The Night Of Long Shadows #1: A Service For The Bereaved: Thoughts

20191027 THE NIGHT OF LONG SHADOWS 1 THOUGHTS

Christmas is coming closer. For some, it’s a time to celebrate the coming of the Christ, the wonderful time when we remember the Universe incarnated at Bethlehem, when we exchange gifts and sing cheerful carols, and more. To some friends, especially those of nature or earth-based beliefs it’s a time to celebrate dark and light, death and new life, of renewal and balance: equilibrium.

Joy to the world, the Lord is come!
Let earth receive her King!
Let ev’ry heart prepare Him room,
and heav’n and nature sing. (Christmas Hymn/Carol)

It is with the former, mainly, in mind that I write this. Those who celebrate Christmas as part of their faith or, like me, as part of a blended-faith, can find Christmas, in some instances, a tough, sad time. For them, the season seems lopsided. I do believe my Wican, Pagan, and Druid friends do much better at getting the balance just right and of honouring the ancestors, and I am the richer for their company and wisdom. For others, it’s…..well, it’s lopsided.

In what way lopsided? Well, the commercialism of Christmas doesn’t help. Buy this for your mum or dad, here’s a great gift for your daughter or son who will love this, and hey, don’t forget the grandparents! And, in churches, hymns and songs laud the baby in the manger and welcome shepherds and kings like.

But, the reality is, that at every Advent church service, in every choir rehearsal, and at every Christmas Eve candlelight service, there are people who are deeply hurting and in pain, whose lives are in great turmoil, and who are seeking help or answers. Even surrounded by our candles, poinsettias, the delightful laughter of children, and the great joy of the Christmas season, I do believe that we do not adequately consider those among us who cannot enter fully into the joy of the season. And, outside, cheerful parties abound at work, at home, at local pubs and clubs, and on tv just seem to make the exclusion worse.

But, what about those who, this Christmas, perhaps like last Christmas, look around and notice the spaces in their family and friends? To them, it is lopsided, exclusive, and can be a tough, solitary time.

‘You don’t know who is important to you until you actually lose them.’ Mahatma Gandhi

For some, Christmas can be a time when the loss of a loved-one can be most profoundly felt. Ofcourse, during that season such people, like myself, will be happy and socialise, and enjoy the company of others.

‘I enjoy Christmas immensely as a Christo-Druid (or is it a Druidic-Christian), but there is also a sense of loss.

I am an ‘amphibian’ at Christmas. Celebrating the joy of the season, the razzamatzz, and the growing number of younger family members and friends is wonderful, and by nature I am a positive person. But, I also look around at the gaps. Having grown up, in my teens, twenties and thirties, with seven pairs of aunts and uncles for instance and a myriad of other family, all but one couple of aunts/uncles have passed-on, as have both my parents, and that can be heart-breaking  at times.’ Tadhg

But sometimes, just sometimes, and perhaps on one occasion over that period it would be comforting and energising to have some kind of formal ritual or service to commemorate those that have passed-on, to remember them, and have something where we can be true to our feelings without being morbid or morose, to acknowledge our loss, draw strength and to move on.

With that in mind, and right near Christmas is the winter solstice, there is the idea of just such a celebration for the bereaved. The Night Of Long Shadows.

Aptly named, The Night Of Long Shadow can be held at that time of the year when many celebrate the darkest and longest night of the year, and it takes into account that many feel as though they are in darkness when it comes to emotions of remembrance, but there’s more.

‘The death of a beloved is an amputation.’ C S Lewis

What would a service of The Night Of Long Shadows look like?

With songs and words that draw alongside those who are bereaved (whether recently, a year or more ago, or some time ago) there would be a time of honest appraisal of feelings, a period of reflection, a time when the bereaved could say or do something or sit and listen. The event would be short (and not more than fifty minutes) . Maybe a few tears would be shed. There would be an opportunity to ‘tell it like it is or feels like it is’ by those who attend (if they wish to), and for those leading, they would then move onto the part of the ritual or service that would instil hope with words and actions – I love ritual, and sometimes simple ritual-actions can take us to a much deeper place than words.

Such a ritual or service can interpret the ‘shadow’ in the Night Of Long Shadows as the comforting shadow of good memories (or the mere shadow of not-so-good memories) that we might each share of those who have passed-on.

And/or it can refer to the transforming work of renewal and growth that takes place in dark places, such as a seed buried but about to sprout, or a baby growing in the secret place of its mother’s womb. It is with that in mind that we can learn a lot from our brothers and sisters who uphold a nature or earth-based belief.

‘We bereaved are not alone. We belong to the largest company in all the world – the company of those who have known suffering.’ Helen Keller

A service of The Night of Long Shadows, would earnestly and honestly draw alongside the bereaved, hold space for them, support them, listen to them, give some kind of encouragement and be there fore them. There is no quick fix in this kind of ritual of service. How could there be. In many cases it is beyond us to fix many things, and especially this! But, we can be there for others, and through ritual and prayer, blessings and la time of tea and coffee after, be inclusive and supportive.

