The Ancient Druids, like many other cultures of their time, understood the illusion of the Veil that appears to stand between Life and Death. The Druids knew that the material body returned to the Wheel, and the Spirit returned to its monadic expression, in preparation for a new experience in its evolution of the Soul.
Thus, Druids were educated not just in preparation for singular or subjective lifetimes; they were trained to recognize past and future expressions, and to harmonize those expressions through their body, which served as the means and vehicle of continuum in the third dimension.
While Druids honored the Living and the Dead equally, attention was not emphasized in either direction. Modern spiritualists who have not reconciled the relationship of Spirit to Matter are often stymied by the thinking best summed up by Shakespeare's Hamlet, "To be, or not to be." It is easy to read this statement, to apply it to the twin concept of Life or Death, and to believe that there is a choice of reality. This "choice" applies only to the physical plane of the third dimension.
Death is a concept that only applies to the physical plane. The astral, mental, and etheric planes are affected by the metabolic change that occurs soon after the deanimative process, but the Spirit, and the Consciousness of the Being who has chosen or allowed himself to transit through the dimensional Veil, continue to exist, to Be, but are then free to evolve without material restriction.
The Druids understood that energy is always present, and that all energy was bound by alchemical and magnetic relationship. This was a crucial concept regarding the actual dispersal of the remains. The deceased was dressed in his ceremonial robes, remained barefoot, and was burned with his staff, or stave, runes, and with any other magic talismans associated with the deceased. It was important that the deceased be destroyed barefoot, so that the facilitation of energy through the "portal" held by the feet would remain unobstructed.
By burning, or cremating, the body, this allowed the Spirit to quickly detach from its physical form, and to free the Spirit of material enslavement or magnetic repulsion. The burning of the ceremonial robes with the body, staves, runes, and talismans, was to ensure, first, that the Spirit would be able to carry on with his symbols or vehicles of accumulated power, wisdom, and knowledge, and second, to ensure that those receptacles would not be used by others, whether wisely or falsely.
By burning the objects of Magic associated with the deceased, the Spirit was enabled to begin his process of detachment from material concerns and expression. It was believed that this facilitated the correct realignment of energies between the Realms of Spirit, Consciousness, and Matter.
A primary tenet of Druidism was to develop Wisdom, and to learn to master the form of expression in relation to Spirit, and to eventually master (through consecutive incarnations) the ability to exit consciously. This is also known as the process of Ascension, to be able to transcend from a physical awareness to a universal awareness without loss of memory of accumulated knowledge and experience; in short, to master the art of conscious interaction through the Veil that currently stands between the third and fourth dimensions.
The ability to consciously ascend is rare, indeed. Many great leaps of understanding and training have remained with various sects and cultures throughout the world, and is becoming a resurgent interest in modern times, particular those who feel compelled or challenged with expectation concerning possible events and changes that may occur after the new millenium. There have been notable experiences of Ascension, particularly among individuals recognized for their spiritual alignment and devotion to the balance, or state of Grace, who continue to serve as examples, and landmarks, for the Spiritual Path of Humanity.
The Ancient and Elder Druids sometimes decapitated the deceased before burning the body. This was done because the head was believed to be the Seat of Wisdom, and the head would be preserved (mummified) and kept to keep the Wisdom active in support of the Druid clan.
The death dispersion process was well-known and understood by all Druids, and was not a secret or exclusive custom. Thus, Druids who did not wish to be decapitated after death would simply say so, and their wishes were respected, without judgment or resentment.
The heads were kept in crypts, and contrary to popular pulp fiction, the crypt(s) was not also the abode of Druids. The crypts were sacred grounds, much like temples, where the heads and other relics might be kept, and were not entered except by the one who might place a new head within the chamber, and the chamber would be properly sealed. The Druids did not "worship" the heads, or pay homage, or in any way perform any sort of necromantic magic with or without the heads. The purpose of the crypts was simply to serve as a vault of the physical symbols and receptacles of what we now call collective consciousness.
The Elder Race of Druids were on the threshold of making this process of Ascension understood and available to Humanity, when they were exiled from Ireland, and effectively lost the momentum that had been sustained through the work of many centuries, and by many generations of Druids devoted to this path of Soul mastery.
Before the Exile, Druids were beginning to successfully anchor and develop the mental plane, and the establishment of that plane would have rendered decapitation obsolete, as it is now. Yet the custom held sacred purpose, and the destruction of that purpose by the Romans, the exile of the Druids, and the ensuing destruction of those crypts effectively destroyed the power base of the collected Seat of Wisom that so many Druids had chosen to support with their voluntary acquiesence to this ancient custom.
