Beyond the Black Gate
Photo by: ScooterZen of Australia
Many Wiccans have a believe that after death there is an idyllic and never ending paradise often referred to as "The Summer lands". Not all Wiccans have this believe but, it is common enough to have become known within the mainstream of popular culture by many who are only vaguely aware of the Wicca religion.
The approach of death is not often thought of with great dread as in other religions but, is considered a change or transition across a special threshold. Although not to be dismissed as just another rite to be celebrated, the crossing over of many Wiccans is notable in the way that their friends, and sometimes family choose to be memorialize them.
Those, who may have been open about their religious choices are more apt to be readily identified, as Wiccan during a crossing over ceremony. There are many who have been interred in the style of other faiths, which is not outside of Wiccan religion by any means but, tends to obscure the fact of the matter of the person's former life as a Wiccan. The deceased becomes a victim of circumstance, after death, when this sometimes occurs. The final repose of the Wiccan is hijacked, and invalidated by the well meaning but ignorant, who often are ill prepared for this last good-bye.
When family has never been informed of the person's religious choice, they only respond to what their last knowledge of the persons faith seemed to have been. This likely happens as well when the family wishes to maintain what appears to be a familial faith for some reason. Many families of Wiccans will not, even in death, fully acknowledge the deceased's religion or faith, and will obscure or deny it by enshrining the person in their own faith. In such instances, a cenotaph may come in handy.
Cenotaphs are erected to memorialize the deceased, while pointing out their remains, in fact, may reside in another location. This provides family and friends with options when conducting certain memorial services, and still encourage future generations with a guide post of sorts, for those who may wish to honor those dead in another location as well. Although the very idea of any such marker might be thought of as a hold over from a previous generation, the internet provides insights that allude to this not being the end of such memorials. The global distances that can be traversed almost instantly from a common computer allows for the memorial of even the most obscure of persons to be remembered by way of the internet.
It would be rare indeed for even a large and well funded group of Wiccans to erect an actual cenotaph on behalf of even the most esteemed member of their group, but it is not outside the realm of possibility. A more likely scenario would involve a simple grave marker or headstone of some sort, like many families, of other faiths in the U.S., tend to place in honor of their dead. The awareness level of the nation concerning Wicca rose a notch in recent years, when a battle over the pentacle being recognized by the Veteran's Administration as a memorial marker on military head stones was finally resolved.
After a ten year battle with the Veteran's Administration, the widow of an American soldier along with American's United, filed suit on behalf of several Wiccan families in November 2006, to have the pentacle used on a deceased military service member's memorial marker. The most famous Wiccan soldier to be honored in such a way to date must be Nevada National Guard Sgt. Patrick Stewart, who gave his life serving his country when his helicopter was shot down in September 2005 in Afghanistan. Because of this incident and it's outcome, future generations of Wiccan service personnel may also be memorialized in like fashion.
Although there are no statistics yet to prove or disprove any such trend, it seems that more of the earliest generations of U.S. Wiccans are still having themselves embalmed, and buried in cemeteries, while the later generations are more likely to have their remains cremated, then scattered according to their final wishes. This trend, if it exists, may be due simply to current economic concerns but, it seems more likely to be in keeping with the ecological, and ethical interests of most Wiccans. This also allows the friends and family to honor the dead in their own manner, and custom. by doing so, it may bring them more comfort when remembering the deceased, granted they are not opposed to the deceased's remains having been cremated!
In some rare cases, there are two funerary ceremonies for a Wiccan who has crossed over. There is the ceremony held by those who, for whatever reason, can not participate in a Wiccan funerary rite, and those who choose to show honor by observing, and participating in one. This dual ceremony is a way for friends and family of the deceased to find closure, and perhaps show, honor, and love, one last time, while maintaining their own level of comfort during the grieving period. There are some people who, knowing the deceased's family and friend's well enough, might even attend both ceremonies.
A memorial wall that contains a pentacle might be thought of as a cenotaph if it is maintained, and designed to honor more than a single Wiccan who has crossed over but, again this is still unheard of at this time. It is more likely that a group of friends, might pour their grief out on the internet on a site designated to such a purpose. Again, such sites are generally dedicated to a single individual but, may include two or more persons, if they were all from the same group, or perhaps crossed over at the same time or under similar conditions. This is becoming more of a norm within many Pagan groups, not just Wicca, since certain members may also be luminaries within other communities who conduct similar rites. This provides others, who may join such groups later, a look into the recent past history of their group. And, it may at times, show how well loved a person may have been by the number of visitors to click on, or link to such a virtual cenotaph.
To Wiccans the idea of having their remains transformed in some way, then redistributed back to nature is more acceptable to their beliefs, and way of life. It, in essence, maintains the idea of cyclic nature, and the cycle of life. As their life has ended, a new one will begin. Their body, or ashes may even help that cycle literally in such instances by providing the land with a token gesture on their part, as a last oath to live lightly so that others may live better in the future. A bit of this idea may have actually come from the Indiginous Indian nations that existed long before the first settlers arrived. It was part of their ethic to always consider the future by thinking seven generations ahead. Progressive, U. S. ecological politics, and the allies of such, are more likely the impetous for the modern Neo-Pagan, Wiccan.
Some Wiccan traditions, typically those that claim a family lineage of "witchcraft", often seem to place greater importance on previous generations. It is notable that the women who have crossed over are almost always revered as matrilineal wise-women, and venerated as if they were, even if in their own time they were not thought of in any such fashion. Today, it is the media, or social media that drives the fame or infamy of a person, place, or thing so it has little relation to the words that come from inside a family, until they choose to speak publicly. The idea of actually speaking about this is out of the question since, it is meant for only a rare few within such a family tradition, and rarer still, any individual not of the family.
Issac Bonawitz may be the latest, and most famous Pagan to cross over. With his passage on Agust 13, 2010 the modern world of Paganism lost a notable, and most lucid voice. Though memorialized by his friends and family, it is the internet that will continue to allow future generations to visit, and honor his memory by way of it's every growing informational, cloud-like cenotaph. Gone of cancer, and too soon, his memorial will be made of those future generations that have a need to know who, and why this American druid was remebered in such a way. In many ways, it is the interenet that may have the greatest potential as any type cenotaph because of it's accessability, and low cost. Stone is still the simplest and best funerary marker the world over to date; so until the internet can pass the test of time, the humble head stone will continue to mark the passage of humanity.