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.

 

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Guest Post: Lyn Baylis on “Ritual, Death, and Magic”, Part 1

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Chris Brock Photography

My friend Lyn Baylis has kindly consented to writing two further articles shedding light on her work. This subject isn’t always an easy one for people to face but she has written sensitively and compassionately about care of the dying and dead. Without further ado here are her words:

As well as being a Chaplain and Minister, my other duties entail being an End of Life Midwife and Transition guide. This is doing the work of a psychopomp. The primary function of the psychopomp is to help the spirit or soul of an individual cross over to a safe place at the time of death. For many this role is part of who they are and they come to it naturally, others can learn the skill, but it is not as easy as many people will tell you.

Every culture, country, religion, and community has certain behaviours and rituals that govern their actions when a loved one dies. These traditions and death rituals are based upon:

  • Religious and spiritual beliefs
  • whether they believe there is life after death
  • What type of life that is
  • What happens to the body and soul after death
  • The social status of the person who has died
  • The connections between those living and those that have died
  • Beliefs about the human connection with nature
  • Superstitious beliefs about death

Many people believe that the soul/spirit doesn’t leave the body immediately at death and must either be looked after until it is ready to leave, or sent on its way. Many including some Native American tribes believe that the death ritual is part of the magic that helps the deceased to reach the afterlife, and works to protect them once they are there.

We’ve seen that our ancestors placed food, weapons, jewellery, tools, or pots within the burial site for the use of the deceased in his afterlife, so they clearly believed that the comfort of our dead was important.

So where does magic fit in and how much is it necessary for the rituals around death?

 There are three types of magic that occur around the dying and the dead:

  1. Necromancy – cursing to bring to death.
  2. Magic to enable the deceased to leave the body.
  3. Magic to ensure the soul/spirit doesn’t return to haunt us.

Necromancy

Often working with graveyard dust and other symbols of the dead they’re said to create  undeads or phantasmas  (apparitions).  It’s also supposed to attach entities which some people call vampiric magic.

All rituals to cause death, regardless of what people think of them are black magic. There’s one heavy and universal law, you have to pay for your right to use a curse of death, or to work to force the dead to do your will you may pay dearly.

Magic to enable the deceased to leave the body

The second use of Magic is to help the deceased leave their body and start their journey to the next life, the Summerlands, purgatory or to immortality – depending on their beliefs.

Magic to ensure the soul/spirit doesn’t return to haunt us

When we talk about the soul/spirit ordinary language is mostly inadequate. Various ancient spiritual traditions have stories of individuals who have had near-death experiences We can enter this realm through ritual and ceremony by shifting the mindset of the individual. The spirit rises transcending individuality and seeking oneness with the divine or the infinite being.

Once In this state the person no longer dies in fear but reaches a place of peace and love,  where should they wish, they can stay conscious for the journey ahead. The first thing to do is to create a peaceful soothing atmosphere that will trigger all the senses and thus help the dying person and all present to get a sense of and to feel close to the Divine.

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Image: Pixabay

For maximum effect it’s important to work with all the senses:

Sight

Set up an altar/sacred space and arrange spiritually meaningful articles or pictures on it.

Cover unsightly furniture with beautiful cloth.

Arrange for soft lighting or candle light to bring feelings of peace security and safety.

The sight of beauty all around brings solace even to the most troubled mind – working in this area you can see the person start to relax as you transform their space from a hospital/functional space to one that calls to them.

Smell

Use scented candles, incense and oils.

Place fragrant flowers in the room.

All these heighten the senses and bring a higher understanding of the divine within, so as the smoke rises the scent calls to the dying person to rise with it to seek the other world. (Make sure they like the odours selected, and if possible that they have meaning to them).

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Image: Didgeman, Pixabay

Sound

Prayers in keeping with the dying person’s tradition are there to remind them of the love that surrounds them and the infinite love that awaits.

Reading of much loved books or poetry.

Recitation of psalms and reading of scriptures. In Islam the Qur’an is read.

A guided meditation to take the person to the place they wish to be.

Gentle chanting, and soft and evocative vocals.

Other music or sounds that will sooth and inspire.

All these are chosen by the family and the Elder/Shaman whose words call on the old magic; using good memories and words of love to encourage the spirit to transcend the mundane.

Guided by holy words or the love of those who care deeply, they call on the dying person to surrender, so that their pain will end. This enables each person to experience the ecstasy that comes with release from the temporal body and the joy of the peaceful state. (Hearing is the last sense to go and loud, high frequencies may make the person uncomfortable and distressed. So, best avoided).

