Paganistan: Notes from the Secret Commonwealth

In Which One Midwest Man-in-Black Confers, Converses & Otherwise Hob-Nobs with his Fellow Hob-Men (& -Women) Concerning the Sundry Ways of the Famed but Ill-Starred Tribe of Witches.

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Ritual Takeaways from the Royal Funeral

Posted by on in Culture Blogs

 The dazzling crown which sat on the Queen's coffin - BBC News

Well, I sure hope that pagans were watching attentively during the recent funeral of Queen Elizabeth II.

Let's just admit it: for the most part, large-scale pagan ritual (at least here in the US) is, frankly, pretty execrable. Modern pagan ritual, handicapped by its default grounding in the Wiccan-style Magic Circle, only rarely—if ever—makes good ritual of scale.

Fortunately, nobody does ritual of scale like the English.

Some highlights from the royal funeral—from the parts of it, at least, that I saw myself:


The Cortege to St. George's Chapel

Ritual of scale requires choreography, and an eye for larger patterns. Watching the Coldstream Guards—and those with them—walking in unified lockstep as they accompanied the queen's body down the three-mile Long Walk to St. George's Chapel was deeply moving.

Takeaway: Many people doing the same thing together—especially moving together—in unison, has immense power to stir deeply


Carrying the Coffin Up the Stairs of St. George's Chapel

Surrounded by stillness, eight beautiful, burly young guys slowly bore the royal coffin, draped with the monarch's personal flag, the crown jewels, and flowers, up the stairs. The coffin never tilted with the incline of the stairs, but was borne horizontal to the ground at all times.

Takeaways: Precision matters. Use your resources to their best effect. Use available beauty to best advantage.


The Removal of the Crown Jewels from Coffin to Altar

One by one, the Royal Jeweler removed the Crown Jewels from the coffin where they had rested throughout the funeral. Then they were borne to the altar, where three purple cushions awaited them: first the scepter, placed to the left; then the orb, placed right; and lastly the crown, placed center. (Importance ritual principle: Save the most important till last.) Did you notice the order in which they were removed? Did you notice the different orientation of the three cushions? Did you notice that everyone handling the regalia wore gloves, with the exception of the consecrated priest?

Takeaway: Ritual of scale imparts a sense of meaning whether or not we understand the significance of every detail. Don't explain; symbolism should speak for itself.


Breaking the Wand

Talk about articulate action, a deed that speaks. After the removal of the crown jewels, the Court Chamberlain approached the coffin bearing the ritual wand that is the mark of his office. This he snapped in two, and laid the halves on the coffin.

Talk about evocative. What is more final than the breaking of a stick? What is more wrenching than the conscious destruction of a symbol?

I couldn't help but think of the deliberate “killing” of grave goods.

Takeaway: The breaking of the wand is a trope that should be used at the funeral of every witch.

I myself plan to steal this one for Samhain this year.


The Piper's Lament

Ritual of scale need not be elaborate. One of the most moving parts of the royal funeral was one man with a set of bagpipes: the Queen's Piper, playing a lament. Beginning at the doorway, he played the lament once through, then continued to play as he walked out and away, the song of the pipes fading away into the distance as he went.

Takeaway: Who is the Piper that pipes the dead to the Other World? Any witch could tell you, if she would.

Ritual of scale evokes: calls from within. Ritual of scale implies a story.


The First Singing of God Save the King

For 70 years, the song has been God(s) Save the Queen. Ending the funeral with God(s) Save the King marked the point of turning. Watching the tears course down King Charlie's face during this plangent moment was surely one of the highlights of the entire ritual.

Takeaway: Ritual of scale engages the emotions by breaking and renewing old patterns.


When it comes to ritual, never underestimate the importance of precedent.

At a recent handfasting at which I presided, the gathered community sealed the union with a collective song of blessing for the newlyweds. At the rehearsal, the groom asked: “Do we sing, too?”

Fortunately, I had precedent to draw on.

The queen doesn't sing during God(s) Save the Queen; she just listens,” I told him. “The blessing is for you; just listen, and receive it.”

Someday it's going to be us up there leading the big stuff in public, folks, so we'd better start learning the skills that we're going to need right now. Like Original peoples everywhere, if we want to survive, pagans must Adopt and Adapt. Fortunately, wisdom is wisdom, no matter who or where you learn it from.

There will be more good lessons for aspiring pagan ritualists at Charles' forthcoming Coronation.

Let us, who call ourselves the Wise, be wise enough to learn them.






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Poet, scholar and storyteller Steven Posch was raised in the hardwood forests of western Pennsylvania by white-tailed deer. (That's the story, anyway.) He emigrated to Paganistan in 1979 and by sheer dint of personality has become one of Lake Country's foremost men-in-black. He is current keeper of the Minnesota Ooser.


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