The faint scent of fall is in the air, and because of it, my mind has turned to thoughts of Hallowmas and the Wild Hunt. This year more so than usual, because my husband’s father died earlier this year.
It got me to thinking about public and private forms of grieving. In my neck of the woods, you’re meant to buck up in public, and keep outward forms of grief to yourself. Excepting the funeral, there are no public rites for grief and release.
Some will say grief is best left to counselors and other qualified experts, rather than kept with friends and family — in effect “sanitizing” the grieving process, to make it comfortable for the masses. But life’s a messy business, and if you aren’t in touch with that reality, I’m not convinced you’re doing it right.
A ritual surfaced, buoyed up by all these musings. It fills in a gap for me and mine. Maybe it will fill one for you, too:
Start with a cauldron full of easy-to-string beads, set in the center of your work space. It helps if everyone brings a cup to scoop out their beads. Have a knife or some scissors handy, and some red thread made of natural fiber (cotton embroidery floss does the trick nicely). This rite works best with a relatively small group; too many and the rite loses steam.
Everyone should scoop some beads out of the cauldron, and string their beads onto the thread, to make a loop of meditation beads. It doesn’t really matter how many beads you scoop up. Bracelet- or necklace-sized, either is fine. Tie off the loop with three knots. Why three? Because three is a number infused with mythic properties. To most folks, three just feels right.
For this rite, the string of beads represents the life of your Loved One.
Now arrange yourselves around the cauldron, and take several steps backwards to that you end up with plenty of space between you and the persons next to you. During the ritual, you’ll gradually move closer and closer to the cauldron, and to each other.
Decide whether you’ll be moving deasil or widdershins. Pick the direction that feels right to the group — don’t agonize over this, just go with your first answer. Decide on who will speak first. With these two decisions in hand, you’re ready to start.
Hold the beads to your forehead, close your eyes and think about your Loved One. Let your emotions flow, and allow yourself to rock back and forth in place, in an age-old motion of comfort. After everyone’s had a chance to get settled in, the first person speaks, using something like the following formula:. “For the love of (say the Loved One’s name here)” followed by a word describing the Loved One
Everyone will chant this, so it’s best to keep it simple. For instance, if I’m mourning Abraham Lincoln, I might say “For the love of Abe the Bold.”
The next person takes up the chant, saying “Abe the Bold.” It helps to speak in rhythm with the rocking, for instance, saying “Abe” or the forward rock, and “the Bold” on the backward rock.
Let the chant go around the circle, while marking each chant off on your prayer beads. You’re using the beads to keep yourself in a meditative state, so simply hold the beads in one hand, and let your thumb pull a bead forward with each chant. Something like this.
When the chant goes around the circle to return its originator, that person says something like “Abe the Bold, now gone from us.” Everyone takes a baby step forward, and the next person in line starts his chant. If you’re all grieving for different people, you’ll each say a different name. If you’re all grieving the same person, you’ll be saying the same name, but with a different descriptor each time. You’ll start by standing apart from each other, and move closer and closer together, until your shoulders are touching.
Depending upon the size of your group, each person may start the chant once, or you may go around three times. Whatever number you decide, when you’re done, take a moment of silence.
After the silence, each person should approach the cauldron and cut the thread, so that the beads fall loose back into the cauldron, saying something like “We will not walk this way again.” Which is true, because no matter how many times you might do this, the combination of beads on each string, people present and words chanted will never be the same again. And the thread is cut, just as the Loved One’s current life has ended.
Once everyone has returned their beads to the cauldron, someone should give the cauldron a good stirring, so that the beads are all mixed up.
If you subscribe to the idea that a person’s life force returns, to dissolve into a “Cosmic Soup” — a blend from which new souls will be dipped upon reincarnation, this imagery is pretty apt. If this isn’t how you look at reincarnation, no matter. Undeniably, the body’s return “ashes to ashes and dust to dust,” means your Loved One’s components are blending with and rejoining the material world.
Now, take up a new piece of thread and a new scoop of beads from the cauldron, saying something along the lines of “The Wheel of Life turns. Now you are gone from me, but I will know you again.”
Be it so!