I was inspired to share this because I found a wonderful link on How to Hold a Ceremony for an Unborn Child in Sarah Whedon’s recent article in Pagan Families; 10 Great Reads of December. I wrote it just after my miscarriage in 2006 with the intentions of sending it somewhere for publication; which I never did. Guess I wasn’t quite ready yet. With the exception of removing directly quoted chant lyrics in favour of links, I offer it as it was originally written. This was just before I became part of the Star Sapphire tradition and I was practicing Wicca in the Reclaiming-influenced Pagans for Peace tradition. I welcome anyone who has experienced the grief of infant loss, be it by miscarriage, stillbirth, SIDS or abortion, to use it if you would find it helpful. I am sure that there are ways to adapt it to your tradition and needs:
On July 14, 2006, at 13 weeks of pregnancy, I miscarried. My husband and I were overwhelmed by grief. Our culture does not really understand miscarriage, pregnancy loss, abortion, or infant death. There is a feeling that because the child is not yet really born, there is no real attachment yet, but I certainly didn’t find that to be the case. I did find self-help books to enable me to come to terms with the grief, and find ways to heal, but when I tried to find a requiem ceremony, there was nothing, not even in Starhawk’s amazing book, The Pagan Book of Living and Dying. So this is what I wrote.
If you are the one who lost an unborn child by whatever means, it helps to give a face to your grief, and there is some preparation to be done first, just as there is in any other death. Whether or not you knew your child’s gender or had picked out a name, you may wish to assign a gender according to feeling (obviously I did, as 13 weeks is too little time to know,) and give your child a name (we already had a name picked out). If you are Pagan clergy attempting to help guide someone else through this process, you should recommend all this.
Most importantly, you need to recognize that this is the death of a child, and a real loss, and the bereaved, parents, family or friends, need to heal and come to terms with the loss as much as any other death. Some people did not have an emotional investment in their pregnancies yet and may not require this; others will be deeply affected; still others will think themselves unaffected, but will be overwhelmed by grief years later.
This is a Pagan funeral rite to address that loss.
- Goddess and/or God symbol or image
- Water in a bowl or chalice
- Salt in a dish
- Incense, feather, fan, or something similar
- A memento of your child to bury
- A memento of your child to keep
- A picture of your child or the mom while she was pregnant
- A small tree to plant
- Charms to tie on the tree as is your wont
- A plaque or other marker
- Milk with honey (or breast milk, if it came in)
- Food and drink
In our case, we also happened to save some pads from when the miscarriage began – perhaps this might seem morbid to some, but it gave us something to bury. The section including this will be listed as “optional”
Drummer drums a funeral march as mourners proceed to the ritual area, carrying the ritual items with them.
Cast circle in your preferred fashion.
Calling the Quarters
Ideally, this is done with the Mother, Father, and two God(dess)-parents that can be selected at any time before the ritual. Obviously this may not work for every family in every case. Just pick four people who seem appropriate. We assume that one of them will be a grieving Mother or Father.
Set the elemental items in the appropriate direction around the site where you are going to plant the tree. As each person calls a Quarter, they use the elemental tool in some fashion. The Cauldron is set in the Centre.
Spirits of the East, Powers of Air, bring the winds of change to this place. We ask you to come to our circle, to guide _____ on her/his way to the Summerlands.
Spirits of the South, Powers of Fire, be a beacon of light to we who stand now in darkness. We ask you to come to our circle, to burn away our sorrow at _____’s passing.
Spirits of the West, Powers of Water, bless us with the ebb and flow of life’s tides. We ask you to come to our circle, to take _____ back to the primordial waters of Creation.
Spirits of the North, Powers of Earth, bring us closure. We ask you to come to our circle, to open your arms to embrace _____, and to grant us a bedrock upon which to build our lives anew.
Chant: Earth My Body
Calling the Goddess and/or God
Call on the appropriate deities to your tradition and desire. For our part, we used the following:
Lady, Mother of All Life – I am a mother grieving. Be with us here in our time of need.
Lord, Father of All Life – I am a father grieving. Be with us here in our time of need.
Goddess-mother or Priestess:
Lady, You are also the Crone, Keeper of the Cauldron of Death and Rebirth. We ask You to help us to accept _____’s death, and guide his/her passing.
God-father or Priest:
Lord, You are also the Horned Hunter of the Night, Lord of the Dead. We ask You to help us to accept _____’s death, and guide his/her passing.
At the request of the mother/parents, we would like to call upon the Goddess and/or the God in specific guises:
Hail, Kwan Yin, Mother of Compassion! We ask You to join us.
Hail, Hecate, Midwife of Passages! We ask You to join us.
Chant: Hecate, Cerridwen
Chant: Hoof and Horn
Statement of Purpose
We have gathered to honour _____ for his/her short life, and ease his/her passing. Though _____ was not actually born (lived but briefly,) we respect his/her life, and how it touched us, nonetheless.
