Nearly every religion or belief system has its own traditions surrounding death and dying. Wicca is no different, although its practices for paying final respects to loved ones can differ widely among various sects. In any case, Wiccan funeral rituals exist to help the living cope with their losses and say goodbye to their loved ones. Its concept of the afterlife, plus its view of humans’ place in the circle of life, are just a couple of guiding factors shaping many versions of Wiccan funeral customs today.
Honoring Their Final Wishes
The circumstances in a Wiccan’s life at the time of his or her death can affect whether he or she is given a Wiccan funeral. If a Wiccan is unmarried, the next of kin must usually decide how final rites are to be conducted. This can lead to the newly departed being commemorated with the rituals and practices from his or her families of origin’s religion. Often, this results in a Christian burial. While most Wiccans will not interfere in such cases, making legal arrangements for one’s last wishes is prudent. If having a Wiccan funeral is a priority, Funeralwise recommends naming a fellow coven-mate or a lawyer as executor of the will.
Returning to the Earth
Many sources on the subject reveal that Wiccan customs prefer the dead to be wrapped in a simple shroud, avoiding traditional Western practices of enclosing the body in a casket and preparing it with modern embalming fluids. However, this may not be possible in many jurisdictions due to laws governing cemeteries and burial practices. Alternative options might include cremating the body or choosing a green burial method, as these would still honor the original intent of allowing it to return to the earth. This is a vital belief for many Wiccans, as interment can provide the soil with nutrients to facilitate the generation of new life. Meanwhile, the soul is said to journey to the Summerlands, a placid spiritual realm in which the departed rests and reunites with dead loved ones before reincarnating into a new body.
Basic Funeral Rituals
The specific rites used in a Wiccan funeral can vary between covens, sects and even individual believers. However, there are a few basic observances that are used in most ceremonies. Most will follow a somewhat standard format, with some variations existing in specific chants used by clergy. These are customarily based on whatever version of the Book of Shadows is being used by the member’s coven.
First, the ritual space is generally emptied of any furniture. Next, candles are placed in a circle at the north, south, east and west points as well as on either side of the altar. If the body has not been cremated, it is also placed upon the altar. The Priest or Priestess recites ritual chants, then invites mourners to draw close to the body to say any final words or pay their last respects. This portion of the service involves voluntary participation, and speaking to the deceased is not required of any visitor. Finally, another candle is lit and the body, if present, is wrapped. The clergy concludes the rite with a final chant, usually for each of the four cardinal directions.
Closure for the Living
Common wisdom holds that funerary customs may benefit the living more than the deceased. Indeed, modern science has still not unlocked the answers to humanity’s deepest questions about what happens after our bodies and brains cease to function. The loss of someone dear to us precipitates the need for closure, and funerals provide that for many people. For Wiccans, it can also serve as a reassurance that their loved ones will once again take their places in the circle of life—and perhaps return to Earth again.