In his wonderful book ‘The Sacred and the Profane’, famed historian of religion Mircea Eliade observes that even modern people who reject the tenets of religious belief and practice are unconsciously nourished by the memory of the sacred. As he observes in the Introduction, “the wholly desacralised cosmos …is a recent discovery in the history of the human spirit.”(p 13)
He makes the point that we still need ritual, even in this materialist culture of ours.
He says “What is found in the profane (ie non-religious) world is a radical secularisation of death, marriage and birth; but, as we shall soon see, there remain vague memories of abolished religious practices and even a nostalgia for them…” (p 186)
I had a very powerful and moving experience of this last week, when with my husband I attended the funeral of a much-loved member of his family. The morning after the funeral, just before we returned home, we were fortunate to be able to take part in a modern, but very moving, rite of passage. It was intended largely for the benefit of the many grandchildren in the family who had been too young to gain much benefit from the previous day’s church service – but was shared by us all.
I took some photographs of this ritual as it was being enacted. That evening, I put up a post on Facebook, with the permission of our deceased cousin’s wife, which was very warmly received both by the bereaved family and many Facebook Friends. I decided to write a blog post around the experience for two reasons. Firstly, to demonstrate that in our secular society there is still a vibrant need for ritual, especially to mark the great rites of passage of birth, marriage and death. And secondly, to inspire anyone who reads this with a wonderfully uplifting way of affirming the passing of the spirit of a loved one.
Here is what I wrote to accompany my photographs:
‘May your soul fly high!’…my husband Ian’s last words to his dearly loved first cousin David, written on a slip of white paper, attached to a shiny magenta balloon, joining all the messages of love and farewell sent skywards today in a wonderfully colourful ritual of celebration of David’s life following his funeral on 10th October 2014. We were privileged to join David’s wife Liz, their five children and partners, and their ten grandchildren as everyone wrote personal messages to David, sending them soaring into the blue. Goodbye, David. You are much loved and will be much missed…
450 words copyright Anne Whitaker 2014
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