We Mourn Thee Mighty Thracian: Spirit of Remembrance

Many years have passed since the beautiful Thracian king and god ascendant graced the unknown bar hidden within the unnamed city. Orpheus ascended but did we have time to mourn him, to remember all that he was? We three, Spirits of Memory, Love and Dance performed our rituals but to what end? Someone important was missing, and She has come at last. The Spirit of Remembrance is the fourth element present in abundance within the Universe, there is one other, the Spirit of Divine Consciousness. Her time will come soon.

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Image: The Priestess John William Godward · 1895, Wikiart

Hail beloved sister! How your presence infuses our lives with serenity and meaning. You bring Rosemary for remembrance and purification for the mourning rites. How remiss of us to forget. Forgive us mighty Thracian. Dear sister Priestess we wait on your lead.

The Spirit of Remembrance begins the chant and we follow:

We rend our clothes and tear our hair, cry tears of salt and water bereft of blood. Hear our cries of pain and grief you beings of halls of silence and dread. Accept these offerings of Myrra, Mêkôn, Libanos, Helleboros and Daphnê in memory of Orpheus, our beloved King of Thrace. Green eyed god, vessel for divinity, and grief-stricken lover, who shall we minister to? Speak, break your silence and allow us to adore and pour salve upon flesh and spirit.

We four pour libations upon the ground and sprinkle incense upon ever-burning flames. Dread Persephone and Hades are petitioned, given sacrifice and prayers aplenty. We stand in a place not of time and of time, four faces gaze inwards, four faces gaze outwards. The space within lies empty, waiting another. So the chant begins anew:

We rend our clothes and tear our hair, cry tears of salt and water bereft of blood. Hear our cries of pain and grief you beings of halls of silence and dread. Accept these offerings of Myrra, Mêkôn, Libanos, Helleboros and Daphnê in memory of Orpheus, our beloved King of Thrace. Green eyed god, vessel for divinity, and grief-stricken lover, who shall we minister to? Speak, break your silence and allow us to adore and pour salve upon flesh and spirit.

A terrible silence descends, the emptiness hints at mysteries beyond all understanding. Then, it unfolds. His voice utters blessings, gives us solace. His form shimmers in the smoke, ah, green-eyed god how your beauty illuminates the darkness of the star filled heavens!

The power recedes and we are at peace once more. It is done, the mourning rites have been performed. Go in peace mighty Thracian.

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Image: photo credit: chiaralily Morgana via photopin (license)

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 Anubis Commands

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Image: TobiasBisander, Pixabay

On Saturday 18 November 2017 I was ordained as a Minister with the Sacred Rites Foundation. Sounds strange saying it but it’s been a long time coming. I have neither changed my spiritual preferences nor path in case you were wondering. It will involve inter-faith work, which is the way it should be. The decision to go down this route has given me a good “kick up the bum” as I’ve been in procrastination mode for quite a while. His Nibs had a hand in this issue, one way of telling me to get on with it! He can be a hard taskmaster when the occasion calls for it, a bit of a softy really when you get to know him. Don’t tell anyone else will you? There’s a lot to think about and many projects to complete. I’m at a crossroads again but know what road to take. The question is whether I’ll be disciplined enough this time and follow through on the path that lies before me. Why so mysterious?

His Nibs appeared in my mind’s eye a couple of weeks ago, I was wiping his face and hands to reveal gold beneath the black. His colours are black and gold, of corruption of the flesh, and disintegration of matter and spirit. This isn’t the end though, for the gold heralds transformation and transmutation. A profound alchemy occurs on deep levels of the psyche. This image surprised and puzzled me for ages.

I’d been waiting for a sign, anything to give me an indication that the constant barrage of crap coming my way was ceasing. It seems my prayers are being answered. Things have been falling into place, loose ends are being tidied and clarity of mind slowly re-surfacing. The physical ills are being dealt with but I need answers soon. There’s important work to be done in 2018 as obstacles are being cleared from my path. He tells me “no excuse now to procrastinate.”  Again I return to the black and gold, trying to understand that which is filled with paradox and truth. The process isn’t easy to understand, you can see my dilemma.

He gazes at me silently, expecting an answer. All I say is “how may I serve?”

“The right answer” is his reply.

I told you he could be a hard taskmaster. Don’t mess with the Opener. Unfortunately he spoils the, er, hard man persona by winking cheekily at me. I wink back but it looks like I have a nervous tic. Ah well.

