Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Twilight Path Ritual: Earth Burial

Approach the altar, prepared and attuned for entrance into the sacred space. Stand between the candle of life and the candle of death. Light these, raise your hands, and meet the eyes of your reflection beyond the veil. Address the spirits thus:

“Spirits! Guardians! All you immortal beings who walk the shadows between darkness and light! I call to you and ask that you attend me, here in the twilight. I stand on the threshold between the living and the dead, and I open myself to the secrets you have to share.”

Light incense as an offering. Gently waft the smoke. First, guide it toward your own body, inhaling the mingled scent of precious resins and herbs. Then waft the smoke towards the candles of life and death in turn, and, finally, waft it toward your veiled reflection in the mirror. Listen inwardly for the response of the spirits. When you feel their presence crowding around you, dip your finger in the water on your altar and anoint your forehead, lips and heart, opening each to a better perception of the threshold state.

“I open my mind. I open my lips. I open my heart. Gather round, ye spirits, and witness me in my rite. Tonight I commit my body to the earth, so the earth may receive me and wear away the bonds that tie my spirit to my flesh. Gather round and lend me power as I call to the element of earth.”

Hold in both hands the bowl or other vessel of elemental tokens you have gathered and raise it before the mirror in blessing. Once you have focused your power and intent into this collection of items, set the bowl on the floor. Arrange these items in a U shape at the foot of your altar. The U shape should point out from your altar and contain enough space within the U for you to lie down comfortably without disturbing any of the items. Eventually, you are going to lie down at the foot of your altar, and this collection of items will curve around your head and shoulders. Depending on how many items you have collected and how distantly you space them, the items may run down along your torso as well. Once you have outlines the space where your body will lie, place the small pillow, together with the scented funeral shroud, in the center of the U. Still kneeling before this, cross your arms upon your chest and say:

“Although I have not passed beyond the veil of life, I ask that you receive me as one dead. I commit my flesh to earth, that the earth may accept me and return my body to the dust from which it came.”

Lie down amidst the tokens of the element of earth. Stretch out fully on the floor with your head lying on the pillow at the very foot of your altar. Unfold the funeral shroud, then lay it across your body, covering everything from your feet to your head. Fold your hands on your stomach or cross them upon your chest and close your eyes. Lie there, breathing slowly and evenly, holding yourself as one who is dead.

Imagine that you lie beside an open grave. Family and friends gather round you. It is a simpler time, so there is no coffin and no embalming has taken place. You are simply a body, washed and wrapped in a funeral shroud. The scent of the newly turned earth is strong in your nostrils. You can smell the grass beneath you and the open air above. You feel yourself lifted and placed upon another length of strong cloth. Those who have gathered at the graveside use this to lower your body into the ground. Gently, gently you are eased into the arms of the earth.

The walls of the grave rise around you, and everything is thick with the loamy scent of earth. Then you feel the first few spadefuls of earth falling onto you like hard clumps of rain. The scent of the earth grows ever thicker as the loose soil is returned to the open grave. It descends upon you, blocking out all other scents or sensations. But rather than feeling smothered or crushed, the weight of the earth upon you is like an embrace, the firm arms of a mother holding you tight against her breast.

Around you, the tomb is dark and moist, and, like an infant in the womb, it takes you days, weeks, months to change and develop, trading your flesh for naked bones. Other life gathers round you - insects, moles, mice and worms. Each of these does its work upon your body, helping the earth to reclaim you as her own. And yet, this is not a taking, but a giving. Bit by bit, your flesh is gathered up and becomes part of something more. The earthly part of your body returns to the earth; eventually, even the bones of your skeleton degrade, becoming one with the soil of your tomb.

Feel the weight of the earth and the gentle insistence of this cycle: your physical flesh will remain a part of the physical world, even after your spirit has flown. Let the simplicity of this truth be a comfort as you lie stretched out at the foot of your altar, the funeral shroud soft against your face.

When you feel replete with the knowledge of your relationship with earth, draw the funeral shroud away from your face and sit up. Uncross your arms, and gather some vital energy into your cupped hands. Turn and present this energy in the direction of your altar as an offering to the element of earth.

“Hail to thee, Mother Earth! You are the dark of the grave and the mystery of the tomb. You take our flesh back into yourself, holding us as infants in your womb. May I not forget this lesson when it is my time to surrender up this precious flesh.”

Continue to kneel for a few moments and reflect upon the revelation of earth. Then stand and ask the spirits to depart.

“Spirits of the threshold! All you beings who walk between the darkness and the light! I thank you for attending to bear witness to this rite. As you have gathered, may you freely depart!”

Anoint your forehead, lips and heart.

“I close myself as I close this space. I stand upon the threshold, but for now walk away, passing from death back into life.”

Snuff the candles. Facing the mirror, cross your arms upon your chest and bow your head, then depart. Once you have come down fully from the ritual mindset, go back to your altar and gather up the tokens of earth. If this is a rite you want to perform again, store the tokens in a safe place. Otherwise, find time to cleanse them and use them for something else.

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