helped create the potentiality for our births. We carry on when their shells expire. Their physical loss causes us to grieve- especially the absence- but it is a part of the price of love. Love takes courage even through the understanding of the pain and simultaneous healing power of release and surrender.
You may even consider grief counseling or other professional work to augment your skills in this sacred work. I thank you for your time to view insight into what you can do for your fellow loved ones during their time of shadows and grief.
The torch of light is one we all carry, and we must continue to bring that light even to the grieving and those who need our assistance on the other side to help communicate those expressions of love. Working with the rites of passing is not to be done lightly and takes an incredible amount of energy, love, empathy, understanding, courage and skill. This is our sacred duty, this love of life regardless of which side it is on. For when you think about it, life is simply life; it is only people who make the distinction between life and life after death through the separation of the spirit from the flesh.
Copyright: This article is my own, and originally written for the Universal Brotherhood Movement, Inc. As such, it is slightly different but the spirit of most of this work is the same.
Location: Nashua, New Hampshire
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