"Death Shall Have No Dominion," art displayed in a Wiccan training school.

A Wiccan funeral is part ceremony and part invention. It typically contains ritual elements mixed with spontaneous participation by those attending. While Wicca, a type of modern witchcraft, may be a new experience for funeral-goers, the ceremony and formal and informal salutations are meant to invoke traditional respect and blessings for the dead.

Modern Magic

Wicca is a neo-pagan religion -- a modern re-creation of ancient magical beliefs relying on ritual, ceremony, celebration of the seasons and a reverence for nature, to express spiritual convictions. Wicca developed during the early 20th century in England, drawing its practices and texts from older pagan traditions. Eight annual Sabbats honor the passing of the seasons and much of the ritual is very "green." Wiccans identify with and work to protect nature, observe environmental consciousness, and structure their death and burial ceremonies to reflect those beliefs. (see reference 2, pp. 45-46; reference 6) Because it does not adhere strictly to a received set of scriptures and set practices, the organization of a Wiccan funeral leaves room for spontaneity, particularly in spoken greetings, blessings and recollections of the deceased.

Casting and Entering the Circle

A Wiccan funeral may be a traditional or free-form expression of loss and celebration. The area for the ceremony is cleared and a circle is cast by the Wiccan priest and priestess to mark a space outside of time, between worlds. The shrouded body, casket or other memorial stand-in for the deceased rests at the main altar inside the circle. Candles mark each of the four directions and participants enter the circle one by one. Those in the circle may be limited to the mourners closest to the deceased and each is greeted with the traditional “Welcome and Blessed Be.” (see references 1, 3, 5, 8)

Wiccan Perspective on Death

Practitioners of Wicca believe in reincarnation, a series of rebirths of the spirit in which it is linked to those loved in former lifetimes. The tangible and sensual aspects of life are treasured for the rich experiences they impart; the aim of reincarnation is to repeat the human incarnation until every bit of knowledge and wisdom has been wrung out of it. For these reasons, a Wiccan funeral contains personal messages from people with strong relationships with the deceased. To lead off, Deborah Blake, in the “Everyday Witch Book of Rituals,” suggests a personal greeting to the deceased, for use by the high priest or priestess. “[Name of deceased], you were a bright star in our times and now you glow brightly in the spirit world. Go in peace, knowing you are loved and missed. We will see you again when the Wheel of Life turns round again. Farewell and Blessed Be.” (see references 5, 6, 8)

Summerland

Wiccans name the peaceful, verdant space where souls rest between reincarnations and where all souls will be reunited eventually, Summerland. To release a newly dead soul from attachments to a former life, the high priest or priestess invokes the gods for help. Gary Cantrell, author of “Wiccan Beliefs and Practices,” suggests the following greeting to ask for a blessing for the deceased. “Ancient Ones of earth, air, fire and water, please release from pain and suffering all those who remain in this physical realm. Escort the spirit of our loved one through the gates of Summerland and bring peace to all.” (see reference 7)

This calling on the gods at the opening of the rite is appropriate for a funeral at the time of death or at a memorial service for the deceased at Samhain, one of the annual Sabbat celebrations, usually observed on the last day of October. Samhain is an opportunity to remember the dead, to address them with personal blessings, and to seek favors for the deceased from the gods. (see reference 4)