‘Tis the season for we Pagany/witchy types. There is an entire aesthetic we—or most of us, anyway—enjoy that has a brief moment in the waning sun each year, and this is it.
Now, as Atheopagans, we don’t believe in ghosts or spirits or Dark God/desses. But that doesn’t matter: there is plenty of rich fodder for ritual, for reflection, and for psychological transformation at this time of year.
We’ve all been hurt. We’ve all suffered loss. And we have only to look out to the world around us to find ample and overflowing reason for rage, for sorrow and for lament.
Bones, skulls, graves and funerary ceremonies are powerful images and processes. They bring us into encounter with the fact of death and are cathartic moments when our deepest feelings can emerge. And this is the time of year most apt for these kinds of rituals.
So here are some ideas. These can be solitary or group rituals; in my experience such rituals are powerfully transformative and can make a real difference in our lives. You can do them in a back yard or even in a private corner of a public park*.
- Dig a shallow (perhaps 1′ deep) “grave” and hold a FUNERAL for (preferably biodegradable) symbols of what has departed or no longer serves you in your life. Enclose them in a wooden or cardboard “coffin” and bury it with full ritual honors. Keep a flower from the funeral and dry it for your Focus (I put mine in the Underworld section of my Focus, where I keep pictures of my Beloved Dead, as well as of ancestors, destruction and change.)
- Alternatively, build a PYRE. Place on it the symbols of what you wish to release, and light it ablaze. Be sure to practice fire safety–you can even do this ritual on a backyard fire pit. When the flames have cooled, keep a coal or a small portion of ashes from the fire for your Focus, to remind you of the change you have undergone.
- Perform a RESURRECTION. Something Missing from your life that you once had–some activity you loved, or quality or feeling about life? Build a mounded grave with a symbol or symbols of it buried inside. After dark, go to the grave and build a Focus beside it illumined by chimney candles or a jack o’lantern. Go for the spookiest look and feeling you can find!Contemplate the Focus; perhaps sip some blood-red wine. When the moment feels right, slowly dig for the symbol(s) of what has been lost, chanting, Bring it back to me, bring it back to me. Seize the symbol(s) tightly when you find them, and hold each to your heart. Replace the dirt as before. Carry the symbol with you, at least until Yule. This ritual can be even more powerful if done as a group, with one person as the “subject” and the rest choosing the symbol(s) to be buried and creating the grave–in this way, the subject will not know what is in the grave and its emotional impact will be stronger.
- Visit with ANCESTORS. This one CAN be done in a a cemetery, preferably after dark. Prepare by anointing a black candle with cedar oil (the scent of coffin wood–at least, that’s my association. You can also use yew, which is an evergreen traditionally planted in cemeteries). Plant the candle in the ground, and light it (bring a glass chimney to keep the wind from blowing it out).
Bring a list of ten or twenty of your ancestors’ names, if you don’t know many of them by heart. Read the list aloud, repeating 3 times. Ask aloud, three times, What, wise ancestors, would you have me know? What is your message for me? Pay close attention to what message arises from within you, for it is your wisest self speaking to you. I do not recommend this ritual for those with a history of abuse at the hands of family—the Abuser Voice is a powerful psychological structure and may hijack the process.
One of the things that scares people of the Overculture about Pagans is that unlike them, we are not in denial about the dark aspects of existence. We understand an emphasis on “white light and love” to be an incomplete and illusory perspective on the complex mixture that is our human reality. Death and loss are a part of this—and we as Atheopagans are even more unflinching about this, because we understand that an afterlife is highly unlikely. Working with the physical and symbolic reality of death and endings renders us more grounded in reality, more psychologically healthy and empowered, and more able to be effective in the world.
Speaking of, it IS the season! Be sure to complete or update your Death Instructions!
* Though it would be really cool, I do not recommend trying these rituals in an actual cemetery, as you may end up talking with police.