Black and gold are his colours, revealing and obscuring the true nature of Being and Consciousness, revealing and obscuring the true nature of godhead and humanity, revealing and obscuring the true nature of death and resurrection. This paradox will be revisited in my next post as I need to dig deep beneath the vision of the emerging golden Anubis. This aspect of the god is one I’m not familiar with. Understandable as I’ve lingered in the place of disintegration for too long, held on to things that haven’t served me well.

Image: Jan Malique

Guest Post: Lyn Baylis on “Ritual, Death, and Magic”, Part 2

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Chris Brock Photography

Post death

The ancient Egyptians ensured that the body was carefully prepared. Magic and lengthy rituals were essential to prepare each person for their eternal existence. The journey was fraught with perils, and to reach the destination the dead person needed ample provisions, the help of rituals and magic spells. In the end, if everything was done properly, the deceased had an opportunity to become a transfigured spirit, blessed with magical powers and ready to live forever among the gods.

The Egyptian concept of the soul, which may have developed quite early, dictated that there needed to be a preserved body on the earth in order for the soul to have hope of an eternal life. The soul was thought to consist of nine separate parts:

The Khat was the physical body.

The Ka one’s double-form.

The Ba, a human-headed bird aspect which could speed between earth and the heavens.

The Shuyet was the shadow self.

The Akh, the immortal, transformed self.

The Sahu and Sechemaspects of the Akh.

The Ab was the heart, the source of good and evil.

The Ren was one’s secret name.

The Khat needed to exist in order for the Ka and Ba to recognize itself and so the body had to be preserved as intact as possible.

The belief that the spirit of the person never dies but will in time return again to learn the lessons missed until they reach perfection.

(documented by Raymond Moody).

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Image: Foundry, Pixabay

I follow a broadly nature based spirituality and believe that death is not the end of our existence.

That all creatures possess a spirit or soul and that spirit or soul is eternal therefore when the body dies it is only a physical death and our spiritual journey continues.

If we look at nature we can see in all things a cyclic pattern.  It is so, I believe, with our lives.  Many honour this circle of birth, infancy, childhood, youth, maturity and old age. I believe they should also find honour in death, knowing that although the body undergoes physical Transformation, the Spirit remains unchanged.

I understand that those who have no belief in the continuation of the spirit may find death frightening, as the self they know will disappear forever. However, I’m convinced that when the spirit leaves the body it doesn’t necessarily mean that all ties to those left behind are disconnected. I know that Spirits have the power to manifest themselves to us and in some instances they also communicate with us. From my experience, specific Spirits are called upon to provide us with assistance relating to a particular need. They may be from our own family and can come to us during dreams or in visions.

When the individual is dead a light is lit which will represent the deceased person, and be a focus to remind friends and family that the spirit is still there. This soul/spirit requires help to undergo transition, a task usually done by the Elder, Shaman or senior member of the family while preparing, washing and anointing of the body. Incense is used to cleanse and to bring peace and harmony to the place where the body is laid out.

Cleansing and purifying the deceased

On the altar place two earthenware bowls, two flannels, and two towels.

Place to one side a clean winding-sheet or shroud (and coffin).

Have ready a candle, incense, oil – frankincense, (for birth) myrrh (for death), water in a jug, rosemary leaves (antiseptic) or similar sweet-smelling flowers and a piece of Yew.

Explanation of ritual

In this ritual we honour the one who has transcended the mundane and stepped through the threshold of life into the realm of death.  In many spiritual traditions the soul/spirit does not leave the body for three days, in others it stays close to ensure that those left behind can cope.

As guardians of the gateway we seek to ensure that our charge is ready to face the world beyond. Therefore, with full ceremony we wash and dress them as they would wish to be. They may then stand cleansed and pure before their Divine Ones and Ancestors.

The sacred flame has been burning since they died, or if not will be lit at the beginning of the ceremony.   Three drops of the three oils are added to the water in the jug, which is then blessed and poured into the two bowls and the incense is lit.

The clean robe/ sheet is placed next to the body and the following words recited:

“We acknowledge the sacred journey of your life, and wash you so that you may step through the gateway into the next world and face your ancestors and your Gods cleansed and with dignity.”

Take one flannel and start to wash the deceased. Start with the face, and neck, hands and arms and them torso to the waist.  Take the other flannel and start at the feet and wash and dry up the torso, the genital area last.