In this liminal place silence is often more important than sound, so it’s good to remember the value and necessity of simply sitting in silence with the dying person. After having assured them that it’s fine for them to go (an important statement often forgotten), you then allow them to make the journey at their own speed.

Touch 

Water, as in “holy water” or “spirit water” is often sprinkled on the dying person to prepare them for death, in some traditions even a baptism is performed. Oil also is sometimes used to anoint the person and to make them ready for the transition. Some people will at this point close the chakra points along the length of the body, leaving the head chakra open to allow the spirit or soul to escape.  Personally I wait until I am anointing the body after death.

The Sprits of our Ancestors are often called by the Elder or Shaman at the point of death to guide the spirit onward into the continuing journey.

The most important thing to remember is that this time is for the person dying. 

If rituals are created with that in mind, and rooted in love and compassion, then there is no right way or wrong way to do things. Be aware that rituals can bring things to the surface. They may help us see things more clearly as they bring to the fore feelings that’ve have been buried in our unconscious. Be mindful that these may trigger emotional outbursts in friends and relatives.

Part 2 deals with rituals undertaken post death. These will be elaborated upon in the next post. 

 

 

Anubis in “American Gods”

I’ve read Neil Gaiman’s book and loved it, a reminder that the gods are always with us in one shape and form, although not always in familiar guises! It raised many questions. Do the gods fade into nothingness when our worship and faith cease to be? Do they become phantoms lurking in the recesses of the World Mind waiting for an acknowledgement, some sign that we still love them, fear them? This isn’t either a review of the book or series, but a whisper of something lying hidden within me. Perhaps the gods are asking where I’ve been and where I’m going…

I was brought up in a different spiritual path to the one being practised now and this scene resonated strongly with me. Although the ancient Egyptian gods were always  a source of fascination even when I was a little child. If we give them a place in our thoughts and memories they will not forget even beyond death. Hopefully His Nibs, as I like to call him, will meet me at the portal when my time approaches. The actor playing Anubis was well chosen.


As for the next scene, what emptiness and hopelessness she has within her! One wonders whether the character truly believes that there is either no hope or possibility of something better beyond life. When the Scales don’t balance the possibility looks bleak…

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

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

Tread Softly Dear Love

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Image: Pixabay

This was a strange one to write. I love the sea and feel its pull strongly, it calls bringing voices of the past and something yet to come. On this occasion it brought with it a tale of something and someone lost. A mariner who lost his life due to treachery and seeking revenge on the perpetrators. Revenge is a toxin that can remain even beyond death if we choose to accept  its embrace. This lost soul yearns for his former love, haunting her steps in the waking world and within her dreams. He also haunts the living, filled with a raging hatred.

Such is the strength of the mariner’s ire that the gods are compelled to deal with him. One such divine being is enlisted to calm the storm within this soul and release him from this purgatory. This isn’t a poem. I listened to my feelings and tried to translate them into a narrative that had elements of a song. I like the sound of words and the images they create:

Tread softly dear love,
Lest you crush the rose so avidly sought.
How so you question, this way I answer, dampen your ardour.
How your eyes of Autumn fire seek fulfilment, entreat passion,

This is not to be, she walks the lonely shore,

Carrying memories of times past, love that is past.

Leave her be, heal she must.

The rose blooms still upon her cheek, the heart still beats within her breast.

Tread softly dear love,

Lest you crush the rose so avidly sought.

 

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Image: Pixabay

Deep, deep I take us,
Through Earth and rivers of Fire,
Into depthless Oceans, forgotten Realms.

Soft are your words, hard is my Response.
Human man, how you drown in bitter waters, endless tears.
Speak to me of visions loving,
Of echoes of distant trysts,
Not of bloodied revenge, such things are gone and should not be called.

Retribution shall come but not by your hand.

It is not your task, for that is for the gods.

 

Ancient Mariner, why seek revenge on the living?

Your heart blazes with unnatural fire, quench it you must.
Our people call to us, many are their prayers,
Seeking release from the darkness that you bring.
Desist! Return to your watery grave in Poseidon’s realm.
Why become the very thing that seeks you out?

Lift yourself from these sands,
No presence of your former self shall you leave.
Gone is he, into depthless Oceans, forgotten Realms.

No graveyard dust shall you have but pearls of shining.

 

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Image: Pixabay

Tread softly dear love, your time is passing,

Dry your tears lest the depthless Oceans embrace the land.

