PBP 2013: Burial and Burial Customs

I had several ideas for the ‘B’ category. Bones, blood, boar, basil, bay laurel, Beltane. Then, on Saturday, I was talking with a lady about the subdivision where I lived and she mentioned that it used to be an old Native American reservation…or burial ground…or spiritual place.

Well, I have no idea if that’s true. The correlation that’s a little weird is that I live in a subdivision named after Native American tribes, but let’s be honest. The likelihood of that being true, and not just hearsay, is small.  I researched as much as I could online and came up empty.

Still, the conversation got me thinking about the concept of burial, burial customs, funerals and graveyards. Ripe topics for Witches, Pagans and assorted ancestor-honorers, huh?

(Also: I meant to do many more cultures and societies, however, both those here took a couple of hours of reading + writing. It’s definitely a subject I hope to continually return to—talk about fascinating stuff!)

*****

Ancient Egyptian

The Why: The Ancient Egyptians believed that people had a ka, or life force, and the ba, a set of spiritual characteristics unique to the individual. The ka was attached to the body, and needed it as a home–thus the offerings of food, drink and the process of mummification. Priests performed funeral rites to release the ba from the body. When combined, the ba and the ka formed the akh. (Note: I’ll be honest…I read on this subject for quiet a while and didn’t understand it all…so, any well-researched Kemetics are welcome to explicate in the comments.)

At first, Egyptians were buried in the desert sands. The arid conditions dried out the bodies and naturally mummified them. Soon, people began building mud structures on top of the graves (called mastabas).  Eventually these lead to step pyramids and the iconic Great Pyramids of Giza. The pyramid building era lasted about a thousand years, from 2700 BCE to 1700 BCE.  Afterwards, kings and nobility began to cut their tombs into rock faces (like The Valley of the Kings in Luxor). The hope was to prevent grave-robbers from thieving all the goods, alas…we all know how that turned out.

Besides the structures, the (wealthy) Egyptians had burial rituals  that involved mummification, spells and magic. After elaborate rituals, the priests placed the body in decorated coffins, surrounded by offerings and goods for the person to take into the afterlife.

Sources:

Wikipedia–Ancient Egyptian burial customs

Wikipedia–Egyptian Pyramids

Egyptian Museum’s Burial Practices Gallery

Encyclopedia Mythica–The Akh

*******

Celtic

The Why:  The Celts believed that there was a life beyond death. Souls moved beyond the body and into an afterlife, though historical details of this afterlife aren’t clear.  It should be remembered that the Celtic people are a very large, very expansive grouping of tribes that at one point reached across the European continent. Beliefs and customs varied.

There is evidence for a variety of burial practices and customs across the Celtic world. Burial (inhumation) was common, as was cremation and even excarnation (where the bodies were left out in the elements).  There is evidence that during some historical periods Celts expected the next life to be similar to this one, as they were buried with jewelry, food, beloved animals, chariots and martial gear.

How elaborate a funeral and tomb was largely depended on the social status of the dead. A person of high social standing might be celebrated with feasts, bards, elegies and even games–though it might not be an exact correspondence.

Sources:

Burial practices reveal secret Celtic worship in Britain despite Roman occupation (1998)

Celtic Culture Encyclopedia Volume One (Accessed through Google Book preview), page 1420-1421

Tairis: Death and Burial (EXCELLENT article about Irish and Scottish burial customs…really, much  better than any summaries I could put up here.)

Tairis: Afterlife and Ancestors

ADF: The Afterlife, the Heroes and the Dead (Ian Corrigan)

Bountiful Celtic Burials (Archaelogy, 2003)

The Iron Age Celts (University of Texas at Austin)

*******

Conclusion

Whew. Well. That was a lot of research and reading for, I’ll admit, still (very) limited understanding. However, I hope the resources linked will provide those interested with more avenues for information.

PBP 2013: Animism, Considered

Today I took a walk. Not really an extraordinary thing, walking, except that it was the first time I’ve been outside the house in three days. The whole family is rotating through a bad cold, and I had a stomach bug besides, so…all in all…it’s been a pretty claustrophobic existence for most of the week.

But today I felt well enough to walk. My body needed to stretch, blood needed to flow. The humid-cool air chilled my skin and reminded me of late winter softball practice. Families and teenagers crowded the park/watershed where I walk, all enjoying the break in rainy weather before we get another cold front tomorrow. Already the clouds had begun rolling in, big lavender thunderheads squatting on the horizon.