* If the deceased has been at home and is not suffering from a contagious disease there is no need to take special precautions.  However if the deceased has recently been in hospital it would be appropriate to wear gloves and cover all exposed skin as MRSA lasts up to 8 weeks and is easily transferable and CD lasts even longer.

Then place the right leg over the left leg, turn the deceased gently on the left side and continue as before, top to middle, then feet to middle.  Once you finish washing then place the sheet down the side ready to slide into place.

Take the myrrh (to mark and to honour the completion of life’s journey and the beginnings of a new life). Anoint the chakra points on the body plus the palms of the hands and the soles of the feet, and the lips.  Recite appropriate words, e.g. may these feet that have walked the sacred paths be blessed.

Position the left leg over the right, gently roll to the right and pull out the sheet. When the body has been anointed, fold the blanket right side first. Over the heart place a sprig of rosemary (for remembrance) or similar, then fold in the other side and place a spring of rosemary there. Continue to fold the sheet until it covers the body leaving the face free. Cover it with muslin (if the body is to be there for a few days it may be best to cover with a light blue muslin) until the time comes for the final journey.  Place the body in the coffin or bed, preferably on a hard surface, or board which will be used to carry the body to the final resting place.

Place flowers inside the coffin, or on and around the body – a sprig of yew is also often placed on the body to denote that death is not the end but a beginning and to confirm that like the yew each year the deceased will return anew.

Prayers can then be said to the deity, ancestors, spirits of place or those who watched over the deceased in life to thank them for being with them throughout life and asking that they watch over them as the await transcendence,  renewal or rebirth.  Many will hold a 3 day vigil- singing, talking to the deceased and sharing with family and friends stories of their journey of life, covering the shroud with reminders, or the coffin, with reminders or writing and drawings. (In this way even the children can have a part in making the coffin ready).

At the end of this period the body is taken to its final resting place, and the deity and spirits thanked for their help. Those whose job it was to help the deceased through life will also be thanks and given leave to depart.  If there is to be no vigil this will be done at the end of the washing ceremony.

The body is now ready for the Vigil or the Wake or if none are being held – ready to be placed in their casket for either burial or cremation.

Some Native American tribes still put grave goods and gifts with their deceased as do some Pagans, and other nature based spiritualities. Buddhist monks will chant when preparing the body for the funeral fire. They don’t call it magic but that’s what I would see it as.  The reason for doing this is to help the dead person to be released from their fading personality.

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Image: Pixabay

A third magic is sometimes used to ensure that the spirits of the dead do not come back and haunt us or seek vengeance on those they think are responsible for their death.

Sometimes this third layer of magic is used in conjunction with the other magic. The main reason for using this is to keep the spirits focused on their last journey. This ensures that they pass over without turning back, and that they have nothing which continually calls them back.

Many spiritual traditions believe that if the rituals are not done correctly, the spirit can return to cause mischief. This belief has led some cultures to burn the deceased’s house and all of their possessions. The family would move to a new house in a new location to escape the ghost of the deceased. The Roma also had similar practices with the burning of the caravan. The ancient Egyptians laid curses on the tombs so that the deceased would not be disturbed, and come back to haunt the living.

Our own Anglo-Saxon Ancestors funeral rituals placed grave goods with the departed spirits and these were also protected by curses. A runic inscription found reads:

Ragnhildr placed this stone in memory of Alli the Pale, priest of the sanctuary, honourable þegn of the retinue. Alli’s sons made this monument in memory of their father, and his wife in memory of her husband. And Sóti carved these runes in memory of his lord. Þórr hallow these runes. A warlock be he who damages(?) this stone or drags it (to stand) in memory of another”.

This last sentence puts a curse upon anyone who damages the stone or places it as a monument to another person.

Across the world there is a strong tradition of not speaking the name of a dead person at least until they have departed, as it will keep them bound to us. Photographs or depictions of a person who died may also be seen as a disturbance to their spirit. Often some families will put the photos away or will cover them.  Echoes of this are in the Jewish religion where the mirrors are covered and in our own traditions, made popular in Victorian times, closing the curtains and covering the mirrors. Some African cultures carry the coffin over water so that it cannot return; other take it to a cross-road and turn in around three times so that the spirit won’t be able to find the way home. Our fear of the dead is just as strong in the west but we hide it under a show of sophistication.

