Pagan Funerals: Burials, Customs, and Pagan Funeral Songs
Death can be scary for anyone and everyone. As a pagan witch, I have no shortage of thoughts about it. And if you’re here, you likely do too. Or perhaps you’ve lost a loved one recently who identified as pagan or witch. I’m here to tell you, witch and pagan funerals are a real thing. We don’t have to be buried and commemorated by a Christian pastor or priest, if we don’t want to. And we don’t have to have a Christian burial either. If you want to know how to plan a pagan funeral and what to expect, we will detail it for you here including pagan death beliefs, traditions, pagan funeral songs and witch burial rites.
Pagan Death Customs
It truly depends on what your loved one (or you) want to happen upon death, but there are several pagan death customs to consider. Just as a baby is cleansed upon birth (via bathing or baptism, etc.), many pagans ask to be cleansed/bathed upon death. Why? Because death is another transition and just another part of the life/death/rebirth cycle. When you’re clean, you’re prepared to meet the afterlife fresh and anew! This isn’t necessarily a strictly pagan custom, but something that’s been done for thousands of years across cultures. In addition, here are some other pagan death customs to consider:
- Massaging/anointing the deceased’s feet with oils for the “long journey” ahead; some oils used traditionally include: angelica, blackberry, chrysanthemum, tobacco, etc.
- placing a circle of candles around the body and keeping watch until the funerary rites
- call on the individual’s gods and/or ancestors to protect and guide them to the afterlife
- a picture or statue of the individual’s gods/ancestors/guides can be placed with the deceased to ease in transition (for me, I’d ask for my statues/figures of Odin and Freya, specifically)
- prayers should be said to aid the deceased in their travel to the afterlife
- pipes and tobacco can be smoked near the deceased – the smoke wards off evil spirits
- bouquets of hydrangeas around the deceased to ward off negativity and cleanse the air
- burning frankincense and myrrh upon death
- upon death, if at home, cover the mirrors and open a few windows to allow the deceased’s soul the ability to leave this earthly plane
- stop the clock upon death
- cover the body in white linen, white and black flowers
- hold an Irish wake: click here to learn more
- have dinner, feast, drink and celebrate their life (this was SO important back in the day, and actually aids in the soul’s transition to the afterlife. You’re not celebrating for yourself, you’re celebrating for the person who just died)
- burying the pagan/witch in good walking shoes for the journey ahead (for the love of the gods don’t bury me in heels, people!)
Types of Pagan Burials and Cremations
Pagans and witches don’t have a single holy book that they use to guide their lives or their transitions like death. It all depends on what the individual pagan believes; however, many pagan and witch burials lean towards the eco-friendly. This means a natural burial: no concrete is poured into the ground, no man-made caskets, etc. There are natural cemeteries throughout the United States who accommodate eco-friendly witch burials. You can do a simple google search to locate one in your area.
Other Witch Burial Options
In addition to an eco-friendly witch burial, some pagans may choose to be cremated and then have their ashes spread somewhere in nature. While cremation is purportedly a “Christian” death custom, our ancient pagan ancestors from certain countries burned their dead. Unfortunately, burning a person on a pyre is illegal in most places and frowned upon these days, so the pyre is probably not an option where you live. Can you believe there is also a company who is composting human remains, as well? Do some google research if you’re curious. For me, being a witch who’s lived past lives during the Burning Times, please don’t burn me. But again, this is all up to you or your loved one.
Viking Funerals in Michigan
Interestingly, many pagans wish to have a Viking or traditional Norse funeral where their body is placed on a float. Then floated out to sea and lit afire. This is commonly not allowed in most places in the United States. Except for recently, apparently, Michigan allows this particular specialty type of funeral. And there are specialty companies out there who make wicker caskets for just such funerals. However, cremation is very similar to the pyre custom and can be used in its place. Then again, regular burials in a cemetery or being housed in a mausoleum are choices, too. Talk to your funeral director and ask for options. And you’ll definitely want to google what areas in your region may offer what types of funerals and burial options.
Ideas for a Pagan Funeral Service
The best place to have a pagan funeral service is where? In nature! If the person loved the ocean, hold the service at the beach. If the person loved the mountains, hold the service on a mountaintop. Recite passages from pagan poetry, mythology, prayers to gods, etc. There are some wonderful passages that would be appropriate for a pagan funeral in the Egyptian Book of the Dead, the Prose Edda, the Mabinogion, and the Carmina Gadelica, to name a few. Following the pagan funeral service, have a party to celebrate the person’s life together – eat, drink, and socialize. Our ancestors made funerals into parties! Read more pagan passages on death further down.
