I spoke and sang at a celebration of life for a community member yesterday. This is the first funeral I have attended since the pandemic began. Come to think of it, all the rites of passage I have attended so far this pandemic have been Pagan or for pagans. How odd…
I wanted to say something about how our Pagan faith can still be honoured in our passing, even when people are not able to gather energy together in the same place.
The funeral was conducted over zoom, and the live portion was held in a ceremony space with a stage and an altar showing pictures of items meaningful to the person who had passed. One candle was lit ceremonially at the beginning of the service. There was a camera pointed at the stage and another at the table, and also a person running the zoom portion. There was a large screen showing the online attendees in grid on the stage as well, for the benefit of the family attending in person. The celebrant and the few family members present one by one came up and spoke, as in any funeral. A family member sang via zoom, and one of the relatives spoke via zoom.
Several of us from the departed person’s spiritual/religious family presented over zoom, individually, but grouped together. We alternated speakers speaking about the person’s impact on us, with singers singing. It was simple and effective. The songs chosen in this section were “All I ask of you” and “Weaver Weaver” (a funeral song from the Reclaiming witchcraft tradition, with lyrics by Reclaiming thealogian Starhawk). The all I ask of you song was repeated in between speakers (only the chorus was used “all I ask of you is forever to remember me, as loving you”) and tied the speakers together nicely. Here is a link to a recording of someone playing piano accompaniment with lyrics on display for ‘All I ask of you’. All I ask of you is a Catholic hymn written by a Benedictine monk (recording and sheet music here), the Sufi lyrics in Arabic were added at a later time within usage in the Quaker communities. However, because the words are not overly Christian, the hymn works really well for gatherings of mixed faiths, as most funerals are, and is widely used in services beyond Christian congregations.
Weaver Weaver is a favourite of mine for honouring the dead and you can obtain lyrics and music in various places online. The sheet music and full lyrics can be purchased directly from the composer in the book The Pagan Book of Living and Dying which I strongly recommend. Heartfelt and non-pagan friendly, the first verse and chorus can be sung with the pronouns adapted to the specific person being mourned. Here’s a link where a paper or ebook can be purchased from an independent bookstore.
One piece that really struck me, however, was the candle-lighting ceremony mid-way through the service. First the family each came up and lit a candle on the altar, and then each of us on zoom held up and gradually lit our own candles. I felt a strong energy in the virtual space, similarly to how the energy can be when you are in a live ritual and the magic is flowing. It felt like we were doing something, connecting, mourning together, honouring the departed person, reaching her.
I was very impressed with how the family, who did not appear to be Pagan, nonetheless included their Pagan and lesbian relatives’ faith and life fully in the service by inviting her friends to participate and by including mention of her longer term female partners. It felt like a wholeness.
It’s so sad that people have to mourn their dead in isolation in these times, but this ceremony gave me hope that meaning, comfort and connection of those grieving can still happen. If you are mourning today, may you be comforted and know that you are not alone.