We don’t embrace death in our culture and we have so many ways to avoid talking about it.  However, it has been proven in very real terms that a good funeral eases the grief and can bring peace to the family of the departed.

A beautiful ritual as well as bringing peace to the congregation reminds those left behind of the life that was, and it brings hope and even joy to those who remain.  Perhaps this is yet another kind of magic.

 

Gift of the Forest -Twittering Tale #44 – 17 October 2017

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Photo by StockSnap @ Pixabay.com

My offering for Kat Myrman’s Twittering Tale this week. It’s less dark than previous entries for this challenge, perhaps a little wistful and dreamy. Nature extends a lifeline dear readers, dare we accept?

The forest dreams, brings together myth and magic.
We gaze across divide, yearning and regretting melding.
Seek it utters, dare to dream.

(38 characters)

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Journey from Death to Life by Elaine Mansfield

A powerful post on bereavement and healing by Elaine Mansfield, who lost her husband through cancer. This details her journey through loss and encounter with the mysterious  Green Man in dreams. A remarkable journey. I reblogged this in the hope that her words will be of help to others experiencing grief. It resonates strongly with me.

https://otvmagazine.com/2017/09/18/journey-from-death-to-life/

Walk With Me

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Image: Pixabay

“Then walk with me and embrace the mysteries of Heaven and Earth” he says.
The Hermit speaks no more but lifts the veil obscuring, bright is the light he offers, illumination of things hidden, things not spoken off but revealed only in symbols and dreams foretelling.

What is it that he offers? “Self-knowledge” he whispers. No more is uttered, such is his challenge to both wary and unwary. Each must choose the path of becoming and undoing. The Fates wait, with life thread spun and shears at the ready. We stand ready, scales fallen from eyes, new vision gifted, new life waiting.

We seek the temple with no name, image made perfect in visions and meditation,
guarded for all eternity, hidden from the profane.
It is a place of Becoming, the mountain path to a place of glory, Heaven made on Earth. He talks in riddles, places seed in soils fertile.

Softly do we tread in places Angels walk.
See their gaze alight on Seekers true, soul searing and questioning.
We say the Way is long, and they answer “only if you make it so”.
Such Truth is evident and all embracing.

Who bars our way? Guardians most awe-some, Warriors unrelenting.
Doubt has no place where we seek to go.
For it is a place hidden from the profane, a place of Becoming and Unfolding.
See his staff sweep across unknown vistas, star-filled skies and depthless oceans.
The Portal waits, is it real or a fancy of our dreams?
Doubt has no place where we seek to go.
“Then walk with me and embrace the mysteries of Heaven and Earth” he says.

How Fares The King of the Wasteland?

Image: Pixabay

Lonely and embittered is the King of the Wasteland. Ruler over phantoms and of regrets, he sees little of worth including himself. How blind, how tragic.

I watch him tread the path well trodden. Deep are the furrows, in body, mind, and spirit. He perches on the precipice, unwilling to retreat. The breeze whispers, torments endlessly, carries the voices of those abandoned, those unloved.

We circle one another, my shield and sword at the ready. Strong is my resolve, harsh is my gaze. I shall not be cowed, shall stand my ground, shall challenge forthwith. Where is my compassion? Held in abeyance, held in Hope.

Be still and at peace I say to ruler of all and ruler of none. How his gaze falters, how his gaze darkens. The tears flow, they glint like diamonds. I say yield unto Love, yield unto Forgiveness. Will he listen? Will he speak?

Heal he must, rejoin the living. Discard hurt he must and notions of revenge, notions of anger. Free yourself, free the others. This I urge but will he listen? Battle he must the fears of his heart. Shadows past and shadows present stand in his path. They are but empty shells, dust filled memories.

He advances but I do not retreat, cannot retreat. How the wounded beast circles, aches to bite, aches to tear. His heart bleeds, his tears fall. Dare I wipe them away? Dare I soothe his heart? Both he and I must divest all that hinders, all that pains. Naked must we face the other, tread the path of freedom. How vulnerable we are, like newborn babies. Hush, hush the Mother whispers. She hears our cries and soothes our hurt.

At last the Sun rises, bringing Light into our Darkness. Yet the path goes on, beyond the horizon. Yet more we should divest, do so in the fullness of time. Gain illumination say our hearts, gain flight and freedom. Be at Peace one says to the other. Journey further, learn much. Part in humility, part in Love.

