Passing over by our Hellenic Witch Starlitenergies...
The rites performed at death can either be in remembrance of the person who has died, or passed over, or can be for those who are left behind. The rites can be a celebration of the person’s life, or a sombre remembrance of everything they did and what they meant to others.
This rite of passage may also be held for a person who is still alive, but who will soon be passing away. It may provide a great deal of comfort for them to have their life honoured by their friends.
For Wiccans and I think for witches as well, death is not an end but the beginning of the next chapter. It’s believed that we travel to the Summerlands in our death to await rebirth. Death seems to be a peaceful time and generally agreed that it’s simply part of the cycle of life. For some, a “funeral” won’t even be conducted at all, since Samhain is the time for remembering and honouring the dead. Most prefer to be cremated it seems and spread in nature, or buried in natural wicca coffins which decompose.
The ancient Greeks believed that the moment a person died, their psyche – spirit – left the body in a puff or a breath of wind. Proper burial was incredibly important to ancient peoples, and to not give a loved one a fully ritualised funeral was unthinkable. It was however, used as punishment of dead enemies, but only rarely. Funerary rites were performed solely to get the deceased into the afterlife, and everyone who passes away was prepared for burial according to time-honoured rituals.
A burial or cremation seems to have four parts: preparing the body, the ‘prothesis’, display of the body, the ‘ekphora’, funeral procession, and the interment of the body or cremated remains of the deceased. Preparation of the body was always done by women, and was usually done by a woman over sixty, or a close relative who was related no further away from the deceased then a second cousin. These were also the only people in the ekphora. The deceased was stripped, washed, anointed with olive oil, and then dressed in his or her finest clothes. They also received jewellery and other fine objects. Coins were often presented to the dead, laid under the tongue or even on the eyes; these were payment to Kharon, the ferryman who would help the dead safely cross the rivers Styx and Archeon.
During the prothesis, the body was put out in the courtyard of the family home for a day, placed on a brier. Relatives and friends came to mourn and pay their respects. Everyone, but women especially, grieved loudly and respectfully. It was possible to hire professional keeners, who sang ritualised laments and chants, tore at their hair and pounded their chests in an expression of grief for the dead. The more grief that was shown, the higher the level of respect…
Right before sun up on the next day, the ekphora took place. At this time of day, not too many people were outside yet, and this way, miasma was limited to only the grieving family. Women played a major role in funerary rites, a much bigger role than men, but both walked the procession. Men cremated or inhumed the body and gave the final offerings. They also, obviously constructed the tomb or grave. Men led the way to the cemetery – carrying the bier – followed by the women, and then the children. There was a flute player who served as an indicator that there was a funeral going on, so other inhabitants of the city or village could avoid miasma.
After arriving at the tomb or cemetery, the women turned back, most likely to prepare a large supper at home, and certainly to purify it. The men remained and burned the body (mostly) or otherwise sort the body out. A related mourner first dedicated a lock of hair then provided the deceased with offerings of honey, milk, water, wine, perfumes, and oils mixed in varying amounts. Any libation was a khoe; a libation given in it entirety to the deceased. None was had by the mourners. A prayer to the Gods – most likely Hermess Khthonios (messenger of the dead) – then followed these libations. It was also possible to make a haimcouria before the wine was poured. In a haimacouria, a black ram or black bull is slain and the blood is offered to the deceased. This blood sacrifice, however, was probably used only when they were sacrificing in honour of a number of men, or for someone incredibly important. Then came the enagistmata, which were offerings to the dead that included milk, honey, wine, celery, a mixture of meal, honey and oil called pelanon, and the fresh fruits of the crops with dried fresh fruits called kollyba.
Unlike the ancient Egyptians, the ancient Hellenes placed very few objects in the grave, maybe some dice or a board game because it was thought the dead would play games in the underworld! But monumental earth mounds, rectangular built tombs, and elaborate marble statues were often erected to mark the grave to ensure the deceased would not be forgotten. Grave gifts were allowed in many places, but could not cost more than a set amount all together. These elaborate burial places served as a place for the family to visit with offerings that included small cakes and libations. The goal was to never be forgotten; if the dead was remembered always and fed with libations and other offerings their spirit would stay alive forever. That said, especially in Athens, names on grave markers were restricted to women who died in childbirth and men who died in battle.
After the burial, the family stayed in mourning for a month. During this time, or perhaps a little less long, they were ritually polluted due to exposure to the underworld through the deceased. As such, they could not take part in festivals, nor offer the Theoi (Olympians), nor visit temples. They would frequent the grave or tomb often, however and present the dead with khoes and burnt sacrifices of cakes and fruit.
All of these offerings and loud grief was all to do with appeasing cerebus (guard dog of the underworld) and more importantly the Judges of the Underworld who would decide where to send the soul of the person. The soul would end up in Elysium, Tartarus or the Asphodel Meadows.
Tartarus is not considered to be directly part of the underworld, it is described as being as far beneath the underworld as the earth is beneath the sky. It is so dark that the “night is poured around it in three rows like a collar round the beck, while above it grow the roots of the earth and the unharvested sea.” Tartarus is the place where Zeus cast the Titans along with his after Cronus. The fields of punishment are a part of Tartarus, this was a place for those who had created havoc on the world or committed crimes specifically against the gods. It’s thought Hades himself would make the individual’s punishment of eternal suffering based on their specific crime.
The Fields of Asphodel or The Asphodel Meadows is a place for ordinary or indifferent souls who did not commit any significant cries, but who also did not achieve any greatness or recognition that would warrant them being admitted to the Elysian fields. It was where mortals or did not belong anywhere else in the underworld were sent.
There is a place off of this called The Vale Mourning – where those who were consumed by unhappy love went.
Elysium is a place for the especially distinguished. It is ruled over by Rhadamanthus, and the souls that dwell here have an easy afterlife with no labour. Usually those who had proximity to the gods were granted admission, rather then those who were especially righteous or had ethical merit. Heroes such as Kadmos, Peleus, and Achilles were transported here after their deaths. Normal people who lives righteous and virtuous lives could also gain entrance such as Socrates who proved his worth sufficiently through philosophy.
The Isles of the Blessed were islands in the realm of Elysium. When a soul achieved Elysium, they had a choice to either stay or to be reborn. If a soul was reborn three times and achieved Elysium all three times, then they were sent to the Isles of the Blessed to be sentenced to eternal paradise!