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....

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....

Following up on the ancestor dream

After some thought and divination, I've finally done something I've been thinking and talking about doing for months. I called the Spiritual Care Offices of three local hospitals and volunteered to be put on their lists of people who will come pray with (or, in the case of pagans, do ritual with) patients and families. I learned about this from a hospice chaplain I know through Death Cafe. Hospitals usually simply have no resources specific to paganism or polytheism. How could they? Our communities are so small, and so few people know that this exists. I encourage anyone who has the interest to do the same. Simply call a local hospital and ask for the Spiritual Care Office. Tell them you want to volunteer to pray with pagans and polytheists. Most hospitals don't allow flames, which rules out candles and incense. I suggest LED candles and electric oil diffusers. (I have lots of battery candles, but can't currently afford to buy a diffuser. :P )...

Ancestor dream

I dreamt last night that I was walking in a garden of an old, huge Gothic house on an island, and there I found a woman who looked something like my mother, but wasn't. "Mom?" I said. "No. I'm your great-grandmother." "Lil?" "No. Another one. It doesn't matter." She told me that my project (there was some project I was working on, in my dream, something with food plants, but it's not the clear part, so what it was isn't relevant) wasn't helping enough people, that I needed to be putting in more skin. That I needed to be helping more directly. (In the dream, I started giving the plants away to people who needed to be able to grow their own food.) It stands out so clearly, now I'm awake. So different from the rest of the dream, that melted away quickly. So I'm taking it as a true visitation. But I'm not sure what to do with it. My big project at the moment, of course, is The Book of the Downward Labyrinth (the book of Starry Bull funerary rituals I'm writing), and the Polytheist Death Guild. I want badly to become a death midwife, which would allow me to help people more directly, but I can't afford the training. I'm having trouble affording the basics right now. I don't have many readers, but those of you I do have, if you know of any pagans or polytheists who've lost someone and want help planning funerals or mourning rituals, please feel free to point them at me. I can be reached at hexdotink@gmail.com. Other than that, all I can think to do is keep writing, and publishing the generalized versions of things to Polytheist Death Guild so people have the tools to do things themselves....

Retreat Weekend

This weekend, I went on a Bacchic retreat with a small group of likeminded folks on the Oregon coast. We rented out a house on the beach and spent the days in ritual, conversation, prayer and divination. There was wine and there were gifts. There were processions, a mad prophet, raw meat, roasted beef heart, dancing on the edge where the water lapped, chanting and singing, and for the first time, I played my drum in front of people. I saw again people I'd met before, and met in person for the first time people I'd only corresponded with online. It was pretty incredible. For the first time, I helped to write and then perform a ritual for a group. I had quite a bit of stage fright about it, but it went very well, and was a wonderful experience for me. I brought along the beginning of a project I've spoken of only a little here. I'm engaged in writing mortuary and funerary rituals for the Starry Bull tradition. I've done a great deal of reading and research for it, but very little writing. I am too conscious of the weight of the responsibility, too worried that I'll get it wrong to write much. But this weekend I knew I was going meet in person someone who had invested in my research, and I wanted to show her that I wasn't wasting that investment. So I finished writing the one ritual I'd gotten traction on, and brought it along to show people. The response was so positive that I am again fired up about it. I have more confidence in my ability to do this. I'm thinking of starting a second blog specifically for the project, collecting my research and notes and talking about the process. Rewriting Death is the name I have in mind. There were two big disappointments for me, both involving only my own body and no fault to anyone else. First, I sliced the underside of my little toe open stepping on broken glass late Thursday night, and spent four hours in the emergency room getting it stitched up again. Not only did I get very little sleep before the long drive down, but I had to be very careful of it all weekend. I couldn't get sand in it. I couldn't go for a cleansing ritual plunge in the cold Pacific. I couldn't enjoy the hot tub. There is very little less conducive to a ritual mindset than double bagging one's right foot. The mad prophet helped me out, though. And then, hauling supplies up and down the narrow and twisting path to the beach, I sent my back into a nasty spasm, and suffered some pretty serious pain the rest of Saturday night and Sunday. A good night's sleep in my own bed and some care taken of it has helped that enormously, though. It was a weekend that made solitary me want to do more ritual with other people. Preferably without injuring myself....