Image: Pixabay

Possibilities

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Image: Pixabay

I was speaking with a friend of mine earlier this afternoon, we’d known each other from the age of 12 years. It’s been a long friendship, both of us are now (mutters incomprehensibly). Perhaps our ages aren’t so important eh? There have been several job changes, illnesses, bereavements and relocation of homes. Let’s just say it’s been a full and interesting journey for both of us. Our childhood ambitions were and still are creative endeavours; alas this was not to be and we ended up in different professions. Both of us are at another crossroads in our lives, considering a variety of options and assessing the possibilities. 

Possibilities. A word worth its weight in gold. Much like Hope, it can sustain us when all appears bleak on the horizon. Our youthful selves were fired with energy and great expectations. As adults our experiences have tempered those expectations, that’s only natural. Hindsight is a great teacher, realistic but not unkind.

My younger self believed she could make a difference and create a better world for all of us. I passionately believed in justice, fairness, tolerance and equality. Still do. I’m going to come out of the wardrobe, fall out of it more correctly and admit to being a Socialist. Still am at heart but its nuances have changed slightly but not its heart. I’ll go to my cremation as one. Protest marches were a staple for me – against apartheid, racism, erosion of employment rights, sexism, etc.  I’d grown up in a culturally diverse part of London, attended a primary school in Soho that had children from many different ethnicities. Secondary school was a little different but still great.

That’s not to say there weren’t tensions in society. London at the time was a place of political and social turmoil. Nothing has changed! The 1970s, 80’s and 90s saw profound upheavals, many necessary. Additionally the activities of Far Right groups like the National Front (and other more extreme groups) created an atmosphere filled with violence, fear and tension. It seems humanity’s atavistic tendencies are once again rising to the fore. The gates of the Underworld have been loosed and the inmates are on the rampage dear friends. One hopes they’ll be dragged back to their cells soon.

Culturally it was an exciting time from what I remember, well, it was neither boring nor safe in terms of output. I do get nostalgic at times for the spirit of those times, more due to the people who I’d known and met. Each one of us has a different perception of that era.

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Image: Pixabay

As for this entity called Possibilities. His Nibs (Anubis) advises that I should network and when am I going to book in a meeting with it. I reply ‘soon’ and look away furtively. He lays a hand on my shoulder and squeezes. Oh boy, the Opener of the Way knows me so well. ‘Check your calendars’ he says firmly. It seems I’ve been too long in the company of certain rogues and low life, namely Procrastination, Fear, Ill health, Being Unfit (call me Cuddles) and the two worst of all, Inertia and Lack of Confidence.

He looks at me for, oh, ages. There is only kindness and sympathy in his eyes. I smile at him in thanks. My spirit needs re-energising. Writing contributes to a sense of great well-being and this blog is a blessing as are spiritual studies/training. I serve both Anubis and Thoth in spirit and reality, the power that is Ptah is never far away. What I don’t serve are other people’s unrealistic expectations of me and the beast of ‘living to work’. Although the latter does have me in a headlock. A bummer as they say.

Back to scheduling this meeting. His Nibs has passed me a list of ‘To Do’s and admitted they were only reminders as I knew what needed to be done. I scrutinise it, fair enough. Clear and simple objectives, the fine detail will require work. Not a problem. To travel between the different planes of consciousness one has to be fit in more than body. Mine needs a little maintenance admittedly but the mind, even if I say so, is resilient. It can be a little wayward, stubborn and undisciplined at times but still manages to survive adversity.

To travel through the landscape of the Collective Unconsciousness requires foolhardiness, a level head, resilience, self-insight and trust in oneself. Many falter, deceived by manifestations of their own Shadow and human longing. We also have to acquaint ourselves with the lexicon of symbols needed to engage and converse with the inhabitants of this other Universe. A guidebook of phrases and possibilities you might say. Keep your wits about you at all times, for the soul and mind can be seduced by all manner of suitors and enemies.

Most important of all, a Guide is vital. So far I haven’t upset His Nibs (and hope I don’t).

“I’m not going anywhere, if I do there will always be another one of us with you. Even if your angelic friends want to come along” he mutters interrupting my thoughts. I’m vastly relieved and don’t think it’s wishful thinking. “Have Trust” he loudly responds. Of course. The vista opens up before us. We sit down and take our time looking at the strange sights appearing out of nothingness. Images from my life, one after the other. Regret, unhappiness, happiness, anger, loss, fear, manipulation, capitulation, success, failure, hate, love.

