Scattering Violets

An exploration of funerary traditions and innovations, care of the dead, and pagan perspectives on death

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Parting Gifts

When my grandpa died, one of my uncles gave his eulogy that centered on how they'd bonded by working on cars together from the time my uncle was a little boy. He specifically remembered my grandpa asking him for a wrench, right down to the size, and later placed a wrench of that same size in my grandpa's casket to be buried with him. Others in my family placed a fishing pole, a pocket knife, and other objects that represented my grandpa's hobbies and important memories of him for the living. Regardless of our beliefs of the afterlife, something in all of us didn't want him to go into it without the things he treasured. When my grandma passed, we did the same for her.

It's not just my family that's done this, and I've seen in my occupation that people don't reserve it just for their human family, either. Some of my favorite moments at the pet funeral home and crematory where I work are when people bring their pet's favorite things to be cremated with them.

There's the cat who was sent off with the cardboard box he loved so much that his owners kept it for the last ten years of his life. It was covered in his fur and splitting at the corners from the countless naps he'd spent in it.

There's the woman with the rats who always brings them to us in a little heart-shaped, lined box with a square of dark chocolate or a peanut, depending on which was their favorite treat.

There's the dog with the plain old stick that was longer than he was.

I love these gifts to the newly dead, not just because they communicate the little idiosyncrasies of their personalities or the tender bond between the animals and their people, although these fill me with a deep, bittersweet joy. But I also love seeing the quiet perseverance of the ancient tradition of burying the dead with grave goods. Many things have changed, and continue to change, but we still find comfort in sending off our newly dead into their afterlives with the things they loved in life. We don't want them to be without. Whether we believe that the dead bring objects into the Otherworld with them when they die, or not, at the very least I think we understand that we are honoring the dead when we do this, that the dead know and are comforted, and that we in turn erode some of our grief. Death is a trauma, and we heal by maintaining connections and extending generosity to our loved ones, even when their bodies have fallen still.


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The Cunning Wife is an animist, writer, diviner, crafter, witch, and spirit worker and traveler. Her work has been published in a number of online and print magazines, including Witches & Pagans and Hagstone Publishing's Stone, Root, and Bone ezine. She gets excited about scholarly essays and books on folklore, magical tales, and ancient spiritual practices, and is passionate about sharing that information. She is also an avid crafter of magical and mundane items. She believes that there is magic in the mundane, just waiting to be remembered.  


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