I presented a paper for the 2017 Arts and Religion track of the American Academy of Religion conference in Calgary. The topic was “A good death is a ritual of initiation for everyone involved.”
Here’s a copy of my abstract, and you can scroll to the bottom to listen to the full presentation.
Dominant secular Western culture lacks a coherent and healing meta-narrative for the soul’s experiences of death and bereavement. Without a functioning mythical and archetypal map for what happens at death, we have no guiding principles for understanding the soul-transformations that these difficult experiences are calling us to. Lacking such a conceptual framework for death and loss, we have no ground upon which to develop and apply the pragmatic healing responses that are so deeply needed.
As a Death Doula and Ritual Healing Practitioner, I facilitate nature-based rituals to support dying people and their families before, during, and after a death. Core to my work is an alignment with the archetype of initiation, a force that moves us from within, and guides our soul’s heroic journey. The initiatory archetype follows a triphasic process of separation, transformation, and return, and leads us through a process of death, liminality, and rebirth. The initiatory model offers a useful tool for understanding what happens to each person involved in a dying process, and for developing and applying healing responses.
Death fundamentally shifts our patterns of relationship, and thus our very identities. Wife becomes widow, child becomes orphan, elder becomes ancestor. Initiatory rituals are soul-medicine for the challenges of these transitions, just as they are during the other major relational and identity transitions of life; youth to adult, single person to partnered one, couple to parents. Ritualized rites of passage support the dying, the dead, and those who continue to live, as each accepts their new lives, and step into their new identity within the community. When death is met well, each person involved finds the support they need to integrate the learning and growth that mortality offers.
In my healing work with clients, I officiate a wide variety of rituals, including community bed-side blessings, last rites, spirit releasings, family healing circles, funerals, and death-day anniversaries. I also use ritual healing practices to support individuals and families through pet euthanizing, abortion and miscarriage, spirit entanglement, and unresolved deaths from the recent or distant past.
My clients generally identify as“spiritual but not religious” and, as such, have no formal spiritual framework or set of ritual templates to help them navigate these difficult life experiences. The principles of the initiation provide their heads with a map to understand the changes happening in their lives, and custom-designed community rituals help their hearts and souls to find integration and healing.
Listen to the 30 minute presentation here