Hear the song of the birds and the crashing waves upon the shore.

Give thanks for what you had, give thanks for what you shall have.

The Fates have decreed and so it must be, why seek hubris even beyond death?

Embrace the wine dark sea, taste its lips for evermore.

 

Tread softly dear love, your time is passing.

Come, join me into depthless Oceans, forgotten Realms,
In shining halls and forests of green.
Embrace the wine dark sea, taste its lips for evermore.
Tread softly dear love, come into my arms, your time is only beginning.

A Fleeting Glance

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Image: Pixabay

The spectre of a creature inhabiting the dark places of our subconscious emerges into consciousness once more. It’s been a while since I visited this landscape, the last time was in Ancient Bloodline – Moonlit # writephoto. Love, although a dysfunctional and destructive one, was the basis of that story. How could it be otherwise when it involves the Lady of the Bright Red Linen (one epithet of the goddess Sekhmet) and demons such as vampires. The ending was not a happy one. Why should it be?

The memory of that tale and an old project prompts me to weave another story involving yearning and love. My interest lies in exploring the depths of this creature’s psyche and also ours. Whether I succeed remains to be seen. Alas my protagonist doesn’t fare well much like the one in “Ancient Bloodline”. Crimson kisses and exquisitely painful emotions lead only to oblivion. My general of armies of darkness and blood has followed his ancient Egyptian priestess through centuries of search. Often glimpsing her but not quite able to touch, until now. Such an obsession is his undoing. Continue reading

Fragile and Luminous

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photo credit: EmsiProduction The Time Rabbit via photopin (license)

The White Hare watches me and then looks down at his watch. His face is solemn, voice silent. Finally he intones, “we are fragile and luminous. Intricately engineered things of beauty, ephemeral like snow crystals glinting in the rays of the Sun.  Such is life, such is beauty.”

His words give me pause for thought. Typical of the Lord of Magic and Wisdom to throw me such a morsel! Oh, did I forget to mention that the Hare is intimately connected with the ancient Egyptian deity Djehuty (Thoth) and his centre of worship at Khemnu? Wise is he in all things associated with knowledge and higher wisdom. Rather like Jedi Master Yoda. He tries to hide a smile at my comparison but I spot it. His eyes scrutinise intently, making me feel unsettled. The silences seem to stretch into infinity and hold a wealth of meaning. I have no words to offer him, only what lies behind the gates of my soul. Continue reading

Whispers of Ancestral Voices

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Image: Pixabay

Fellow bloggers and old friends who attended the recent Silent Eye workshop, The Feathered Seer, have written far more eloquently than I of their experiences.  This is my attempt at making sense of the weekend’s events, my guide Anubis will walk beside me as I recall all and perhaps nothing. I ask my Muse and Guide, The Opener and Walker between the Worlds what he makes of this tapestry woven from our histories. He gives me an inscrutable look (haven’t seen that one before) and whispers:

We carry in our DNA the sum of all existence and memory, from before time existed and beyond the ending of worlds. Linking with others to form gigantic DNA chains in the body of something beyond comprehension. Purposefully flying towards evolution and completion. Harmonious and beauteous in all ways. All return to the point of origin, from whence they came. Then there is no-one and no-thing, we just ARE but our conscious minds are unable to understand this concept except only in dreams and moments of true insight. Continue reading

Reminisces: Favourite Scooby-Doo Monsters and Villains

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Image: Pixabay

This post came about due to a morning’s clear out of a storage box containing old comics and diaries. It felt rather strange looking over the past but they were good memories. Shall we shall these artifacts are my equivalent of Proust’s madeleines.  There are regular repeats of children’s cartoons on television and I thought this one deserved to be given quality attention.

The Scooby gang first hit our screens in 1969 and as they say the rest is history. I’m sure all Scooby afficianados looked forward to Saturday mornings to see our heroes in action. Secretly we wanted to be like them, unmasking villians, straying into danger and just having a lot of fun. Who were these fearless teens? Daphne Blake, Velma Dinkley, Fred Jones and Norville “Shaggy” Rogers and Scooby. The Fabulous Five of course! Their powers of detection, courage and sheer athleticism (well Scooby and Shaggy anyway) always won out. The forces of good triumphed over evil every time. The number of villains and monsters were legion but there are a few that merit a special mention (that includes Scrappy Doo, annoying little varmint!). Please feel free to argue amongst yourselves about the list. Continue reading