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Funerary Processes

Funerary Processes

Funerary Processes.
Clergy Lecture

Rob Barton

    Tonight we are going to discuss funerary processes. I thought about calling this one funerals but that is a one time event and certainly does not cover all of the areas of concern here. I have been working on these issues for some time and I really want to get some input from the rest of the people here and even from the rest of the Fellowship.
    We need to take a good look at the social, psychological and spiritual issues relative to this area of concern. Especially prior to the moment of need. We don't want to be scrambling around in a moment of extreme stress trying to figure out what we are going to do. I got caught this way once when I needed to do a requiem without much warning. I also think that familiarity is going to help our people by giving them something that is solid and the feeling that they know what to expect. I am also not comfortable with the way that our greater culture tends to marginalize the dead, the dying and the grieving.
    There are really three large areas to be concerned with here: spiritual, social and psychological. These areas are also going to subdivide into the group needs and the individual needs. And we want to address them all in a way that helps people get through the three primary causes of psychological crisis, the feelings of: lack of control, lack of knowledge and lack of predictability. Familiarity is going to help our people maintain a sense of predictability which can be the anchor which keeps a person stable through this process. Familiarity with the rites that we put in place will also help breed a feeling of knowledge, at least a knowledge of what is happening within our theology and practice. I also personally think that we can devise our rites in a way that lend a sense of some control to the process. So as we talk through these issues we will be looking at how to address these needs in a way that will help us as a people to navigate what can be an extremely stressful time.
    So I am going to start at the end with an examination of some things that our faith already has that are fantastic and are the final and ongoing parts of these processes and which are going to prove to be a source of strength in our subculture. First, I don't think that we foster a sense of fear of the dead or dying or of death in general. That in itself helps to keep us from marginalizing people engaged in dying or grieving. Next, we honor our ancestors by intentionally remembering them and recalling tales of them and this too is proving a strength for us. But most importantly we have Samhain, which is part of this funerary process. We ritualize the remembrance of our dead and ritualize a portion of the grieving process. We tell our people to call anyone who has gone and who is an ancestor of blood or spirit. We instruct them to call the recently departed for at least three years. This supports the grieving process which is generally considered to be a two year psychological progression. That two years naturally falls within this span where we as a people expect to hear one another do this remembrance. We have been in ritual at Samhain and held each other as we called parents and some of have even had to call our own children and we have stood together at that hard moment.
    Samhain is serving several functions here. Spiritually, we believe that the life goes on in the otherwold and we are recognizing and celebrating this. Socially, we are supporting one another openly through the long term grieving process and not just that first week of support that we get in our culture where everyone comes to the funeral and gives us the "whatever I can do" line which is generally sincere and does show support, but is limited to very short term support. Samhain naturally carries us beyond that point and allows each of us the ongoing social support that we need. Psychologically, it gives us a sense of predictability in that we at least know one thing the future is going to hold no matter what the grieving process brings, be it anger, guilt, loss or any of the myriad emotions that are involved. We know that we will be doing this, that our people will be with us and that we will have the chance to say whatever it is that we need to say to that person that we
have lost. It also allows us to directly convey our feelings to those loved one who are in the otherworld, and they are still part of us and they may need to know this and hear these things after departing just as much as we need to say them. 
    It is becoming common place in our culture that people expect you to do the funeral and then get over it. But we know that this is not a psychological reality. The conflict between what is becoming our social norm and what we need for healthy grieving is marginalizing those in this process.
    Statement from audience:
Even at work, we get three days brievement leave, five days if it is out of state. And then we are expected to be back at our desk doing our normal jobs.
    In Victorian times it was culturally common for people to visit graveyards for picknicks near the graves of loved ones. Don't make faces, that really was the norm and it provided for the process in a socially accepted manner, so did the wearing of black for a time after the death of a loved one. Hey, the Romans left feeding tubes open down into the tomb and when they visited they could share their feasts with the departed by pouring wine and food down to them.
    Statement from audience:
There are still some Irish families around here who wear black armbands as an outward sign that they are grieving. A few traditional families take the armband after one year and give it to one of the old women who still does it. What they do is take each armband and make it into a litle black floret and put a tiny red heart, the Sacred Heart, in the middle and then it is used as a Christmas ornament. It is even stored separately from the other ornaments. Auntie Medb used to do it.
    There are still some cultures that include this sort of ritual, the day of the dead in Mexico comes to mind along with some of the African traditional practices. In our culture, the Catholics have a similar practice used by some that acts in the same manner. They do anniversary Masses in remembrance of people. Great idea, and it does give them some support, but I think that the support on Samhain is stronger because the whole congregation is present and openly sharing in the process.
    I wanted to start with looking at Samhain because we already have it in place and not only that but I think that we have it right, right for our people as a group and as individuals. Samhain is in my opinion perfect for us, it works excellently and is one of the reasons that it should remain very much the focal point of our liturgical year.
    Now we know what we are doing right to assist the process in an ongoing manner. Let's go back and look at how we want to address the start of this process. I'm not getting into any philosophical discussion of when the process starts, yes we acknowledge that we are preparing our people by teaching them through the years about what we believe happens. I am talking about the point of immanent death, that point where the physical life comes to an end. Here we are a clergy person walking into a hospital room and one of our people is about to die or has just died, family and friends are present and we are stepping into a moment of emotional turmoil. What do we do?
