Now on Rewriting Death: A Certain Kind of Death and Cemetery Law

Today there was a glitch that means there are TWO posts to read on Rewriting Death. Movie: A certain Kind of Death A Certain Kind of Death is a documentary from 2003 about the work of the LA Coroner’s office and legal processes that surround dead bodies. The movie tracks several bodies after their discovery through the process of trying to find next of kin, looking for any funeral plans they might have made, checking to see if they have the money to cover their own disposition or if the county will need to cover it, and more. It shows the process of cremation, including shrouding the body, putting it in a cardboard coffin, putting it into the crematorium, manually breaking up the bones and sweeping out the ashes. For those who are interested in the process, it’s a good, straightforward look at the work of the unsung members of the coroner’s office. It’s nothing very exciting cinematographically, being very simply shot, and there are some images of bodies that have been lying in place for days or weeks that are fairly gross. It’s certainly not a movie for everyone. Research: Cemetery Law by Tanya D. Marsha and Daniel Gibson, Funeral Law Blog, and Papers Tanya D. Marsh has rapidly become an invaluable resource for me, although very little of my reading of her work will actually make it into the book. Instead, her work informs how I talk to other polytheists about the practicalities of death....

The Purpose of Wailing

A nigh-universal feature of Greek funerals was the wailing of women, as they beat their breasts and tore at their hair. This was originally the province of women of the household of the deceased, but they were eventually joined by professional mourners. Modern scholars tend to dismiss wailing as "a show of excessive grief", as if it were a kind of conspicuous consumption of mourning, and not genuine. This, to my mind, is offensive, myopic nonsense. Just because our society expects us to be more restrained in our grief, and are embarrassed when people contravene that, doesn't mean that when other cultures do demonstrate great sorrow, that they're somehow faking it. Wailing, and its Irish cousin keening, has been a part of funeral tradition in a number of cultures, and there's no reason to believe it's anything other than genuine from family and friends. Hired mourners were there to show extra honor to the Dead, to say that their death affects the whole community, but just because hired mourners grieved on command doesn't necessarily mean that they did not grieve truly. Just as some people now feel that any death diminishes us all and should be mourned, some people then would have mourned any death. True grief is hard (though not impossible) to fake. I'm sure I'll write at greater length about this on Rewriting Death, and especially about the parallels with keening, which I've been studying a little, and listening to examples of. The most moving is this example of actual funeral keening: The very few others I've found on YouTube have been songs or improvisations, not recordings from actual funerals. I'm still looking for more. If you happen to know of any online, please let me know at hexdotink@gmail.com. I did some trancework around wailing and its possible purpose as a way to speed the soul onward, and was told, "The purpose of wailing is to give voice to your grief." I'm holding tight to that....

Now on Rewriting Death: A Comic Look at Death Preparedness

A Comic Look at Death Preparedness This summer, Randy did a storyline (beginning here; content note: first comic mentions a sex toy) in which main character Davan and his wife Vanessa discuss death preparedness. It’s far from the only time S*P has addressed serious topics, including Alzheimer’s, miscarriage, and the sudden death of a close relative. It is the first time I’ve ever seen a comic — any comic — address the necessity of wills, life insurance, and funeral wishes, and the fact that none of us can guarantee that we will live long lives....

Labyrinths

(Yes, I'm still drawing. And somehow, I find myself drawing at least one labyrinth almost every day.) Many of us have daydreams of having a piece of land, often out away from the city, where we can have rituals, shrines, maybe even a temple. My personal version of this is the Earth Labyrinth dream. I want a chunk of land out away from the city, preferably with a small house or cabin, and on it I want to build (ok, have built) an earth house (that is, part of the construction will be made from dirt, and in particular the outside should be a dirt mound I can grow ivy on) that is simply a large labyrinth inside, with a room at the center (not just a niche). I want it wired for low lighting, bright lighting, and sound. I want to make traversing the labyrinth an initiatory experience, a lesser mystery of its own. Maybe once or twice a year, offer the initiation. Have a small group out to the land, have them undergo a day or two or ritual work, prayer and fasting, and then, one by one, they enter the labyrinth, walk it to the center, find there what they find there, and walk back out. Send them off to a celebration for initiates. No elaborate ritual theater, the way Spring Mysteries or Orpheus Ascending have. (As much as I like that.) The story of the Labyrinth of Knossos told, one teller, one drummer, maybe someone with a bullroarer. And a dumb show, acting out the story as it's told. Let initiates come back by arrangement if they feel they need to walk it again. Perhaps I'll let people I know well come and be initiated at other times than the group. Maybe have rules of the kind that are seldom used today, but were in antiquity. Refrain from sexual activity for a week, from the meat of land animals and from garlic for three days. Fast the day of. Things like that. Maybe not those exactly, it'll be a process of divination, but something like that. Maybe none at all. We'll see. That's my dream. If I can get good jobs as a database admin, I might even manage it, someday....