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Image: SURREALISMART.ORG

I also see the ancestors amongst these many aspects of myself. We all need release it’s evident. My hands are clenched, holding on to much. He kneels before me and takes my hands in his. I can sense the power and gentleness within them, as does my heart. We wait, breath held in, silent. My fingers are uncurled one by one until both palms are facing upwards. We see the remains of things that were long gone and begging for freedom. Smoky wisps, rising and falling. He breathes upon them, chanting incantations. There is no other sound except for his voice. He gathers them up and deposits them in a barque that’s appeared to one side. Their journey now begins to the Duat (ancient Egyptian Otherworld).

I sense the release of the many from all my line, we are being unburdened one by one. My eyes close, seeing the world as it appears to the inner eyes. It ebbs and flows, inhaling and exhaling, communicating in ways that I didn’t think were possible. In silence can we hear the Universe as it unfolds its mysteries.

As Khepri rises in the sky so do we feel our own Coming into Being, that oft repeated phrase holds a wealth of meaning, highly symbolic. How we forget the beauty and magnificence of the stars, the Imperishable Stars, holders of memories from the birth of our existence. What of the light that’s journeyed for millions upon millions of years? Possibilities upon possibilities exist, why not take note and draw in that light into our own being? Bathe our cells in its essence. My thoughts scatter in all directions, seeking, questioning. How fare the ancestors? Of like mind it seems, all respect to them. Yet, I also understand that their burdens and history, good and bad have been passed down the line to end with my siblings and I. Do we accept their legacy?  Not if it perpetuates further negativity and damage to body, mind and spirit.

Anubis is still kneeling before me. I return to the present, time for the introspection to end. The evening light casts a golden glow on everything in the garden. It feels so peaceful and still. I sense the Opener is still here, watching. “I agree to do it” is all I say to him. Where’s my diary?

Resonance

Image: Pixabay

She followed the Seven, Guardians of the Lore into the innermost depths of the sanctum. Torches glowed with a preternatural brilliance. Here was housed their most sacred lore, memories emanating from an era when neither Light nor Darkness existed in that Universe. A time when the Omniscience held a germ of all that was to be in their thoughts. So did life and death unfold. They showed her the way, then the Holy of Holies emerged from thoughts and soundless voices. Thus was she shown the beginnings of her people, of her kin. The images played out before her, of a time and place not of their world: Continue reading

Lyn Baylis: Life and Work of a Priestess, Minister and Psychopomp

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Image: Lyn Baylis, Chris Brock Photography

I’m rather excited about hosting my very first guest post. Lyn Baylis is a dear friend who has kindly accepted my request to write a piece about her work. You might say both of us have walked the mysterious path of the Psychopomp and serve the myriad faces of the god of Death, Anubis being one. Although Lyn’s work and service to the community involves much more. Lyn can be contacted at the email given at the end of the post if you have any questions.

Part 1

Introduction

My name is Lyn Baylis and I have been a Priestess for 40 years. My other roles under that umbrella involve being a LifeRites Minister (spanning over 20 years) and a Pagan Hospital and Hospice Chaplain.

I follow a broadly nature based spirituality, within which diversity is celebrated in all its colours as well as the ethic of equality. My belief in a single divine creative source also encompasses a belief in Gaia the Earth Mother, the Old Ones and spirits of nature. We are all bound together by the essence which we call spirit, the divine spark is within all beings. The life force is present within all. It is an energy which pulsates around us but cannot be seen, yet we know it to be real. It is omnipresent.

The energies of nature are consummately obvious when looked at in the context of the phases of the moon, the ebb and flow of the tides, and the cyclic nature of the seasons.  They are in the air, in the wind, in fire, in water, in trees, in the rocks and beneath the earth, in crashing roaring things, and in what the Irish call a soft day.  They are in all things and everywhere.

Each day I meditate as a means to focus before tuning into the energies that flow throughout the Universe.  It is very simple but takes time and effort.  I do not consider myself special, just a part of a worldwide community who are committed to guardianship of the earth and our fellow travellers.  My work is undertaken in the knowledge that whatever is done to others, will (if in a different fashion) be returned to me. Accordingly, these powers will not be used for evil. Those that operate in such a manner will flourish for a while but will over time be diminished as individuals.