The Art of Dying

"It is the feast day of St Jareth, patron of the lost, the fabulous, and the peculiar; of the Labyrinths underground and the Starmen overhead. It would be a good life to live even half so beautifully and fiercely as well." -Ursula Vernon, The Hidden Almanac, January 13, 2016 They say that some things come in three. And now we have three deaths together. Lemmy from the band Motorhead, David Bowie the multi-faceted performer, and actor Alan Rickman of so many roles. All of the deaths came as a surprise, but Bowie's most of all. An extremely private person, even most of his closest friends had no idea he was struggling with cancer. And yet, he orchestrated his own death to be exactly what he wanted it to be. He created his farewell album, without telling us that's what it was, and let it stand as simply another in his long career -- until suddenly he was dead, and we all knew it for what it was. Few details about his actual death are known, but his family has said that he went in exactly the way he wanted to, a blessing many of us don't get. Because so few people knew he was dying, he was able to leave behind only the carefully-crafted masks of his life, rather than the wasting of his death. In general, I don't approve of the way our society hides death away, but in this case, his death became the final act of the art of his life, one more mask to leave behind. It was an act of great beauty and meaning, and I cannot dislike that. Death and dying are much on my mind lately, and will be for some time to come. I've taken up a new and very important project: to create the dying, funerary and mortuary rites of the Starry Bull tradition. So much of death, as I said, is hidden away in the modern world. It disconnects us from a natural and important part of life, and disrupts the process of grieving. We think now that grief is something that can be overcome by willpower and strength of character, rather than as a very real presence that is natural and normal, and should be fully experienced given the space to grow and change, not repressed of hurried through. The Starry Bull is a tradition that speaks much of the afterlife, but until now has spoken little of death itself. I hope to create a handbook for the dying, for the newly Dead, and for mourners of the Dead. Without such a handbook, people must scramble to find information and resources when someone dies. Mourners have yet another thing to deal with instead of being able to mourn in peace. I hope that such a guidebook will allow more people, Starry Bull or not, to make art of their deaths. I also hope to start a conversation in the broader polytheist community, because this is not the only tradition that lacks defined rituals of death. To that end, I won't be primarily talking about this project here, but will be starting another site, tentatively called Polytheist Death Guild, where people of many polytheist traditions can bring their resources and information. I will, of course, post about it here when the site goes live. We must integrate death and dying back into our lives, must learn to make art of our deaths and our mourning. We lose so much by not doing so....

Death and Dying resources

I'm starting a new project, which I'll start talking about at some point, but in the mean time, I'm going to start posting links to some resources and research. Maybe they'll help some of you. ETA: I'm sort of throwing more links in as I find them today. After today, I'll collect them in new posts. If you're looking for something in particular and don't see it here, email me at hexdotink at gmail, and I'll see if I can help you out. Get Your Shit Together helps you prepare for the possibility of unexpected death. Get advice on and help with advance directives (living wills), wills, executors, guardians for children and pers, and more. Having your affairs in order all the time -- these documents should be updated periodically -- is a huge help to family and friends if you do die suddenly. GYST doesn't have advice for other things you might want to have in order, like funeral and body disposition instructions, but some of that is part of my new work. The Order of the Good Death is a group of death professionals, thinkers, and artists who work to normalize death in our society. We've become so alienated from the processes of death and dying in our culture that it's become unreal to us. The Order seeks to reverse that trend. This is a group I'm hoping to become involved with myself. Death Salons are put on by members of the Order, and are events to facilitate conversations about death. These are largely professional presentation events. Death Cafe is a more informal setting for discussions of death over food and coffee or tea. There's one here in Seattle every month, and I'm looking forward to attending one on Monday. The Green Burial Council is a US professional organization of, well, green burial and cremation providers. They maintain a listing of all the cemeteries, crematoria, funeral directors, etc, who practice ecologically conscious body disposition that they certify to help you find one near you. Natural Burial Providers is a similar UK site. Natural Burial Association in Canada. Elemental Cremation and Burial is one such provider, here in Seattle. Their services are not only green, but highly affordable, and their founder is a member of the Order of the Good Death. Nourishing Death is a blog about the foodways of death and funerary food customs. Fascinating stuff, good recipes. Beyond Hospice offers training for death midwives and home funeral guides. Earth Traditions offers death midwife training in the context of paganism. The Home Funeral Alliance offers information and support for home funerals. Thresholds for Life is the site of a Seattle death midwife....