Rites of Passage #5: Memorials
Some time ago, I wrote a piece about Atheopagan Rites of Passage. In it, I described life milestones that might be celebrated by an Atheopagan, and which we as Atheopagan “clergy” (we’re all clergy, since we have none) might be asked to officiate over.
On reflection, it occured to me that just talking about these rites of passage probably isn’t helpful enough: that having some guidelines for each such rite would be helpful to the community. So here is the final installment in the series: Rites of Passage.
Note that the structure outlined below isn’t a formula; it’s a set of guidelines. Feel free to change any or all of its elements to fit best with the community you are serving.
This rite of passage is structured more like a traditional memorial service because funerals typically have more attendees than can be accommodated in an Atheopagan circle. A smaller and more intimate Atheopagan circle might be conducted around the grave before burial (if the body is to be buried), but this post is focused on the memorial rite.
Of all the life passages described in this series, this is the only one that is guaranteed to all of us: we all die. Some of us do so even before we are born. This rite of passage is meant to comfort the living, to celebrate the dead, and to contextualize living and dying in the great story of Life on Earth.
When planning a memorial or funeral service, there are many considerations: what did the deceased feel were their greatest accomplishments in life? How did their atheist spirituality fit in with the rest of their family? What were their wishes for a memorial, if they left them? If for a stillbirth or miscarriage, what are the messages the parent(s) would like to give to the deceased?
Here is a general outline for an Atheopagan memorial service:
Gathering/Arrival: play music that was loved by the deceased during this period*. It doesn’t have to be sad music! A memorial is a celebration of a life.
Welcoming remarks by you, the officiant. Bid everyone welcome and ask them to be seated. Welcome the family in particular, and if there are any “dignitaries” or special friends to the family, welcome them, too. Have everyone take a deep breath, and blow it out: we are here, in this place today, in the presence of the profound reality that is death. In our sorrow, we come together today to celebrate the life of ________.
Poem or prose reading celebrating the magnificence of existence: This is where the “Pagan” part of the ritual comes in. It is a reminder of the beauty of Life on Earth, in this extraordinary Cosmos. That we live here, surrounded by wonders, for a brief time, and then dissolve back into the Cosmos from which we came.
Musical Interlude: A song or instrumental piece–guests may be invited to sing along if the organizers wish it. Be sure to provide music sheets to guests if you choose this option.
Eulogy: A prepared speech to memorialize and celebrate the life of the deceased. Usually delivered by a family member or close friend. May include description of the deceased’s Atheopaganism and what it meant to them, and/or any final words the deceased left behind for their community.
Poem or prose reading: Some good nontheist choices are available here.
Officiant invites guests up to share personal memories
Personal Memories: spontaneous memories shared by guests
Musical Interlude: another song or instrumental piece, possibly with guests singing.
Benediction: (Literally, “saying a good word”): a closing statement by the officiant acknowledging the love and respect that has been expressed for the deceased, gratitude for the deceased’s life, with well-wishes for the family and loved ones, an adjuration to embrace our precious lives, and an invitation to the reception following the memorial (or burial service if that is to follow).
Restart gathering music as attendees stand and prepare to leave.
*Or as chosen by the parent(s), if this is a stillbirth or miscarriage memorial