In Buddhist tradition, unborn children who die are called mizuko, meaning “children of the waters”. A mizuko is one who has gone quickly from the warm waters of the womb to another liquid state. Though _____’s form never did quite solidify, s/he has returned to the primordial waters of creation.
The pain of this loss is real to these people who have come to mourn him/her. We have come to acknowledge and work through this pain.
So now we prepare the way to commend _____ to the Earth, at least in spirit, and to honour his/her memory.
A hole is dug in the ground to bury certain items and to plant the tree.
In our case, while we were digging the hole, I read a beautiful story from a book called All Seasons Pass: Grieving a Miscarriage by Martha Manning. It told of the author’s vision of meeting with an old woman she saw as Sophia, the Divine Feminine. To me, it was clearly the Goddess in Her Crone form (perhaps Hecate) and I was touched by the tale, which had a great deal of meaning for me at this difficult time.
This is the blood that was mine and _____’s. Let it give forth new life. Let his/her blood give life to this tree that we plant in his/her honour.
She passes the pads to the father and lets him place them in the hole, speaking as he desires.
Honouring the Dead
Priest/ess or Mother:
Now, let all speak to ______ as we desire, and honour him/her each in our own way.
Each person now speaks to the baby or about the baby, talking freely. There may be tears. Items may be offered to the lost one, which should be placed in the hole.
When all are done, if there is a Priest/ess, s/he says to the parent(s):
Have you brought your tokens of your memories of _____?
Yes we have.
One will be left behind here, buried under this tree. By this gesture, you acknowledge that _____ is gone. Would you place that token in this grave now?
Parents do so. This is sure to be a very emotional moment for many. Let them have it.
If there is no Priest/ess, the Parent(s) say:
We/I have brought these tokens of our memories of _____. This one we/I will leave behind here, buried under this tree.
Parent 2 (or 1):
By this gesture, by placing this in this spot, _____’s grave, we/I acknowledge that ______ is gone.
Parent(s) place the item in the hole.
If there is a Priest/ess, s/he says:
This second token you will take with you, to remember _____ in your brief time together.
If there isn’t, the Parent(s) say:
This token we/I take with us/me, to remember _____ in our brief time together.
Again, if anyone wishes to speak, they may do so, or the Priest/ess leads all in a prayer for the little one. I used the following:
Kwan Yin, Mother of Mercy,
Please watch over my daughter.
Hecate, Midwife of Passages,
Please guide her passage to the Otherworld.
Please keep safe my future children,
If there are future children waiting for me,
And guide their way safely into this world
Through my body.
Simple Feast/Feast of the Dead
The food and drink are blessed as you like. There is a special blessing for the milk and honey:
_____, since I could not feed you with milk from my breasts in life, accept this milk in its stead. I love you. I will miss you.
A portion of the food, and the milk, are poured into the hole for the dead child.
Acknowledging the Cycle of Rebirth
Priest/ess or Parent:
_____, we now plant this tree in your memory, bringing life from death.
The tree is planted and firmly set in the ground. Charms and blessings may be hung on the tree.
If you have the plaque, you can also set it in the ground at this time. We found the ordering of the plaque to help us come to terms, like the ordering of a headstone. Our plaque read:
July 14, 2006
Although you only lived a little, you were loved for a lifetime.
Thanking the Goddess and/or God
The gods are thanked according to your tradition. For us, we used:
Mother of All Life, thank You for being here to help us heal. Blessed be.
Father of All Life, thank You for being here to help us heal. Blessed be.
Crone Goddess, thank You for guiding _____’s passage. Blessed be.
Horned Hunter, thank You for guiding _____’s passage. Blessed be.
Thank You, Kwan Yin. Blessed be.
Thank You, Hecate. Blessed be.
Releasing the Quarters
The winds bring hurricanes and tornados to batter and torment us, but they also sweep things clean, and carry us far away into new paths onto new paths of life. Thank you, Powers of Air, Spirits of the East. Hail and farewell. Stokes the incense.
Fire can be the most destructive of all the elements, burning and charring everything in its path, like the force of anger and rage. It can also be the warm coals that bring us comfort in rough weather and bring joy to our hearts. Thank you, Powers of Fire, Spirits of the South. Hail and farewell. Puts out the candle.
The waters of life can drown us, drag us away and suck us down into death, or what feels like death. But do not forget that they also quench our thirst and wash us clean, and like our feelings and love, we cannot live without it for long. Thank you, Powers of Water, Spirits of the West. Hail and farewell. Dumps out the water.
The salt of the earth can be bitter and taste like the tears of sorrow that we shed, but it can also add savor to life in the future. Thank you, Powers of Earth, Spirits of the North. Hail and farewell. Spills salt.
The circle is closed as befits your tradition.
RIP Merrie McRoy – died July 14, 2006
By Sable Aradia, July 29, 2006