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The Way We Say Good-Bye
the south altar, dressed for the wake
Several years ago, I met a big loud Irish-American man who told a good tale and couldn't be trusted as far as you could throw him. He was one of those wounded braggarts that seemed so common in the Pagan community in those days--an obnoxious exterior that shielded a deeply flawed and troubled person, a person who wouldn't have been so bad, if he hadn't been raised so rough.
We tested each other's mettle at a local pub where he had a notion that he was a hard drinker and I was after all just a girl. Please don't throw me in that Guinness patch! Needless to say, he didn't regret the craic or the tunes but he also didn't have the satisfaction of drinking the girl under the table.
Too early and after a long and confusing illness, this big man died. His community came together to send him off to Tir Nan Og on a bitterly cold evening, made colder by that crap we call "Pagan Standard Time." We might could have honored him if we'd started the outdoor rites before the sun set on the western hills. But we started in the darkness and the cold and we shivered and our teeth chattered. At one point I realized my boots had frozen to the ground.
There've been many deaths in the long years of our young community and we are in an age now where the Elders (who don't seem so much older than me any more) are passing the dark veil into the land of memory. Since that frozen funeral, I've been present for the celebrations of many rich lives and each commemoration is the same and each is very different indeed.
We're coming to terms now with what happens when a Pagan dies--what shape the rites can take, what grave goods and music we can reasonably bring to a funeral that may include family members of the beloved dead who are still Presbyterians or Baptists or observant Jews.
Tonight a small group of us gathered to honor a great teacher, writer and scholar--someone who had influenced our own work or our practice or our lives. She wasn't a close friend to any of us but several of us knew her or had worked with her or had met her. And here's how we said good-by--we set up a memorial altar in the South and we reset the North altar (which still holds its Ancestral votives). We made a 7 day candle with Pat's picture on it. We brought food and drink--a mod version of colcannon, a traditional soda bread, sweet potatoes, clementines, hummus and three kinds of Irish whiskey.
We read the prayers for the dead from Caitlin Matthews and we sang songs and we told stories of how we knew her. We read some of her poetry and hunks of lovely prose from some of her books. We sang a song to Brigid the Gold-Red Woman and we reprised "Hoof and Horn" which we sing throughout the Samhain season.
Then we ate and laughed and talked about that tatty giftshop at the foot of the Hill of Tara. We drank to her memory and we cried a little. Then we tidied the place up and blew out the candles. We reset the chairs for tomorrow's devotional at the temple and we put on our cloaks against the cold of the night and we all went away home.
That is how we said good-bye to Patricia Monaghan tonight--with a sharp sickle of the Moon above us, songs in our throats and life shining through our runny eyes.
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