(Teaching a Wicca 101 class over the last few months has been one of the most challenging and rewarding things I’ve ever done as a Pagan. My students have been absolutely amazing, and having to explain the whys and hows of everything I do in ritual has brought me closer to my own Craft. My job as “teacher” doesn’t end when I leave my local bookstore either, I’m there for my students when they need me, and when one of them recently lost a husband and asked me to write a ritual of some sort to mark his passing I did so gladly. This is that ritual, and some of the letter I wrote to her.)
All That Dies Shall Be Reborn: On Death & Nature
One of the things I’ve rarely had to deal with as a Witch is death. That’s not to say that close people around me haven’t died, I’ve lost people I’m close too. But most of the people I’ve lost were not Witches, or related to Witches, so writing rituals about losing people is not something I’m well versed in.
In Wiccan-Witchcraft the phrase “all that dies shall be reborn” is used with some regularity. In my own coven we celebrate the rite of thanksgiving (cakes and ale/wine) with the words: “Life is more than a gift it is a promise-all that dies shall be reborn.” I’ve never been exactly sure how we are all reborn. Do we come back as people? Animals? A higher power? But I know that in some way we do come back, because nature says as much to us.
Every year I watch parts of the Earth “die.” In the Summer the grasses on the hills that surround us become dry and brown, but each Spring they return, seemingly brighter than before. When we are buried our bones break down and are absorbed by the soil, and eventually something new is created from their remains. Things are not always reborn quickly, but eventually there is new growth and new beginnings.
My time in Wiccan-Witchcraft has also provided me with another assurance: there’s something out there beyond us. When I watch my wife draw down the moon in circle and see the change that comes over her when the Goddess makes herself known my fears and doubts about whether my faith is “real” fade away. There’s more there than just a transformation from mortal to mighty one, but a transformation of the powers and energies in our circle. Everyone I circle with can feel the Goddess in such instances.
At Samhain I’ve felt the souls of those I’ve lost before fluttering in the breeze. I don’t get to speak to any of my beloved dead at a Samhain rite, but I can feel them. I don’t know how exactly to put it into words, but the presence of those I’ve loved and lost surround me in those moments, and it’s comforting, and it’s a reunion, however fleeting.
Most rituals involving those who have left us are about “letting go” but I’ve never understood this. Why would we need to “let go?” Don’t we love the people we’ve lost just as much as we love those still with us? The souls of the dead should not just be “set aside,” because they are still with us in at least some way. Those souls exist both within us and without us, but in death they also begin a new journey.
The Value of Paganism
One of the many strengths of Paganism is how it handles death and what comes after. I know that what about I’m about to write next is not a universal truth adhered to in every Western faith tradition, but I get the feeling that many faiths (and society) want us all to simply move on the moment a body is put into the ground. There are no further rituals to honor the person we’ve lost, or ceremonies to help people cope with the grief that’s still there. (Mexican Day of the Dead celebrations are an exception here of course.)
Samhain ceremonies, with their focus on reunion with those we’ve lost, fill an important void in my life. It’s not just about feeling my grandparents near me, it’s about being allowed to grieve for them not being with me anymore. It’s a yearly opportunity to say their names in front of strangers, to be confident in the idea that “what is remembered lives.”
A Ritual for Those Who Have Passed
This is a very simple ritual, but comes back to the idea that all that dies shall be reborn. For this you’ll need some sort of token of your loved one, or their ashes. If you use a token, pick something that meant something to them, or that they simply handled a lot. What’s important is that the item or items is connected to them in some way.
This ritual is meant to be performed outdoors, and can either be done near a body of water, or some sort of ground you can dig into. That could be a place in the woods, a secluded spot in a public park, or your own yard. Before you start the ritual you’ll want to dig a small hole in the ground, deep enough to swallow up whatever you will put in there.
Start by thinking of the one you’ve lost, say their name out loud, and state what they meant to you. You don’t have to have a conversation with them, but they should be acknowledged in some way. If anyone else is joining you they should also feel free to say something if they wish.
After inviting the deceased, you can call to the gods if you wish. Start by invoking the Horned God:
“Great God, King of the Wild Spaces, Master of the Wild Hunt, and Lord of Death and Resurrection, there is now a new soul in your company, we ask that you cherish him and love him as we have, and as we do. Let his soul be free to roam where he wills, both in this world and the next. Keep our love safe from harm until we meet again. Blessed Be.”
Once the God has been called to, invite the Goddess:
“Eternal Lady, Mistress of the Moon, Gracious Goddess, and Mother of Us All, we ask that you be with us in this time of grief. Thou we know sadness, we also know that yours is the Cup of the Wine of Life, and that you stir Cerridwen’s Cauldron, the cauldron of immortality. Embrace he whom we have lost, and let him find solace and peace within your arms. Watch him and us as in this time of transition. Blessed Be.”
“Life is more than a gift, it is a promise, all that dies shall be reborn. Though we have loved and lost, death is not the end. It is but the next journey, the next step, and we wish our lost one love upon that new road.”
“Each turn of the Wheel the Earth grows, and then much of it seems to die, but underneath there is new life waiting to awaken. Our souls, freed from our bodies are much like seeds, for they too will reawaken and live again upon this Earth. For we know that when rested and refreshed among our dear ones, all will be reborn by the grace of She who is Queen of the Dead and the Great Mother of us all. Let it be in the same place and the same time as our beloved ones, and may we meet, and know, and remember, and love them again.”
“So now we leave this piece of them behind (place token into the Earth or the waters), placed into the ground, or given to the sea. We share it here not to say goodbye, instead we plant in a a symbol of new beginnings. From this space the soul of our beloved will begin his next journey, his new quest, and his new existence. May the world ever be fertile so that he will come back to us, and may he grow in wisdom upon the next plane.”
“Stay in our hearts, stay in our thoughts, and visit us when you feel the need. You shall always be a part of us, and we shall always remain a part of you, for we shall meet again in the next life. We end with the words “Hail and farewell” while knowing that this is not completely the end. Until then, Hail and Farewell.”
(Cover the object with the loose dirt, or make sure it is taken out to sea. If you are sprinkling ashes, you probably don’t have to dig a hole.)
Before leaving thank the Goddess and God for being a part of your ritual.