 My first concern here is the person who is dying and the health of their psyche and their spiritual relationship with their Gods. I am concerned for their emotional well being as the moment approaches and their spiritual well being as the transition takes place. This is where I am going to say that I think that the Catholics have it right with the Rite of Extreme Unction. What a wonderful job this does. It sacralizes the moment of death, it finalizes the relationship of the person with their God and it gives familiarity to the situation. If you have never seen Last Rites being done and the effect that it has on the dying and on the family and friends present, you will know what I am saying. The dying person is being given something familiar to calm them, the human/divine relationship is
being addressed and the people present are being given something familiar to guide them. And honestly it gives the priest something to do that is proactive and sacral. It gives everyone involved three things within the limits of the situation: awareness, they feel like they know something of what is going on; predictability, they feel like they have some clue what to expect and what is going to happen; control, they feel that at least their god is in control of the situation.
    So now to look at what we can do in this situation within our theology and social structure. There is no sense of the absolution of sin or of purification required or indicated as a need within our theology. But we can still do something to sacralize this transition and give us these other spiritual and social benefits. We can give a set of final offerings on behalf of the person, offerings to their patron and or patroness, group deities and finally to deities of the people who act as psychopomps. This allows us to sacralize the event and to reinforce the relationships between the person and their deities.
   So I am designing a small rite that we as the Nemed people will have to learn to do from memory. It will take the form of the performance of a set of final sacrifices given in the presence of the dying person and later the sacrifices will be taken outside to be given there in the nemeton. It will be a short liturgy that will include a sacrifice to each, the patron/ess and a psychopomp deity. It will be designed so that it can be done anytime shortly before during or shortly after death. Spiritually it is going to reinforce the existence of reciprocitybetween us and our Gods and will even be a sacrifice that will in some way both get their attention formally and give a formal offering with a request in a formal fashion. We are giving them something and we are asking for something. The sacrifices can be whiskey, clarified butter, oil, or anything appropriate to the specifics of the deities involved and the setting.
    We are going to want every Nemed person to have the tools for it ready and set aside should they be needed.
    Question from the audience:
Is this going to be something that only the priest can do? I realize that we have priests who specialize but are they going to be the official mediator on this? I'm not sure how I feel about that.
    No, because it is a liturgical exercise, I want all of our Nemed people to be equipped and have it memorized so whoever can get there can perform it. Any one of our people can perform it for the others should there be a need, they will just pull out the stuff and read the rite as they go. Our clergy have no special mediation agency that is limited to them, they are simply specialists. Anyone can do it but the Nemed people are going to memorize it.
    So what we will do is that we will act as a group psychopomp as the transition begins and the psychopomp deity will have been called and offered to so that they will be standing there to facilitate the transition to the otherworld. The blessings of the Deities will have been courted along with the blessings of the Deity whom they have worshipped the most closely.
    It is going to give our people and especially the dying some sense of predictability, awareness, and control. It will also give the comfort of a very familiar rite that can be both something to hold onto and also help people begin to accept what is happening. From a practical side, the people need to see our clergy as leaders at this time because they need guidance and strength and this is going to give our clergy something proactive and sacral to do at this moment of extreme emotional and psychological turmoil. It is also a rite of passage that falls right in line with the rites of passage that we have for our people.
    Then of course we will move into the phases of the normal funerary process as found within our society. But we continue that process with Samhain to the benifit of our people.
    That was the subject for tonight, so tell me what you guys think about this. Am I out of my tree? Is this what you want. Discussion follows:
It's what I want. I want to know that one of you will be there dong this for me when I am
dying or when I have just died.
I think that it could be a difficult thing to do personally but I think that we need it.
It should also be used to give other tribe people the chance if possible to settle debt or issues with the dying. To say "you no longer have this debt to me, I absolve you..." or to make arrangements to settle these debts or obligations be it payment in the next life or the otherworld or payment by or to family members.
Are we talking that the clergy person absolves them of their individual debts? Because I
really don't think that our clergy can do this.
No not at all. When possible people can settle up affairs or debts with the person if there is enough warning. I also think that if we have a person who is dying slowly and we know then we need to make sure we work with them to see to it that they become accustomed to
others making their sacrifices for them. We don't want them to suddenly be faced with a
situation where they cant lift the oil or pour it into the vessel.
Now I want to explore that idea of how we avoid pushing people away when they are dying. It is a specialized area of nursing that I want to go into. I think that if possible we should get several tribe members there and sit with them, holding them so that as they die they feel the arms of their people in this world around them until they are in the arms of their people on the other side. Make it clear that they are part of the tribe still. Make sure someone is there with them telling stories or letting them here the normal sounds and voices of a meeting as they pass so that they never feel alone. Even to give them small sips from our cups to include them even if it is just symbolic touching of the cup to their lips. Even if I just sit in the room and knit and tell stories. Or have a symbolic feast present on a plate beside the bed.
That is interesting, do you know about the plate used in some areas of Ireland? In a  few areas and in one Irish family here in the US there is a plate brought in with little cakes on it and it is handed to the dying person if possible and they say " God be with you an all the Saints" and they take a small bite or even a crumb placed on their lips or another can take the bite for them, then if they can they pass it back saying the same thing and the person who is healthy takes a small bite. And they will continue to do it with each person until the person stops and the person who receives the plate last says Amen. The priest sometimes objects because it is done even symbolically after last rites, which they are not supposed to allow.
My family does it and the trouble is that it is not a holy sacrament recognized by the church. It is a family sacrament and they just have to deal. If the priest doesn't like it, too bad.
    So does everyone feel that we are addressing our needs here, spiritual, individual, group, emotional and psychological? Does this seem to address the process completely? What have I left out or what else should be addresses in this process?