Rites of Passage #5: Memorials

Some time ago, I wrote a piece about Atheopagan Rites of Passage. In it, I described life milestones that might be celebrated by an Atheopagan, and which we as Atheopagan “clergy” (we’re all clergy, since we have none) might be asked to officiate over.

On reflection, it occured to me that just talking about these rites of passage probably isn’t helpful enough: that having some guidelines for each such rite would be helpful to the community. So here is the final installment in the series: Rites of Passage.

Note that the structure outlined below isn’t a formula; it’s a set of guidelines. Feel free to change any or all of its elements to fit best with the community you are serving.

This rite of passage is structured more like a traditional memorial service because funerals typically have more attendees than can be accommodated in an Atheopagan circle. A smaller and more intimate Atheopagan circle might be conducted around the grave before burial (if the body is to be buried), but this post is focused on the memorial rite.

Of all the life passages described in this series, this is the only one that is guaranteed to all of us: we all die. Some of us do so even before we are born. This rite of passage is meant to comfort the living, to celebrate the dead, and to contextualize living and dying in the great story of Life on Earth.

When planning a memorial or funeral service, there are many considerations: what did the deceased feel were their greatest accomplishments in life? How did their atheist spirituality fit in with the rest of their family? What were their wishes for a memorial, if they left them? If for a stillbirth or miscarriage, what are the messages the parent(s) would like to give to the deceased?

Here is a general outline for an Atheopagan memorial service:

Gathering/Arrival: play music that was loved by the deceased during this period*. It doesn’t have to be sad music! A memorial is a celebration of a life.

Welcoming remarks by you, the officiant. Bid everyone welcome and ask them to be seated. Welcome the family in particular, and if there are any “dignitaries” or special friends to the family, welcome them, too. Have everyone take a deep breath, and blow it out: we are here, in this place today, in the presence of the profound reality that is death. In our sorrow, we come together today to celebrate the life of ________.

Poem or prose reading celebrating the magnificence of existence: This is where the “Pagan” part of the ritual comes in. It is a reminder of the beauty of Life on Earth, in this extraordinary Cosmos. That we live here, surrounded by wonders, for a brief time, and then dissolve back into the Cosmos from which we came.

Musical Interlude: A song or instrumental piece–guests may be invited to sing along if the organizers wish it.  Be sure to provide music sheets to guests if you choose this option.

Eulogy: A prepared speech to memorialize and celebrate the life of the deceased. Usually delivered by a family member or close friend. May include description of the deceased’s Atheopaganism and what it meant to them, and/or any final words the deceased left behind for their community.

Poem or prose reading: Some good nontheist choices are available here.

Officiant invites guests up to share personal memories

Personal Memories: spontaneous memories shared by guests

Musical Interlude: another song or instrumental piece, possibly with guests singing.

Benediction: (Literally, “saying a good word”): a closing statement by the officiant acknowledging the love and respect that has been expressed for the deceased, gratitude for the deceased’s life, with well-wishes for the family and loved ones, an adjuration to embrace our precious lives, and an invitation to the reception following the memorial (or burial service if that is to follow).

Restart gathering music as attendees stand and prepare to leave.

 

 

*Or as chosen by the parent(s), if this is a stillbirth or miscarriage memorial

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Rites of Passage #4: Elderhood

Some time ago, I wrote a piece about Atheopagan Rites of Passage. In it, I described life milestones that might be celebrated by an Atheopagan, and which we as Atheopagan “clergy” (we’re all clergy, since we have none) might be asked to officiate over.

On reflection, it occured to me that just talking about these rites of passage probably isn’t enough: that having some guidelines for each such rite would be helpful to the community. So here is the fourth installment in the series: Rites of Passage.

The Passage to Elderhood occurs when the subject thereof feels ready to take on that identity. There is no hard and fast rule about an age at which a person is an “elder”; some may never feel that they are.

Personally, I have decided that when I turn 60, it’ll be time for mine.

This Rite is one of acknowledgement. In it, the achievements and efforts of the person along the way to becoming an Elder are recognized and celebrated. There is no “ordeal” involved; the subject has already lived many ordeals and survived them.

The passage into elderhood should be conducted by a circle of friends and family. The organizers may choose to include only those who have attained adulthood, or also to include younger members of the subject’s loved ones.

This ritual should be conducted in a comfortable, convivial environment. Age has privileges! Comfortable seats in a circle about the subject (also comfortably seated, perhaps in a swiveling chair so they can turn to face each speaker) are appropriate. This ritual doesn’t have a single “officiant”, but rather is a shared activity of all participants.

Arrival (Speaker 1): We are here, atop the accumulation of time. In their life, _________ has seen a, b, c, d, e, f… (list historical, cultural and technological changes). We come to this moment now filled with memories, with history. We arrive in this moment rich with hard-won knowledge. We are here, now, on Planet Earth at this very moment, the Now, to celebrate our kindred who is becoming Elder.