Now on Rewriting Death: Writing Washing the Dead

Writing Washing the Dead I’ve never washed a dead body, and yet I had to write about it. It’s the first service to be performed for the Dead, and it was the first one I wanted to write. So first I spent a lot of time researching. The ritual for washing the Dead will be up on Rewriting Death's Patreon as a perk for patrons....

Memento Mori Mistakes

So I finally got around to printing a lino block I carved weeks ago. Turned out I made a few mistakes... The first one is obvious: I carved the lettering the right way around, rather than mirror-reversed, and so of course it printed them the wrong way round. Oops. The second was simply that I didn't carve out the eye sockets. The third is more subtle. I cut opposing spaces (such as the space outside either wing) in different directions, giving the background marks an unbalanced look. I must remember to carve them all the same way. So I carved out the eyes and removed the lettering entirely, since there was nothing else to be done about it. I'm still having trouble inking the block evenly, but I'm pretty happy with how they came out, overall. I added a little PearlEx powder in Interference Green (which is a fine white powder that shimmers green) to try to suggest a little phosphorescence, and that came out pretty well, though of course you can't see it here. If anyone's interested in them, prints are $10 apiece, and you can reach me at hexdotink@gmail.com or any other email you have for me. If anyone's interested in the other print, they're $10 plain or $18 with a verse of the Litany calligraphed on the back....

Ritual Framework for the Litany

Galina Krasskova, after using the Litany for the Many Dead in a group ritual, wrote to me to suggest that it needed a ritual framework. Not everyone who might use it has experience working with the Dead, she pointed out, and working with them can be difficult and even dangerous. The Litany is an invocation of a great many groups of the Dead, too, not all of whom might get along, with each other or with the participants. The idea was something of a revelation to me. Honestly, I hadn't thought very much about how it would be used, hadn't considered things that way. It worked for me, of course it did, I wrote it to work for me. But now I needed to make it work for others in a ritual context. So I wrote back and said, basically, that that was an excellent idea and I'd get right on it. I wrote this a little while ago, and never did get around to posting it. It will, eventually, be in a second edition of the book that I'm planning, with additional verses. The introduction to the new edition will also have the suggestion that if people have a problem with a particular group of the Dead that they simply leave out that verse rather than invoke spirits they don't get along with, or that might not get along with their ancestors. It's important to exercise some discernment in these matters, and some discretion. Reading it alone, over your ancestor altar, as a way of simply acknowledging those of your ancestors whom it fits, it might not be such a big deal, but in a group ritual, some of those verses can be a very big deal. It is, as Galina pointed out to me, a political work, and it's political because I'm political. Every verse in there represents some of my Dead, whether the connection is of blood or feeling. Personally, I feel like almost all of them apply to at least some of everybody's Dead (for exceptions I'm thinking specifically of the verse about the AIDS dead -- possibly not everyone knows someone who died of that disease -- and of course of the Shoah, Porajmos, Stolen and other very specific groups of the Dead), but everyone knows their own Dead better than I possibly could. When read privately, it can be that kind of acknowledgement and praise of one's own dead. When used in a group ritual, it inevitably calls on the greater body of the Dead. So use your own best judgement. (I'd prefer, of course, that people not leave out groups of the Dead based on bigotry, but there's not much I can do about it.) I feel like I shouldn't hold this ritual back waiting to publish, especially this month, when so many are honoring the Dead. So here it is. Ritual Framework for the Litany for the Many Dead This ritual can be done by any number of people, from one to many. If you have many people, you may wish to assign the initial ritual parts to different people, and to arrange attendees in a circle and give them each a verse to read when it's their turn, or you might wish to have it take the form of a presentation by a few people or one person. If you are two or three, you might want to pass the book or paper back and forth and take turns. If you are alone, you can do it by yourself quite easily. As part of the planning for this ritual, I suggest that you pray to your own ancestors, including making offering to them, telling them what you're planning, and asking them to act as a sort of crowd control. If you don't already have an active ancestor worship practice, know that you can just tell them conversationally. Summon them, using the Beloved Dead verse if you like, and just say, "I'm going to be doing this ritual for the Many Dead. Can you please help me with it?" Make an offering of some food or drink traditional to your family, or that particular ancestors liked. Call them first when you begin the Litany. Have ready a bell or chime, incense, one or more candles, water and a bowl or cup into which it will be poured, and any other offerings you want to make, either to the Dead in general or to specific groups or individuals. Wine, milk, honey and flowers are all good choices. For individual Dead, some food or drink they loved in life. Begin by creating sacred space and boundaries for it in whatever way your tradition usually does. Include a cleansing of the space and all participants. It is important to have both a space that is...