What songs, what words of acceptance and hope could be used, what structure would such a ritual or service take? That is for next time. Suffice to say, that I do believe there is a need, and am working towards such a ritual or service for the first half of December. If you could support that venture in prayer, good-thoughts or by sending light, or by sending suggestions, or by expressing a desire to take part or feel the need to attend such a ritual or service in in/near London (UK) because of bereavement, I would love to hear from you. It may be best one-to-one and so do email me at: tadhgtemp@gmail.com

We live in an age where the pace of life can be so fast that we lose or diminish the human touch. There is a great need at creating sacred space for people living through dark times. Such services, and the service of The Night Of London Shadows can fulfil such a need, and be inclusive, reflective, accepting of where we really are, and of holding out healing and hope. And, such a ritual or service is not the preserve of Christians or Christo-Druids or Druidic-Christians, but can also be used and adapted by my Wican, Pagan, and Druid friends, and others.

’Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing
and rightdoing there is a field.
I’ll meet you there.

When the soul lies down in that grass
the world is too full to talk about. Rumi

 

3 thoughts on “The Night Of Long Shadows #1: A Service For The Bereaved: Thoughts

  1. Yes, you can do this at Samhain, or at an All Souls Service, but I appreciate what you are saying about the particular issues that Christmas/Solstice celebrations can raise. I know that some Northern Tradition/Heathen folk remember & honour their female ancestors & spirit guardians on ‘Mothers Night’ which is celebrated on the eve of the beginning of Yule.

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    • Yes, Linda, I agree. I like the flexibility of holding such a ritual/service next week or nearer Christmas, or keeping the two things separate. Then one can use one event to look ‘forward’ to the ancestors and we are in that service in part, or (perhaps nearer Christmas) the ritual/service is more for the earthly participants with some link to those that have gone before. Many thanks for reading the article and commenting. Always appreciated. Much love and many blessings to you and yours, Tadhg.

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  2. MAYBE THE TRUER NATURE OF HALLOWEEN?

    The commercialisation of the very old pagan new year got me thinking of how we might really celebrate it. Thinking of Samhain you have my permission to use this Samhain blessing however you see is most fitting. You might like to pray for the souls of your loved ones who have passed away or meditate on how you would like to live your life anew, maybe fulfilling some of their wonderful life goals which they did not manage to accomplish whilst on earth. Whilst we need no ritual these days in order to pray and meditate, this is how I imagine our ancestors did it over 2000 years ago.

    It is taken from page 366 of ‘Where Rowans Intertwine’

    ‘Perhaps, during the Samhain meditation, when the whole tribe remembered their recent dead and the veil was thin between this world and the next, she would link with Nanw and hear her advice. Her grandmother would know what to do.

    The ritual progressed. This year it was the turn of the family at Tan Yr Aur to act out the various roles. The fire danced in the festival clearing. Marged, dressed in a dark brown tunic, stood by the fire with a great basket full of dried herbs; thyme to aid the link between departed souls and bring them closer; rosemary for remembrance; rue for forgiveness.

    She represented the Spirit of Autumn – the ageing crone, who would go down into the Otherworld for Winter, taking with her the spirits of the trees and plants.

    She beckoned to those newly bereaved and, as they stood before the fire, transferred the herbs into their outstretched palms. Gwilym stood forward in his costume and headdress of rustling, russet, oak branches and bound their wrists together, one after the other, tying them together in their grief. They each in turn inhaled the fragrance from the herbs and cast them into the fire.

    Then Ceridwen stepped forwards and handed each bound mourner a branch of yew, from the tree that symbolised death and rebirth. She led them to circumambulate the fire and, as they did so, she chanted hauntingly, as simultaneously they swept their grief into the consuming fire with the branches of yew.

    ‘Sweet Fire do burn away the grief

    Of man, of woman and child alike,

    Who come for healing to your flames.

    Take pain and sorrow with your smoke.

    Bring memories sweet to comfort’s door.

    The names of loved ones we invoke;

    Their souls to visit us once more.’

    They repeated it after her and Cullen played a whispering melody upon his pipe, as each mourner invoked the name of their departed one. The whole assemblage chanted the name in unison thereafter, until a pulsing yearning and demanding drew each departed soul nearer. Some fancied they saw the face of their loved one smiling at them from the flames. Some saw nothing, but felt the swish and sweep of protective wings wrap around them.

    Lady Tangwen gasped in wonder, as she beheld the spirit of her young son visit her embrace. For a moment it was as if their two souls passed through each other. She had not expected such a visitation. He had been gone from her almost five years, but to behold him now a man was a spectacle her eyes had yearned for. And here he was. He must not have rebirthed, but have developed in spirit to maturity.

    Ceridwen stood wistfully apart, mourning herself, for lack of Marcus, feeling only half alive, as everyone, apart from herself, seated themselves and waited silently for her to lead their thoughts in meditation. She shook herself and sighed, impatient with her own attitude. She should be so grateful that Marcus had survived. He could so easily have died from his wounds. She refocused and began the job in hand; but the words she recited were empty of meaning for her and a picture of Nanw would not present itself to her inner vision, despite the aroma of smoking deadly nightshade, which she swung in her incense burner.

    Madog signalled the conclusion of the meditation with slow tapping and then a rap upon his drum. Owain appeared in the clearing, dressed in a costume of Holly twigs that represented the Spirit of Winter to come. He plunged a large, bladed knife into the fire. Then, to a triumphant tune on pipe and tabor, he grinned self-consciously as he ceremoniously cut the mourners’ ropes. Symbolically the mourners were now released from their bonds of grief, which they had harboured this last year. Now they could willingly allow their loved ones to rebirth.

    Page 366 ‘Where Rowans Intertwine’ Margaret Grant

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