More Pagan Funeral Traditions:
- To protect the deceased upon burial: drive/carry the casket around the cemetery 3 times in a sunwise direction
- Bury the deceased with his or her amulets/talismans: magical jewelry like crystals or runes they wore during life or any other sacred tokens
- During the funeral ceremony – ask psychopomps to guide the deceased to the afterlife. Psychopomps include: the deceasesd’s spirit guides, ancestors and gods, in addition – Osiris, Iris, dogs, horses, snakes, birds, Thoth, Hecate, Berchta and Freya (particularly for women and children), Madame Death, etc.
- Garlands of flowers and resins can be made into necklaces to protect and bless the deceased’s loved ones – hang around their necks during the funeral rites
- Flowers and food offerings should be left at the gravesite to aid the deceased in his/her journey to the afterlife
Witch and Pagan Funeral Officiants
As a witch or pagan, most of us would opt out of the Christian funeral service and ask for a pagan officiant to preside. There are shamans and ordained pagan ministers all over the country and the world. Look for one in your local area who is qualified and who also jives with the individual’s overall pagan outlook. For example, if the person was Wiccan, search for an ordained high priest or priestess to officiate. If the person was native or into shamanic practices, search for a local shaman. If the person was a druid, look for a druid priest in your area. Etc.
Pagan Death Beliefs
So instead of the Christian version of talking about the deceased as if they’re going to Heaven, pagan death beliefs nearly always revolve around reincarnation and/or traveling to a place outside of this world. For some pagans and Wiccans, this other place that we go upon death is called Summerland. In Norse tradition, they may say they believe we go to Valhalla, Folkvangr, or Helheim upon death. For the Celtic tradition, the Celtic Otherworld, Faery Realm or Tir Na Nog. Etc. At the very least, mentioning that your pagan loved one believes we come from the earth and return to the earth is perfect. Read more about pagan death beliefs and the pagan afterlife here. In addition, share a few pagan passages or quotes on death and the afterlife:
Listen to our podcast on Death and the Pagan Afterlife:
Pagan Quotes on Death and The Afterlife
These are some of my favorite passages about death, reincarnation, etc. that I would love someone to share upon my burial. You can share some of these passages or quotes during the memorial or have the officiant add it to his/her speech:
“When I die, plant flowers over my grave, so when the seeds bloom, you can pick me and hold me once more.” ~ Anonymous
“I have been in many shapes:
I have been in a narrow blade of a sword;
I have been a drop in the air:
I have been a shining star;
I have been a word in a book;
I have been an eagle;
I have been on a boat on the sea;
I have been a string on a harp;
I have been enchanted for a year in the foam of water.
There is nothing in which I have not been.” ~ Taliesin (Welsh Bard)
“Beauty before me, with it I wander.
Beauty behind me, with it I wander.
Beauty below me, with it I wander.
Beauty above me, with it I wander.” ~ Navajo Night Chant
“Cattle die, Kinsmen die, All men are mortal.
Words of praise, Will never perish
Nor a noble name.” ~ Havamal
“After all, to the well-organized mind, death is but the next great adventure.” ~ Dumbledore, Harry Potter
“But know this: the ones that love us never truly leave us.” ~ Dumbledore, Harry Potter
Pagan Funeral Songs
There’s plenty of music (both pagan and modern) that would relate well and could be considered pagan funeral songs. Here are a few options:
- Wardruna: Helvegen
- Stevie Nicks: Landslide
- Delta Rae: Dance in the Graveyards
- Sarah McLachlan: Angel
- Alison Kraus: I’ll Fly Away
- Florence and the Machine: Never Let Me Go
- The Band Perry: If I Die Young
- Stevie Nicks: Crystal
- Loreena McKennitt: The Dark Night of the Soul
- Wardruna: Odal
- Celtic Woman: Danny Boy
- Florence and the Machine: Jenny Oldstones
- Marianne Faithfull: Witches’ Song
- Sarah Jarosz: Build Me Up From Bones
- Julie Byrne: Sleepwalker
- MILCK: Call of the Wild
- Delta Rae: Morning Comes
- Florence + The Machine: Sky Full of Song
- Florence + The Machine: Grace
- Florence + The Machine: St Jude
- Enya: May It Be
- Kalandra: Helvegen
Don’t forget too, depending on the pagan’s tradition and beliefs, traditional songs and music from that culture would also play well at a pagan funeral. For example, most Celtic music is enchanting, uplifting and serene and would do well at a witch burial or pagan funeral. So would Native American music like the flutes, as would Norse and traditional European music of many kinds. You can choose music without lyrics, if you prefer. Instrumental music is an option for any pagan funeral or burial. Learn more about beliefs in the pagan afterlife here.