Qualities (Speaker 2): May we be imbued with kindness as we do this. May we be filled with courage and honesty. May we remember what is valuable to remember, and share what we have learned. May Love, and Truth, and Beauty, and the Sacred Cosmos inform our words and deeds.

Working: each segment taken by a different speaker.

We acknowledge your struggle: Speaker 3 invites the new Elder to tell a story involving personal emotional challenge.

We acknowledge your work: Speaker 4 invites the new Elder to tell a story about their career and creative efforts.

We acknowledge your wisdom: Speaker 5 states the ways they have seen the new Elder demonstrate wisdom.

We acknowledge the value you have to contribute going forward: All speakers state the ways they see the new Elder contributing to the world and the community. If gifts are to be given, they are given here.

New Elder speaks on their commitments to contribute going forward, their interests, and their passions.

Gratitude: While passing around food and drink, members of the circle express gratitude for the admirable qualities of the new Elder. When it is their turn, the new Elder expresses gratitude for the things in life that have brought it to the point of Elderhood.

Benediction (Speaker 1): We are grateful to the Cosmos for our lives, to the good Earth and human innovation for the longevity which has led us to reach this point in our lives. In the names of Love, and Life, and Beauty, and Truth, we welcome into the world the Elder ___________, our kindred. May we go forth in wisdom and joy!

Rites of Passage #3: Handfastings and Dissolutions

Some time ago, I wrote a piece about Atheopagan Rites of Passage. In it, I described life milestones that might be celebrated by an Atheopagan, and which we as Atheopagan “clergy” (we’re all clergy, since we have none) might be asked to officiate over.

On reflection, it occured to me that just talking about these rites of passage probably isn’t helpful enough: that having some guidelines for each such rite would be helpful to the community. So here is the third installment in the series Rites of Passage: Handfastings and Dissolutions.

More has been written, imagined and published on weddings (or “handfastings” in Pagan parlance) than on any of the other rites of passage I am discussing in this series, so I will just touch on a couple of traditional elements that I like and let people design their own handfastings to fit their personal wishes and needs. Meanwhile, here is a Certificate of Handfasting you can download for use in your own Atheopagan wedding ceremonies.

handfasting

Handfasting. Handfasting is an old tradition wherein the hands of those to be wed are bound together with ribbons, symbolizing the bond of their relationship. They then…jump the broom!

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Making and jumping the Wedding Broom. A festive wedding broom can be made as a keepsake for those being handfasted: each guest ties a length of colorful ribbon onto the shaft of the handle, with their good wishes for those to be handfasted. Later, when the broom is complete, those being handfasted traditionally “jump the broom”: it is held about a foot above the ground, and they–with their hands still bound together handfast–leap over it, to the applause of the wedding guests.

A Year and a Day: In some Pagan communities, people may choose a “trial marriage” of a year and a day of commitment, to see how well it will work before making a longer-term commitment. Obviously, this isn’t a legal marriage.


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Dissolution ceremonies are rare in our society, but if those whose marriage is to be dissolved are able and willing, they can provide a sense of closure at the end of a relationship that is no longer working.

Dissolution ceremonies should be 1) short and 2) final. During or before them, rings and family heirlooms should be returned.

Here is an outline for a simple dissolution ceremony for a separating couple. The officiant may have to keep a firm hand on the proceedings if the participants are angry and hurt. The ceremony should include members from the couple’s community to support them and witness their dissolution.

Preparation:

A large, inexpensive vase of water is prepared, with two empty glasses. A towel large enough to swath the vase and a large rubber band are at hand.

Arrival:

Officiant: We are gathered here today to achieve the final separation of the marriage of ___________ and ___________. Friends have joined with us to witness the ending of their time in committed relationship, and to support their moving on to new chapters in their lives.

Qualities:

Officiant solicits spoken emotions, values and characteristics from the participants which they would like to inform the dissolution process.

Working:

A ribbon from the original handfasting is cast into the vase of water (If possible, the couple’s rings may be tied into the ribbon to keep it from floating out). Officiant states: this is the relationship you have shared.

Officiant then empties the water from the vase in equal amounts into the two glasses and gives one to each member of the couple, saying, now it is time to take yourselves away from what has gone before.

Officiant swathes the vase–now empty except for the ribbon–in the towel, binds the bundle closed with a rubber band, and puts it into the hands (all four) of the divorcing couple. They raise it above their heads and then cast it to the ground to break the vase, ending their relationship.

The couple drink their water.

Gratitudes: Officiant solicits from each of the divorcing couple an expression of gratitude for what they have learned and experienced with the other.

Benediction: It is complete. Officiant declares the work to be done, sending all participants forth to live full, happy and wise lives.