Through the time prior to 300 A.D., the most common occurrence of death was due to old age. Until the Druids were routed by the Roman Christians, the Druids were peaceful, and lived quite harmoniously with many cultures, meaning that they were tribal, but had good relations with tribes of other cultures, inluding the Norse, Vikings, Danes, and Germanic Celts. Those factions might war with each other, on occasion, but not nearly as much as written Christian history likes to pretend, depending as its source upon the "evidence" collected and preserved by the Romans.
The tribal cultures liked the Druids, respected them as peaceful scholars and care-givers for the Earth, and as healers. Druids and other tribes might exchange services; Nords, for example, would often bring furs to the Druids, that they might keep themselves and their shelters warm, and Druids would offer medicines or healing techniques to the Nords, or might offer prophecy laced with common sense that might help the Nords in their particular endeavors, including signs regarding seasonal or migratory patterns.
The Druids of today would be well-suited to such a sane and peaceful system; Druids are noted for their inclinations to learn, to apply, and to give meaning to experience. In addition, they like to teach. The most challenging aspect of Druid persona is remembering to take time to eat, rest, or pursue recreational pleasure. Concepts of war and disharmony are disturbing to Druids, yet they are resigned to the conflicts as evidenced by Humanity and the Wheel of Life as it is currently known on Earth. Druids are happiest when they feel they are free to create, discover, and to share, and they depend on the ideal of cohabitating within a peaceful and stabilized ecosystem between other tribes and cultures, and other devic forms that interact within the physical plane.
As modern Druids face the challenge of reconnecting their links to each other and our links with the Ancient and Elder Race, it would serve them to contemplate the nature of death dispersion, as it was, and as it is. Formerly, Druids were released in a simple but methodic ceremony, conducted entirely with purpose and reason, without wasted actions or glamourous functions.
It would be relevant, at this stage of socialized Humanity, to begin to question the death process and ritual ceremony that often accompanies modern funerals. In America, at least, there has developed a certain amount of deification of the dead body, often associated with religious and community standards, an entirely false and irrelevant concern in relation to the passage of the body and Soul from this Time and Space.
Instead, elaborate funerals are held, and the art of morticianry is sophisticated beyond the belief of most people to fathom. As the increase of religious fear of Death increases, society reflects a corresponding increase in allowing a pageantry to be associated with the death of a Loved One.
In the older cultures of American society, where affluence and monetary security was not a given, a dead person was dressed nicely, put in a box, buried, and prayed for. While cremation would have been preferable to facilitate the release of the Spirit from the body, the "basic burial" was still perfectly respectable, and still allowed the body to return to the Earth, and the Spirit to return to All, though at a slightly slower rate.
The twentieth century has brought us the vestige of funerals worthy of the preparation of a beauty pageant contestant (and could probably be interchangeable in some cases). The body is completely drained of all fluids, organs are removed, and preservative fluids are pumped into the body to preserve the material flesh for as long as possible. Whether the body is to be viewed in an open-casket ceremony or not, these basic substitution processes occur.
It is very likely that this custom was developed in response to increasing numbers of ghoulish lawsuits regarding inheritance, and families would pay to have Uncle Henry or Granny Ethel dug up to prove whether or not she was buried with the Hope Diamond, and thus settle disputes to property, or at least force the argument to relocate to the last estates of the deceased. By introducing and expanding the process of embalming, this ensures that the body will last longer, and be more palatable, should any family members suddenly decide they wish to contest the death, or property, of a Loved One.
This is another argument for cremation; no one can rationally argue with ashes, but those who choose to do so will only need a vacuum cleaner, instead of a shovel and a gas-mask.
The dressing of the deceased is rather elaborate, and more so when an open-casket ceremony is planned. Aside from the fluids and organs that are drained and replaced, creams and cosmetics are applied to the entire body, even those parts concealed by clothing. (Even closed-casket funerals dress the body in clothes, either provided by a Loved One, or bought as part of the tailored Funeral Packages offered by funeral directors, probably in the event that a relative should wish to have his Loved One dug up and inspected, it would be best not to shock the viewer with post-mortem nudity.)
In both open and closed casket ceremonies, the corpse is "secured" within the coffin, to prevent any post-mortem involuntary actions, such as rising in the coffin, blinking, burping, or any other unsightly noises or activities that would normally offend dinner guests. Any person who secretly harbors the fear of being buried alive can rest (eternally) assured that if his body is processed by a mortician, he will certainly be actively, completely, and irreversibly dead before the process is over. However, there is no guarantee that the mortician works in a smoke-free environment, so those allergic to or offended by cigarette smoke should probably make their preferences known to their Loved Ones in advance to spare them the pain and grief of having to attend to this detail.
