Our first ritual on the Goddess Pilgrimage to Crete is a death ritual in which we honor the memory of those who have gone before us. Like so many things on the pilgrimage, the death ritual evolved. I did not consciously plan to begin with death. Rather, the death ritual inserted itself at the beginning of the tour. Now I understand that the timing is right.
As we begin our pilgrimage, seeking new insight about the meaning of our lives, about the meaning of life and death, we pause to remember those who have gone before us.
Before the ritual begins, I discuss the communal burials in round tombs of the ancient Cretans, sharing my belief that the purpose of their rituals was not to secure immortality or eternal life for the individual, but rather to affirm and ensure the regeneration of life in the community and in nature. I add that though I have no desire for personal life after death, I care deeply about the continued flourishing of life for human and other than human beings.
I like to keep rituals simple. First, we create an altar. Two stones mark the place. We decorate them with flowers and fruits from our Mother Earth and small images of the Goddess.
Then, we pour libations of milk and honey, water and wine, naming those we have lost to death:
“Remembering Mama and Aunt Mary Helen, Grandma and Grandpa, Nannie and Pop, my baby brother Alan, Aunt Lorraine and Uncle Ed, Uncle Dave, Uncle Dick and Aunt Jeanne, Judy Mings, Emi Dimopoulou, Mr. Nikos who helped us in the Skoteino Cave, Mr. Haralambos and little Arseni, my little dog Matakia, and many others whom I have loved.”
As each woman speaks the names of those who have loved her, the stones glisten with water, with red and white wine, with golden honey, and with white milk. Some of the women lose their voices; others are overcome with tears.
As each woman finishes, the group responds: “Let us bless the Source of Life, and the cycles of birth, death and regeneration.”
The movement of the women two and fro from altar is itself a kind of dance; the gesture of pouring liquids that flow into the earth is a physical embodiment of our gratitude for all that we have been given.
When each woman has spoken and poured libations, the group sings “She Carries Me” by Jennifer Berizan, with the refrain: “She carries me, She carries me. She carries me to the other side.” My throat always catches on the line “with broken wings, I reach to fly …” Almost always a pair of buzzards circles overhead.
We “drink the wine of regeneration” from a chalice and “taste the sweetness of life” in the form of a nut dipped in honey.
We close the ritual with a simple 1-2-3 circle dance creating snakelike patterns, in and out, around the altar, ending in a spiral dance, in and out again, as we sing: “The darkness and the light meet inside of me and they dance me into life, set me free, set me free.” At the end of the ritual, we are standing together in a circle raising our hands to the sky above, chanting, “set me free, set me free.”
There is more to the ritual we create in Crete, but I have shared the elements that can be repeated anywhere. It is deeply meaningful to begin our pilgrimage remembering those whose lives have made ours possible, bringing us together on the journey. Blessed be.
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Carol’s new book written with Judith Plaskow, is Goddess and God in the World: Conversations in Embodied Theology.
Join Carol on the life-transforming and mind-blowing Goddess Pilgrimage to Crete. Space available on the spring and fall tours!