Archive for the ‘Rituals & Spirituality’ Category

It was strange to hear God Save the King played on RNZ National just before 6am this morning. I guess we’ll all get used to that over the coming Coronation Weekend. My interest in the monarchy is limited. I can see little benefit in having a wealthy celebrity from the other side of the world as sovereign of Aotearoa, and was relieved to hear a Guardian commentator state the monarchy is unlikely to last another 25 years. However I love tradition and ritual and will probably listen to some of the coronation ceremony. RNZ will broadcast the BBC commentary from 9.30pm on Saturday. I’m likely to be listening in bed, wearing earphones rather than a tiara. The invitation for the global coronation audience to pledge allegiance to the new King seems somewhat absurd to me.

all been
to pledge allegiance
during this week’s coronation
to the new King Charles, his heirs, and successors
to me it sounds irrelevant
I don’t want to swear
to the King
much less

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we chose an open coffin
so she could be seen
lying calmly there
in her pastel dress

no one realised
she would be reflected
in the window behind

all through the service
she looked down on us
like a guardian angel

we closed the coffin lid
screwed it down tight
she was borne away
to be seen no more

Reflection of coffin

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While making my breakfast porridge I accidentally spilled some salt.

After a momentary hesitation I picked up a few grains and threw them over my left shoulder. I knew this was something I was supposed to do, but I didn’t know why.

A little research has told me that in ancient times salt was used to preserve food, and was accepted as a substitute for blood, because they taste alike and both were identified with the Mother’s primal sea. Salt then became a symbolic instrument of kinship, like maternal blood. It was an acceptable substitute for blood in dedicating an altar. Christian uses of salt were largely copied from pagan Romans who used salt to bless every public sacrifice.

Superstitious fear of spilling salt was directly related to the idea of spilling blood. Throwing a pinch of salt over the shoulder to take off the curse was a symbolic way of putting bloodshed behind you or turning your back on it.

So why throw spilt salt over the left shoulder? Apparently the idea is that it will blind the devil who might be sitting on your left shoulder. I see this as being more of the stigmatisation of us left-handers (sometimes called sinister). Myths tend to agree that the right side is male, and the left female.

Do you throw salt over your shoulder if you’ve spilt it?

It’s in the eye of the beholder
if you should throw salt over shoulder

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Death and Dying are subjects of particular interest to those of us who have reached our three score years and ten. Ruth McManus, Associate Professor of Sociology at the University of Canterbury, researches the social aspects of death and dying with a particular focus on how death can be sustainable. Ruth said that death and dying are some of the hardest things for the living to get their heads around. She has just published a book called The Sustainable Dead (not yet available at Christchurch City Libraries, but I’ve requested that they buy it).

Most of the world now lives in an urban environment, and cemeteries were one of the first planned parts of the urban environment. We have funerals and memorials because we want to remember, and it’s important that what we do with the dead fits our values. We want our beliefs to be visible in what we do with our dead, but since the 1970s there has been pressure on what is possible. In many cities, including Christchurch, cemeteries are filling up and we can no longer set land aside for cemeteries because the land is needed for the living. In Gisborne a hold has been put on burials in the main cemetery because of groundwater issues since the cyclone.

Our ageing population is increasing the demand for burials, and this is expected to spike in the next thirty years. There is a growing political awareness of our environmental footprint, together with growing global interest in heritage and genealogy. It’s important to leave a mark for future generations, yet we want to do death in a way that matches our life. Doing things in a modern way need not mean leaving cultural expectations behind. Ruth showed a photo of the Victoria Road Chinese Christian Cemetery in Hong Kong, where the historic graveyard is now overlooked by a cluster of high rise columbaria. Both of these have a view over the water which is important for feng shui.

In some places in Europe graves are no longer held in perpetuity, and recycling the space is an acceptable practice. In London City Cemetery some of the graves are now marked for possible reclamation, and new bodies may be placed in an existing grave.

The first eco-burial ground in the U.K. was in Sheffield. Here bodies are buried shallowly so they decompose quickly. Although the idea is that the ground is left in a natural state, people are still inclined to leave markers, such as trees that are not native to the area, and plastic items.

In Aotearoa 85 people die each day, and their bodies need to be disposed of. Our perception of acceptable land use is changing, and concerns are ecological sustainability, cultural recognition, and heritage. The biggest tension in the area of bodily disposal is between hi tech and low tech. There are now ten sites for eco-burial in Aotearoa. One of these is in Diamond Harbour on Banks Peninsula. This opened in November 2017 with just twelve burial sites. By June 2019 more than half of these had been filled. Eco or natural burial means the body is wrapped in a shroud, and placed in a shallow plot, within the depth of living soil, which leads to quick decomposition.

An eco-funeral is NOT the same as eco-burial. In an eco-funeral people may be encouraged to attend by Zoom (rather than using fossil fuels). The coffin may be made from recycled wood, with natural fabrics used.

Lobbyists for alternative models of disposal are split, not along lines of sustainability but the technological path to it. The Co-operative Society in U.K. says: The natural burial lobby have already lost the argument because what they propose isn’t demographically viable.

Low tech solutions such as eco-burial are a niche market solution, suitable for people who are wealthy, need to be well planned and organised, and often have a hi tech component (e.g. GPS identification of plots). The large providers understand this. The focus needs to be on the high tech end of sustainable bodily disposal as hi tech solutions are often more sustainable.

Cryomation uses liquid nitrogen and vibration to freeze body parts, then break them into fragments which can be absorbed in the microbe layer, but this has never been a practical solution.