Regarding my work, the aim is to serve the needs of the wider community while respecting the individual’s spiritual beliefs, culture and lifestyle choices without judgment. LifeRites allows me to work with many differing religious beliefs; often writing and officiating at Naming, Handfasting and Funeral ceremonies which embrace and include more than one faith. My work involves facilitating workshops to enable people to plan funerals in their own way.

I also believe that in our culture Funeral Poverty is not only a financial problem but encompasses culture, social, emotional and spiritual aspects of our lives. Funeral ceremonies can be so much more than what we have been used to. They can be written in a way that will meet the requirements and needs of the clients, not the ego of the priest, minister or celebrant.   Since becoming a member of the Brighton Death Forum I find myself facilitating more and more workshops in an effort to dispel the myths and taboos around death. The hope is that people will no longer view this subject with fear and therefore talk openly with their family, friends and even complete strangers without feeling embarrassed.

Part 2

Home Funerals: A Grandmother’s View

Did you know that family led funerals with limited input from funeral directors or even entirely without funeral directors are totally safe and legal?

 In working families, even as late as the 1900s, home funerals were what happened when someone died. They weren’t something special. It was just what was done in every family.

My Grandmother cared for her family and extended family when they were alive, when they were dying and when they were dead.  She was the village midwife, so not only did she bring new life into the world, she made sure that those leaving it were shown due respect and treated with honour and love.  Laying out the dead and performing the last offices for them, was to her, not only a sacred rite, but a labour of love.

The move to hide death away started with the moneyed gentry towards the end of the 17C. Until then, even for the wealthy, death was just a part of life, with most families losing at least one of their children to illness.  However, if you view tombstones from the 18C onwards, the stark statements are transferred into gentle metaphors. Sentiments such as “Here lies Fred, he is dead” cease to be visible and instead, tombstones talk of someone “sleeping with the angels” or being “gathered into God’s arms.”

With the death of Queen Victoria’s beloved Albert, rituals around death became more and more formalised.  The care of the deceased followed prescribed patterns; even the behaviour for those in mourning was formalised.  The ensuing funeral arrangements were totally removed from the family and summarily placed behind closed doors, where the dead were painted, rouged and plumped up before being wheeled out for photos (with or without the family) or death’s head masks.  Then they were locked away again and packed firmly in their coffin, jaws bound and limbs tied tightly together in case they should make a noise that would distress the relatives on their final journey or when they were lowered into the ground.

These social taboos around death slowly seeped into the mind-set of the general population.  Death, which had once been accepted as just another part of life, eventually become hidden behind the closed doors of the funeral parlour, only spoken of in reverential tones or whispers. Even today, people are a little bit in awe of the funeral director and this, together with the numbness grief often brings, can cause them to accept  any arrangements suggested to them, pick expensive coffins , or settle for funeral arrangements that will cause them social, cultural or financial distress, accepting any date they are given for burial or the cremation. They forget that the funeral director is there to help them, to provide a service, and that it is they who are ultimately in charge of what happens.

We the baby boomers of the 40s fought for the right to give birth at home, a right enjoyed by many mothers around the world now.  We have reached an age when our parents and others that we love are dying, and we do not want to just hand them over to some faceless funeral director however professional, nice or kind they may be.

We wish to make sure that our loved ones, and ultimately ourselves (when our time comes), will be looked after in death and afterwards by people who know us, love us and will care for us at the end the way we would like to be cared for.  We wish to hold vigils where we can say goodbye to our own with the rest of the family and friends in our own homes, not some faceless funeral parlour. To honour them with our rituals and talk to them while we organise the funeral, sourcing, making, or painting the coffin, and decorating it in a way our loved ones would approve.   We want to hold a wake as in the old days, raise a glass, share the old stories and spend time with those we love before we eventually lay them to rest in a celebration of their lives, not with an impersonal, remote ritual which often seems to be staged to be the ultimate separation from our loved ones.

I and others who feel the same will continue with this battle because it is ultimately for ourselves. It is, however, wonderful to see that more and more people are becoming aware that they do have options when it comes to caring for their dead.  They can use a funeral director to organise the funeral, or get involved and direct the funeral service making considered decisions, or have a home funeral if they so wish.

