On Friday, I had the pleasure of attending my first large pagan event, Sacred Space Conference. It was conveniently held in a hotel only 30 minutes from my office, so in the morning, I packed my bag for work and for the event. For the first time in my life, I found myself asking questions like, “Should I bring my tarot cards, my runes, or both?” and “Should I wear my Thor’s hammer pendant outside or inside my dress?” The notion delighted me.
I ended up only bringing a few items: my cards and runes, my journals, and my calling cards. Though Sacred Space takes place all weekend, I could only attend one workshop on Friday, with a couple of hours to spare for dinner and shopping. I reasoned that I would have no need for many more tools or items.
After work, I took a short, pleasant drive through farmland until I reached the hotel, a Wyndham Grand. Unlike other conventions I’d attended, Sacred Space was not large; it took up the ballroom and a smaller room where merchants set up their wares. I briefly stopped in to check their tables, and I ended up purchasing a few items and an oracle reading.
Since two Orphic friends from Philadelphia are visiting me next weekend, I picked up two of these beautiful, wooden labyrinth discs from The Magical Druid. The quality is absolutely amazing, and they were relatively inexpensive as well.
I also purchased this stunning astrological spirit board from Venae, a spirit medium for 30 years. It was on sale for a reasonable price, and Venae was so genuine and friendly. She taught me how to use it with a pendulum, provided a handout, and said that I could call her anytime if I have questions with how to use the board.
I also purchased an oracle reading from her. She used this massive, circular spirit board–about two feet in diameter–and threw small, plush symbols of the astrological planets onto its surface. They scattered about, falling on various images and items she’d placed beneath the board’s surface. After checking each symbol, she sat down and told me various things I already knew, yet were somewhat surprising regardless.
After grabbing a small dinner at the hotel’s restaurant, I strolled to the ballroom where the main purpose of my attending was scheduled to take place. From the schedule:
Walking Our Beloveds Home: Escorting Pagans to the End of Life: Dying is a frightening prospect for those who are doing it and the loved ones who are part of the process. During this workshop, members of the Blue Star group who created the last rites for one of our most beloved Priests will share the step-by-step process they undertook as they escorted him through his last two days and the final preparation of his body. This detailed, community-friendly model of how to say good-bye to our beloveds in a distinctly Pagan way includes instructions for gathering the community for a hospital or home vigil, guidance for the last hour of life, and recommendations for transitioning from the moment of death to the first few hours of honoring the Priest/Priestess who has passed. It will include specific guidance about how to arrange for care of the body at an independent or corporate-owned funeral home, how to gather materials, ritual tools, burial goods and messages in preparation for cremation or burial, and step-by-step instructions for bathing, blessing, anointing, and dressing the Priest/Priestess’s body in a ritual context. Please note that some visual depictions may be included, and consider whether this material is right for you at this time.
For some reason, I was under the impression that the workshop would be more technical than it was. I thought I would learn how to wash and clothe and prepare a dead body for burial as if I were performing a home funeral. Instead, the workshop was more of an introduction to the idea of the home funeral, which I’m already familiar with. I did learn a number of things, specifically about executorship, advanced medical directives, and funeral designee forms. A man in the audience mentioned that he owns a cemetery and had been wondering for years what to do with it. I asked if there is any interest in forming the pagan equivalent of a Jewish chevra kadisha, and an elderly woman handed me a Post-it note with the names of two pagan death midwives written on it. A number of the audience wrote their emails down on a sheet of paper, in the hopes that we can start a Google group or newsletter for death midwifery in Maryland. I gave the presenters my card.
One thing that really stood out during the presentation was the Blue Star Coven’s frequent use of song. Apparently, as their dear friend died, they stood around his hospital bed and sang him to the other side. They performed the song for us, and the most amazing thing happened: the entire room burst into song with them. I don’t think the rest of the audience was composed solely of members of Blue Star Wicca, and yet there they sat, filling the room with haunting song, joining the Blue Star Coven in their memorial.
The singing reminded me vividly of another video I recently watched, where singer Einar Selvik explains that many pre-Christian Germanic peoples traditionally sang their loved ones to death. He wrote a song in Norwegian, “Helvegen,” in the hopes that someone, someday, will sing it to him as he is dying.
And it made me realize–song is important to my religious path. It’s necessary.
Once the workshop ended, I gathered my belongings and headed out into the chill night air. I spent the entire drive home composing my own song for the dying.
The time has come; the doors are open.
The stars are shining fierce and bright.
Go, my loved one, to death’s embrace;
May you know peace and joy.