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Funerary rites for the solitary

Paganism is an old path, and the old gods have been reverenced for, well, a long time. But in a largely book driven monotheist culture, those walking the experiential ways are still disparate, and nowadays as likely to be connected to community through the Internet as in any physical sense. Yes, we have groves and covens, and sometimes we even attend them, but for many there is an isolation born of the very personal ways in which we approach deity through nature. No-one else does it exactly as we do. That comes, of course, of there being no rule book – no bible, no torah, no koran… and it works, for us. There are sufficient commonalities for us to name our paths, and sometimes some lore that shapes ritual when we come together, but largely we touch where we touch and otherwise work our path alone. But how then do we ensure our wishes are known, if ever we should be unable to express them?

Death comes to all, and we all approach death in our own fashion whether that be gratefully, angrily, fearfully or unknowingly. We may or may not have expectations of the afterlife, but many will have desires for how the immediate issues of the moment are handled, as well as how our mortal remains are disposed of. In households where we may be alone, or may be in partnership with others who neither share nor fully understand our spiritual choices, how do we realise our expectations of funeral rite, of the final offering up of body to land, or fire, of sea? For book guided folk, there is a sequence, known and followed, with written instruction and ritual. Not for us. To pick up an extreme possibility, how does a solitary pagan adapt to the possibility of a monotheist dominated family performing utterly abhorrent and entirely inappropriate funeral rites upon their demise?

Many pagans will hold the idea that their path is ancient, that we lean on the traditions of religions that were alive long before Christianity or Islam or any of the book religions were formed. Some will avow they have a linear decent within ancient pagan houses. But in the end, most of the pagan paths are relatively youthful. modern Druidry, Heathenry and Wicca were born about seventy years ago, albeit all these paths reference much older lore. The laws of expansion mean that generally we do not find ourselves sharing streets with neighbours of the same faith or tradition, and our community is a widely spread one, connected more through web site and email and coming together at geographically significant locations, if at all, only at particular times. It is conceivable we could die our funerals be decided and implemented by family members unknowing of our true wishes.

These thoughts come to one when we note the passing of others, or maybe at significant birthdays. And then life intervenes and we get on with getting on. This rambling monologue seeks to pause a moment, and ask, what do you want? Have you expressed it clearly, in ways accessible when tongue no longer gives voice? Perhaps you don’t care, and this shell once empty holds no purpose nor need. Perhaps those who will hold the responsibility for managing your affairs after demise do not share your religion/path/faith/philosophy. Have you even had the discussion? Is it important to you? Do you feel better now, knowing your body will be gifted for medical donations, interred fully intact for resurrection, burned to ash, honoured by vigil and planted over in a peaceful woodland… would you feel bad to imagine these things might not come to pass?

What about those you leave behind; how do you leave them leaving you? Silently and without any expressions of grief or celebration? With a fully pre-paid bar and a dance band ceilidh? With chosen reading and ritual? Will you leave it to others to plan how your transition is marked? These things are to me, and perhaps to you, as important as leaving financial affairs in order, and knowing that family has access to information vital for their safe continuance without you – safe codes, bank details, payment schedules, treasure maps… We plan for new births, painting nurseries and buying baby cloths and even booking school places long before the event. We plan for weddings, with invitations and prepared celebrations, gift lists and guest lists… We generally flail about at moments of death, trying to juggle all the eggs at once and invariably dropping some. This could be improved.

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