My aims are to let people know about their options, to assure them that family led or home funerals are legal and achievable (with or without help) if that is what they wish, and to remind people that they have choices. My hope is that, in some small way, I can empower families to do whatever it is they wish to do for their loved ones at the end of life.

For some, when they think of home funerals, the main drive is to offset the ever-increasing costs, but for many more, they wish to take control of a ceremony they find removed from them, depressing, morbid and not in any way uplifting. They wish to reflect the spirituality of their loved ones, treating them with honour, respect and love, making all actions sacred as the loved one dies and to continue this heart led care whether it is in person until they reach their final resting place, or in spirit walking with them towards the other realm.

Organising part or all of a funeral does make you aware of the reality of death, yes. You see the person you loved dead, but with a good death comes a serenity and peacefulness that is wonderful to witness, and this revelation can assist the grieving process and be a very healing experience. Therefore, if anyone wishes to participate in any way, or lead their own end of-life rites and rituals then I will help with advice and assistance if I can or alternatively put them in touch with someone else who can.

For those of you who believe you would find it difficult to have a body at home, and do not wish to even think of doing this, I do understand. When we talk about the dead, it is often the images we see on the TV or in films which are paramount in our thoughts, complete with dreadful smells and a decomposing corpse, but in actuality, that is generally not the case.

When we look at other cultures around the world, there are many whose death rituals are based around keeping a loved one at home for three days or three nights. It is only our distance from death these days and the fears that are triggered by these images that highlight the problems. In addition, with the help of air conditioning or ice packs, we can keep a body at home for a week if necessary, so three days generally will cause no problem.

However, if your loved one died in hospital or in a hospice, as long as you haven’t appointed a Funeral Director they will generally keep hold of them until you can collect them from there to take them to the crematorium or to the burial ground.  These same facilities can sometimes be used if the deceased has to be kept for some time, e.g. a son/daughter has to travel from abroad to say their goodbyes.  if your loved one dies at home, some modern funeral directors will work with you, while some green burial grounds have facilities to keep the body, or you can call upon an *End of Life Transition/Threshold Guide to help you.

If you belong to a spirituality which sees death as a rite of passage, then this usually begins with laying out your loved one after death.  Washing them, combing their hair, anointing them and placing them in the clothes they wished for their final journey.  Whether you are family, a friend or someone who has been called in to help. I can assure you (being a Grandmother myself now) laying out someone is a service of love and one which I always feel privileged to perform.

If you are leading a private celebration of the deceased’s life as part of a rite of passage, then first identify what it was the deceased achieved in life.  It could be a major thing or something they might not themselves have classed as an achievement, e.g. bringing up a family. Honour their achievements, whatever they were, and understand their passions, their hopes and dreams.  Open sacred space. (If you are helping a family that is not your own always ask them how the deceased would have done this.)  Work with other members of the family to get them involved choosing, prayers, poems, and songs that express the deceased’s journey through life, get them to tell the stories that they love and want passed down to the family, share photos, etc.

The decoration of the coffin can have its own place in these celebrations, whether it is weaving flowers into a willow coffin, painting or pasting photos onto a cardboard coffin or choosing a more conventional coffin and the items to be placed in or on it. You are only restricted by your imagination – and the practical requirements of the burial ground or crematorium.

If it is to be a spiritual ceremony, then call upon the deities/spirits that were significant to the deceased and mark a sacred space where you can hold the ritual and invite those with whom the deceased wished to share this special time. Many spiritualities believe that the spirits do not begin their journey for a while after they seem to have gone, e.g. some open the window to let the soul fly out. Whatever their ways, find out beforehand; if it’s family then, of course, you will already know.

When taking your loved one to their final resting place, you can use an estate or a van, as long as the body is covered it really is not disrespectful.  Getting friends and family to gently lift and carry the coffin into the crematorium or to the graveside feels somehow more natural, personal and meaningful to me. If you do not feel that you will be able to speak, then you can always hire a celebrant who will understand and honour the spirituality of your loved one and the family.

If you decide to have a home funeral and venture down this road, I promise you will find it a rewarding, moving and deeply transforming experience.

* this is the name agreed by the National Home Funeral Alliance in the USA to cover End of life Midwives, Soul Midwives, Death Doulas, Home Funeral Guides and any group or person who works with the dying before, during and after death.

For further information on Family led Funerals or how to train to be a Transition /Threshold Guide contact: lyndelune@sky.com