New Post on Rewriting Death

Research: The Greek Way of Death by Robert Garland This is the foundational text of my research. While it does not, and indeed cannot, speak to Orphic matters, it does give an excellent outline of the most usual ceremonies of laying out, funeral, procession, disposition, and funeral feast. My copy is filled with bookmarks, dog-ears, and underlinings. I have copious notes just from this one book. It helped shape my outline for the book as well as the individual rituals....

Full Circle Remix

In Ranier, Washington, there lives a woman who makes beautiful and very fine pottery, and owns a piece of land that has, on and off, been a center for pagan community for years now. Off generally because of some life upheaval that prevented her from hosting much. The land has a character to it that is unique to my experience. It is the only place I have ever been able to see fae, the tiny ones, for one thing. There's a reason the first Craft name I took meant "blind one". Seeing properly is not my bag. I can't scry, either, though every few years I try again. But more, it... feels like home. Driving in feels like coming home to a place you've missed badly, no matter how long or short a time you've been away. This weekend, there was a house concert there. I went. It was my first major social outing in the circles I used to move in in four years or so. When I owned a restaurant, most of the time people came to me. I didn't have time or energy to go to other people. My entire social life existed there, or nearly so. When it closed, I was too depressed to try to rebuild one. Now I'm making new beginnings. And part of that is to rebuild my social life, to make new friends and reconnect with old ones. So I drove down this weekend, and came home. I got to see Betsy Tinney (who played music about mouse skeletons dancing and a whale being saved from from a fishing net), Bekah Kelso, SJ Tucker (a friend, and always amazing to listen to), and, as a surprise, Nathaniel Johnstone and Dogwood. Johnstone's band made the album The Antikythera Mechanism, which blends Greek myth with steampunk, and with which I am mildly obsessed. I missed seeing him live at Many Gods West last year, due to being in the middle of ritual prep, and was sadly disappointed. And, of course, despite him being local, not going out and not having any money means I haven't gotten to see him since. I was thrilled. And Dogwood! She's incredible! I have a new crush. Seriously, she's adorable offstage, but onstage... she has this incredible energy, moving constantly, singing with so much passion, whirling and mugging and... honestly, I want to say masking, although she wore no mask. She put on so many faces in the mini-set they did together that I can think of nothing else to call it. Only like about three times as intense, and about five times as goofy when they did Snugglefish. And just generally the whole thing has been amazing and wonderful and incredible. As I write, though I won't post this until Monday, I'm still here, early early in the morning on Sunday, having woken up and been unable to get back to sleep. Maybe now that I've gotten some of this experience down, I'll be able to sleep again. The name of the place is Sidhehaven, and the owner is Sherry Kirk of Sidhefire Arts. And here's the theme song, written by Tucker and Kelso, from the first Full Circle concert here, two years ago. It was so amazing they decided to do it again!...

Rewriting Death

I've started a new blog, Rewriting Death, about the process for writing the Starry Bull's death and funerary rituals. There's a Patreon to go with it, with the proceeds to go to books and other research. I'll be posting there on Wednesdays, and probably post a brief alert here when a new post goes up. I hope people will find it interesting....