Working within the ADF context of our newly formed Order of the Dead, focus and worship on the Ancestors is more than just making offerings. Although many of the members are clergy, it is a topic which stretches beyond our church and into the Pagan community. As an aging generation of elders begin their final journey, we are all called to think on this final rite of passage into whatever realm our ideology dictates. The spiritual implications alone are enough to cause deep contemplation, no matter what our physical age is.
At PantheaCon this year, Pagan and Witch leader Selena Fox presented a very practical and informative workshop on “Pagan Death Passages”. Her home base, Circle Sanctuary in Wisconsin, established one of the first Green cemeteries in the U.S. (1995). Our region now has it's own green cemetery thanks to The Church of All World's Oberon Zell Ravenheart; located at Annwfn in Mendocino County (California) the land became officially sanctioned with it's first burial, that of Zell's lifelong partner Morning-Glory.
As Fox mentioned during the lecture portion of the workshop, 'green' burial is not such a new phenomenon as we looked at various other cultural and religious practices when it comes to these rites. For example, Jewish law mandates the body to remain intact, meaning without the usual Western treatment of embalming or the removal of organs, before being put directly into the ground. Washing the body, used waters are then saved and returned to the earth to be deposited with the deceased.
Opening up dialog for Death is a hard thing, even among those in our Druid community. Understanding how we can be supportive or even advocates for those in our immediate community is the job of us all, as Kindred. It is only in sharing these views which we can make sure our OWN end of life plans get followed through and honored. One way which Fox suggests we get started on this way of thinking is to write your own obituary. Whilst this might seem slightly narcissistic, when the reality of sickness or death hovers near us this thought will be the last thing we want to consider; so we're better off in the long run doing these things when it I seemingly unnecessary.
Fox outlined the various stages in which Death occurs; not the general physicality but in terms of WHAT is happening at each stage and HOW we can, as advocates and even Clergy, meet the needs of the dying and their families. Of course, the first stage is having the Awareness that Death is happening; accepting news of a terminal illness, addressing feelings of denial as the come about in a healthy manner. The next part consists of the Planning phase, conversations touch on not just the ceremonies involved in the passing over process but the practicalities as well: resuscitation requests, burial/cremation, finalizing any Living Wills. The next phase is what most people participate in, and also can be the most difficult: the Bedside Vigil. The “crossing over moment”, as Fox calls it, is the real meat of the process and determines the differences between a 'good death” or difficult passing. Rituals to bring peace to the dying, pacing one's breath with them during the final moments... all are ways in which to mark the 'leaving of the body'. Grieving and Ceremonies for the family/friends are the next stage that personal wishes are fulfilled; how soon will announcements be made, and to whom? Is there to be a body viewing? And finally, a stage which often gets forgotten, the Follow-Up; often taking place on the Anniversary of the passing, grieving can take place for weeks, months, even years after a loved one has moved on. Being present for surviving members of a Grove, family or group of friends is the best thing we can offer...hearing, listening and doing whatever needs doing. Sometimes it's as simple as doing the dishes or as intense as helping to box up the deceased belongings... all are ways in which to offer healthy and productive means of assistance.
The following are links to information regarding the laws and resources available in our North West region; both traditional and alternative services to honor individual choice.
Annwfn, the website for the Church of All World's developing Green Cemetery http://annwfn.caw.org/about.html
U.S. Funerals Online, a directory to find green burial cemeteries through the entire United States. http://www.us-funerals.com/funeral-articles/directory-of-green-burial-sites-in-the-united-states.html#.VOt-6vnF8rU
California Funerary Consumer Legal Rights, whilst emphasis on the industry, there is some info regarding home burials.
The Oregon Mortuary and Cemetery Board, good resources for information that also include Death With Dignity links.
Fawn Russell is the author of a blog titled Nights of a Psychopomp Groupie, which has recently branched out into a podcast; you can check both out at psychopompgroupie.com.