As I walked I thought about a blog post I read yesterday. It was by Wendy Froud and detailed a walk she took to receive inspiration from the fae. Dver, at A Forest Door, noted that this was “animism in action“. And as I stopped to say hello to Niana, the water spirit, this got me thinking. Am I an animist?

Perhaps it was the atmosphere of the evening. Even with all the noise going on—toddlers screeching, basketballs bouncing, a group playing football—there was a…bite, shall we say…to the breeze. An ominous quality. The clouds had eaten the golden rays of the sun, so the twilight was instead a mix of gray, blue and purple.

As I turned the bend to the quieter part of the park I began to note that the trees seemed…how do I say?…more….alive. More tree-like, perhaps. I saw how the curved, bent, swooped, twisted and intertwined. I reached out to touch the bark of one, and then couldn’t stop. I wanted to touch all of them! Sit with them. Listen. I was sure, so sure, that they were talking this evening.

Further along the path I came upon a rock I don’t remember seeing before. Really, a boulder. Pockmarked limestone with streaks of red clay. About four feet tall, four feet wide. I walked over to it and leaning against it…felt it. I couldn’t say in that moment that I believed that rock to be without spirit. In fact, I believed that rock had a very distinct spirit.

And on the walk went. I’d observe, listen, and just kind of…bask…in what seemed like a very noisy conversation that many elements, spirits, trees, rocks, mushrooms, grasses were having. Maybe that’s it. Maybe today everything just seemed so loud, so close, that I couldn’t help but notice that the everything had a spirit. Everything had something to say.

Is this crazy? Maybe. The funny thing is for all I’ve considered myself a polytheist, for all I’ve been a Pagan and a novice spell worker, for some reason I’ve never considered animism fully. I don’t know why, maybe I haven’t been ready. Which is strange that I haven’t put it together, since I definitely talk to Niana, converse with the land spirits in the yard, in the hedges. Together, we converse. Is that animism? I guess that has always seemed too macro to be animism to me. And I’ve had experiences kind of like this one before, but never so…so that every tree, every stone, every mushroom I came upon seemed so discrete.

I fear I’m not expressing myself well here, pardon. Suffice to say that while I’ve never considered animism before—I’m not sure why not—it’s a conversation, a consideration, that I think I’m ready to begin.

Pagan Blog Project 2013: A is for Action

[Written on Friday, January 4, 2013]

Action. It’s a weird word to be writing about when I’m sitting in my pajamas on my couch at 9:50 a.m. My stomach is growling, and I’m too lazy to get up and fix breakfast. My tot is off at daycare/preschool, so I’m alone in the house.  The wind is bitter, the driveway slick with sleet, my A/C is pumping out hot air with abandon.

Even though my physical body is in hibernation mode, my…I don’t know, what do you call that part of you that moves independently of your mind, your body? The Other Self is a term I like (today, who knows tomorrow), that part that is you, but also apart from you. For me it’s most active in the dark months. When the cold settles in, when icy tree branches rustle and creak, when our words turn to fog in the chill, when the bustle of the holidays has given way to the long stretch of Winter…that’s when Other Self wakens. When Other Self wants some exercise, some action.

I know that according to typical Pagan structures (Wheel of the Year, I guess) the times for divination, for magic, are strongest around Samhain and Beltane. While I do feel an atmosphere of…change, activity, presence…during those times, I don’t feel focused enough to do the deeper actions that I feel divination and work call for. Samhain is the start of the frenetic holiday season; Beltane the beginning of summer activities and mirth. Both of which are lovely. But winter, the cold, the bare earth, focuses me in a way that nothing else can. Life is quiet on top of the earth. But below there is undeniable activity, and in Texas there is only a few weeks that we can take advantage before spring begins—usually neatly coinciding with Imbolc.

So Other Self and I go on some adventures. We talk using the Shadowscapes Tarot (sometimes Wildwood, but then the conversation is usually obscured). We play with spells and ritual and dancing. We dream together, write to each other, spend some precious time readying ourselves for the inevitable outside activity that begins to creep back in around Valentine’s Day.

This year, I’m hoping that Other Self and I will not lose touch as frequently as we did in 2012. By participating in PBP 13 and  possibly starting the ADF Dedicant Path, I’m looking forward to a full year of play, conversation, learning and action.