Review of Pagan Book of Living and Dying

[This article was originally published on the Pagan site at BellaOnline and later at HubPages.  HP has deemed this article idle, so I'm republishing it here.]

*Please note that in some of my older pieces I used the term "Pagan community" a lot.  I've come to really dislike the term but at the time it seemed to fit how I was writing.

Pagans and Grief

As the Neo-Pagan community ages, we have come to realize the inherent need for something that more established religions take for granted – a process to help us with the death of a loved one. The Pagan Book of Living and Dying by Starhawk, M. Macha Nightmare, and the Reclaiming Collective provides valuable guidance for the dying, their caregivers, friends and family.

Grief can overcome us whether death is sudden or is brought on by a long illness. The stress is compounded when misunderstandings arise regarding religion. These misunderstandings can happen even if Pagans are completely open about their beliefs or still in the broom closet. This book gives practical suggestions to overcome obstacles and honor the wishes of the dying.

This is a collection of essays by various authors. Some of them describe very personal experiences with death while others give clearly practical advice. While there are rituals, chants, prayers and meditations, they are all given as inspiration rather than how-to manuals to be followed to the letter.

Adaptable for Use by Different Pagans

The authors begin by introducing Pagan beliefs. These are mainly from the viewpoint of the Reclaiming Collective which is more of a Goddess-centered spirituality. However, the section titled How to Use This Book clearly states that you are free to adapt the ideas presented for use in your own situation.

How Pagans View Death

The second part of the book goes into the Pagan view of death. Again, this is according to one popular strand of Paganism but gives a good enough overview for outsiders to understand that many of us have different ideas about death than our mainstream counterparts.

Pagans Share Their Stories

Parts three and four have some of the most heart-wrenching stories as they deal with the dying process and death in special circumstances. Part three covers things such as keeping a death vigil, preparing for death for yourself and others, and arranging funerals and memorials.

Authors go on in part four to share how they coped with tragic death including suicide, AIDS, and the death of a child. These essays were all well written but were difficult to read. I wouldn’t recommend it if you are in the deep throes of grief. Ideally, this book is more a preparatory guide to turn to when you are in a more positive frame of mind. However, the fact that death doesn’t always happen in ideal circumstances is very much the point of this section.

Grief, Preparation and Pagan Rituals for the Dead and Dying

Grieving and the practical concerns that need to be addressed after death are covered in part five. Many of us don’t like to think about our own mortality and put off legal paperwork such as a health care proxy and will. This section gives a solid reminder of how important it is to not procrastinate in this regard. Samples of both these documents are given in the appendices.

Rituals are given to help the dying cross over as well as examples of funerals and memorial services. There are also meditations and visualizations to help through every step of the dying and grieving process.

Helping Pagans with Grief

The Pagan Book of Living and Dying, was one of the first books to address this topic within the community. Even if you don’t feel drawn to the Reclaiming Tradition, it would be a good resource for clergy and Pagans of different paths to help facilitate a smoother transition for the dying and their loved ones.

FTC Disclosure:  I purchased this book and I have not received compensation from the publisher for this review.

Related reading:

Tips for Finding Pagan Clergy

© Trish Deneen


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