A Pagan Requiem

I have been thinking for a while that we need more liturgical poetry in Pagan traditions. I have been thinking for a while about the beautiful pieces of music composed for the Requiem Mass, and thinking how great it would be to have a Pagan Requiem – something life-affirming, but acknowledging grief and death. So I wrote one. Feel free to use it – please credit me if you do. If anyone feels like composing some music for it, that would be awesome.

A Pagan Requiem


The earth that moved
The air that filled
The fire that flashed
The water that flowed
The body that loved
Are gone, all gone.
We consign
Flesh to Earth,
Breath to the winds,
The fire to ashes,
The water to the deep places.
But the spirit remains,
Enfolded in the embrace
Of the gods.


Love is the mystery,
The ecstasy,
The hidden fire
That moves the world.


A life well lived
Is a fit offering to the gods.
Living with honour,
Loving well,
Treading gently,
Weeping with those who mourn,
Lifting up the oppressed.
And creating laughter, joy, and meaning,
This is the blessing of virtue,
The garden of the well-kept spirit,
The strength of the oak,
And the grace of the willow.
Blessed are the mourners,
And a blessing on the one who goes forth
Into the unknown.


The heavens and the Earth weep for them,
And humanity is diminished at their loss.
We who are left behind weep for them,
And they sail across the ocean of our tears.
The season of grief is needful
For the soul’s healing.
And so we weep, and so we weep,
For all that is lost,
For all that we left unsaid,
For the beloved dead.


See the soul-boat’s guiding light
On the oceans of the night
Let the pilgrim soul take flight
Across the river of forgetting
To the place where souls are waiting
For their moment of rebirth.


May they rest in the arms of the Star Goddess,
In the eternal twilight of the summerlands,
The valley of yews, the hall of heroes,
The islands of the blest,
The unknown regions.


And in due time, may they be reborn
Among those who will love them,
And may they flourish.


Love is the mystery,
The ecstasy,
The mystic marriage
Of matter and spirit,
The hidden fire
That moves the world.


Yvonne Aburrow
23 November 2016

Licence: Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International (CC BY-NC-ND 4.0)

Boat at night, by Oregongal, CC0 Public Domain

Boat at night, by Oregongal, CC0 Public Domain, courtesy of Pixabay.

Ritual, liturgy, and worship

The structure of ritual in Paganism tends to be to create the sacred space as a microcosm representing the whole cosmos, then to raise power within it, then to wield the power, thank the divine powers and/or commune with them, and then to dismantle the whole structure. This format is essentially derived from the Western magical tradition. If you go to a church service, where the ritual mode is liturgical, there is no wielding of power; rather the approach is to wait for the power to manifest.

Ronald Grimes, theorist of ritual, identifies several different modes of ritual.

This diagram repays a lot of study and thinking. Most church services are liturgical; most Pagan rituals are magical or celebratory. If you go to a ritual expecting one mode, and it turns out to be in another mode, it can be very jarring, especially if you were expecting a magical or liturgical ritual and it turned out to be celebratory.

Examples of ritualisation include your morning routine (get up, have breakfast, have a shower, brush your teeth, go to work – or some variation on that set of actions); your evening routine (come home, kick off your shoes, maybe change your clothes, have a glass of wine); and so on. They are psychosomatic because you don’t even think about them; they are automatic. They are embodied because they are physical actions.

Examples of decorum include shaking hands, waving goodbye, asking someone how they are. These are polite gestures that smooth your passage through your social milieu.

Ritualisation and decorum are not full-blown rituals; they are mini-rituals. The other categories are performed at greater length.

Typical ceremonies would include the crowning of a new monarch, the inauguration of a new President, the state opening of Parliament, and so on. They honour the power that is vested in the status quo.

Liturgy, which means ‘the work of the people’ is a collective affirmation of what is of ultimate worth, also known as “worship”. If you have issues with the word “worship” because you think it means self-abasement, I highly recommend reading An Abraxan Essay on Worship, available from the CRES website. This essay reclaims the word to mean ‘honouring whatever we regard as being of ultimate worth’, and draws on the theology of Paul Tillich, including the idea of the ground of all being.

Liturgy may involve waiting for power to manifest, but there is a dignity and solemnity in liturgical ritual which can be very enjoyable, and if it is done well, it can bring power through just as much as a magical ritual does. I would like to see more of the liturgical mode in Pagan rituals. I would imagine that Reconstructionists would be well-placed to create liturgical ritual, because ancient polytheism was more about worshipping deities than invoking them for theurgical or magical purposes. I have only attended one Reconstructionist ritual — it was very liturgical in style.

Magical rituals are intended to cause change and transformation, either in the inner states of the participants, or in the external world. These include rites of passage, whose function is to bridge the divide between one psychological state and another (for example, to manage the transition between childhood and adulthood); and healing rituals, whose function is to transform an ill person into a well person. Even seasonal festival celebrations could be said to be magical rituals, because they manage the transition between one seasonal and the next.

Interestingly, when Unitarians switch to magical or symbolic mode, they refer to it as “ritual”. Examples include planting seeds to symbolise renewal, the water communion, and the flower communion.

Celebratory rituals can include birthday parties, but also parties to celebrate seasonal festivals. The aim of such a festivity is not to transform anything or manage a transition, but to let off steam. In the ancient world, carnivals inverted the normal social order and allowed everyone to let off steam, and then they returned to the normal social order when the festivities were over.

When writing rituals, you can deliberately make use of these different modes to create a different mood, depending on the purpose of your ritual. Sometimes a ritual can include more than one of these modes.