The final abomination is the current custom of burying corpses in shoes. Eyeglasses, jewelry, or burial with objects of remembrance are understandable, as they are associative momentos of the deceased and his Loved Ones, and it is a valid belief that these rites do comfort the Living, as the Dead would surely wish. To bury them in shoes, which are not provided by the deceased's relatives, but are provided by the mortician, and are laced on, presumably because dead feet are altered macrobiotically to the extent that shoes worn on the day of death may no longer fit the deceased.
Given the fact that the body has altered, through its molecular process of death, and is no longer compatible with wearing his former shoes, it is ridiculous to perpetuate a flagrant denial of that death, and to pretend that the corpse will rise at any time and will need shoes to meet the occasion.
The politics of open casket ceremonies are unbeliably naive and hypocritical, often rationalized by the pablum platitude stated, "It will help convince Loved Ones that Dearly Departed has truly departed, dearly." Anyone who has that much trouble believing their Loved One is dead already has a clear disharmony with Life and Death itself. The rationale that seeing the corpse will help people through their feelings of Denial and Grief are already evidencing a predisposition to avoid their own natural feelings of Denial and Grief.
We think it just as likely that there are people who like open casket ceremonies, because they have a morbid desire and curious fascination to enjoy the visage of the Dead. It is voyeurism at its most venial form; one who fears Death may enjoy the vicarious privilege of being able to examine the state of being evidenced by another.
It is also possible, on a sub-conscious level, that some of these people actually feel a sense of empowerment and triumph over the appearance of the corpse; viewing an open casket is the very best method possible of reaffirming one's one hubris. It seems to be the viewer's way of saying, "I'm alive, and you're not." This smacks of cowardice, as the viewer experiences a sense of his own immortality through the "proof" of another's mortality. For those with dysfunctional relationships with the Dear Departed One, open casket ceremony is the most conclusive proof possible that, right or wrong, the Living won the battle in the end, simply by virtue of remaining standing on the playing field of Life.
It is time for Humanity to reassess its relationship regarding the Living and the Dead, and to reexamine the current process of deifying dead ones in customs that serve very little purpose other than expressions of vanity and rather commercial expressions of grief, and serve only to prohibit the deceased from being able to release his Spirit enemcumbered by material restraints - including the entire process of embalming.
Anyone who has had to acquaint themself with the mortuary process will remember, in the shadow of his grief, the anger that his grief was exploited by custom, and by the subtle social implication that, "The more you spend on your dead Loved One, the more you must (apparently) grieve for his Departed."
This "generosity of grief" encompasses every aspect of the burial
- Recovery of deceased - cost of transportation;
- Storage of deceased - time becomes essential, as one is renting space for a corpse;
- Dressing of deceased - the anatomical and cosmetic process, with corresponding price differential for open or closed casket ceremonies;
- Cost of materials, and clothing associated with the deceased;
- Rental of the parlour in which the deceased remains until burial, for viewing or paying respects;
- Cost for the burial plot itself;
- Cost for the headstone or marker;
- Agreed cost for any future maintenance of that plot; mowing of the lot is maintained either by cemetary custodians, or can be negotiated as a self-serve mowing process, depending on the rules and regulations of that particular cemetery;
- Cost of floral arrangements;
- Cost of organ player - possible charge if Loved One chooses own music, depending on policy of funeral director;
- Cost of Register, where Loved Ones sign in, to be kept by primary commissioner of funeral arangements or closest relative of the deceased;
- Cost of coffin, available in an attractive array of woods, finishes, and colors - childrens' caskets also available, including blue or pink satin lining;
- Formal suits or dresses available for a fee if the deceased did not possess suitably fine attire;
- Cost of one who conducts the service, if clerical, or employed by the funeral home;
- Cost of limousine rental;
- Cost of physical burial; and
In 1982, a "budget" funeral I attended left its legatees with a debt of over $10,000. The deceased had earmarked land for his descendants, who eventually sold the land to pay for the funeral process. In the late 1990's, a Cost-Buster bargain funeral might get away under $20,000, but an average "middle-class" funeral probably runs about $80,000. For those particularly anxious to bribe their way into Heaven, the Sky is the limit.
There is such a thing called Burial Insurance, to help people offset these expenses, but we believe if these customs weren't so inflated, both through pageantry and economic exploitation of Grief, such "insurance" would not be necessary. People who consider suicide ought to consider these numbers before deciding to take his own life. With any luck, if he chooses to live, he might actually outlive these barbaric processes, and might actually take the time to discover that his own life has meaning.
As do all lives, and deaths, have meaning. As we seek to coordinate and empower our lives, it would help to infuse that same sense of Purpose within our deaths, and to make both forms of expression contribute to the Wheel of Life, as the Druids did.