Resomation or Alkaline Hydrolysis where the body is dissolved in lime and heated, has zero environmental impact. It was patented in 1888 in the U.S. where it was originally used to dispose of typhoid and cholera corpses. During the U.K. epidemic of mad cow disease it was brought in to deal with the toxicity of infected animals. A local council in West Yorkshire has started legislation to allow Resomation for humans. Currently it is legal in some parts of the U.S. for medical purposes. It is also legally used on the Gold Coast of Australia. The process which is non-polluting leaves cremation-like ash and a nutrient fluid which is good for plants. (Ruth noted that the ash from cremations is not a fertiliser.) Items such as artificial joints, heart valves, screws, and stents emerge cleanly and can be re-used. There are two organisations, including one in Christchurch, who would like to do this in Aotearoa, but a law change is required first, and the Ministry of Health has been slow to progress this. Once the law is changed Alkaline Hydrolysis could be brought in quickly. I have requested it in my Advance Care Plan, and hope it may be available when my time comes. Have you thought about what might happen to your body when you no longer need it?

While the popular and media focus is on eco or green burial, the real trend is to hi tech sustainable solutions such as Alkaline Hydrolysis.

This zero impact would suit me
with fluid that might feed a tree

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The actual Equinox is on Tuesday at 10.24am, but we celebrated yesterday (Sunday). There were twelve people at a ritual led by Christine and me where we looked at how we could balance outgoing energy with inner nurturing. We crumbled up dead leaves and twigs to symbolise the aspects of our character we wanted to do way with, then took pieces of raffia and wove them into a card to symbolise the parts of ourselves that we want to nurture through the winter. The ritual was enhanced by the involvement of two musicians.

Autumn Equinox Altar

We finished with an Equinox Prayer. I’m uncertain who wrote this, so am not able to acknowledge the creator.

Equal hours of light and darkness
We celebrate the balance of the Equinox,
and ask the goddess to bless us.
For all that is bad, there is good.
For that which is despair, there is hope.
For the moments of pain, there are moments of love.
For all that falls, there is the chance to rise again.
May we find balance in our lives
as we find it in our hearts.

Blessed Be

Do you plan to celebrate the equinox?

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Today is Lughnasad, the festival of First Fruits. As we move from summer towards Autumn it’s the time when cicadas sing and the toetoe bloom flies through the air. We are balanced between hope and fear – a time to think about the inner fears that hold you back, and what it is that you hope to harvest. We have worked hard to bring many things to fruition, but the rewards are not yet certain. For the harvest there must be a sacrifice, and warmth and light must pass into winter. What do you plan to store from the harvest to see you through the darker time of the year?

This is a time of abundance when we contemplate what we will harvest, and hope that our actions will bear fruit. In my garden the tomatoes are ripening.

Tomatoes are close to being harvested

We are aware that for some people there will be no bountiful harvest. Many of our friends and family in the North Island are experiencing the effects of our lack of action towards the climate crisis.

Here is a ritual blessing from Patricia Telesco:

I walk to the South of my sacred space:
Herein all negativity is erased.
I walk to the East where the magic winds dance;
Here I evoke the power of abundance.
I walk to the North where the fires burn bright;
There I shall banish, all evil, take flight!
I walk to the West, where clear waters flow;
The circle’s completed, blessings bestow!

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With a friend, I facilitated a Summer Solstice ritual for a small group. We honoured the time of year, invoked the elements, and listened to the story of how Maui slowed the sun.

Summer solstice altar

After a liturgy and meditation we shared what we have achieved this year. 2022 has been a challenging year for many, and my main achievement is to have eluded the Covid virus.

Later we shared a meal, then I went home satisfied, and feeling that I have a new spiritual home. It’s the first time I’ve facilitated a seasonal ritual for nearly two years. and the first time I’ve done it for a group that included men. We’ve been invited to lead again for the Autumn Equinox and I’m looking forward to that.

Solstice flowers on my dining table

To celebrate’s habitual
and good to lead a ritual

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Spring Equinox this year falls on Friday 23 September at 1.03pm. This is a time of balance when day and night are of equal length as we move from the dark time of winter into the light and warmth of summer. I enjoy winter with its cosiness and invitation to snuggle up inside. I also look forward to summer, when it’s comfortable to sit outside for meals, bare our limbs to the air, and paddle in the sea.

Kōwhai flowers

Locally the kōwhai trees are blooming, a sign that spring is truly here. Some say that the kōwhai symbolises personal growth and helps people to move on from the past with a renewed sense of adventure. Surely that is appropriate for this time of year, especially when we have just witnessed the transition of the British monarchy.

As our world moves from night to day
are new adventures on their way?

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Spiritual Care in Healthcare was the subject addressed by Richard Egan, Associate Professor at the Department of Preventative and Social Medicine at the University of Otago. He has qualifications in Theology, English Literature, Religious Studies, and Public Health. Richard stated that spirituality is implicitly present in healthcare and that it is timely to make it more explicit.

He was raised a Roman Catholic, and spent time in a seminary until he fell in love and needed to leave. These days he says he is more spiritual than religious, and has been teaching medical students about spirituality in the clinic for the past three years. In the past healthcare has often been medicalised and dehumanising, but there is now a movement towards an holistic care approach which is patient- and whanau-centred. The 2018 census showed that 48% of people in Aotearoa had no religion while 37% stated they were Christian. Secularization can be defined as having the choice to believe what you like. These days dying can take a long time, and consideration of spirituality is an important part of the process.

Since 2000 hauora/health in Aotearoa has been based on Te Whare Tapa Whā, the four houses which were developed as a model of wellbeing by Sir Mason Durie. They encompass physical, mental, spiritual, and social wellbeing, with a fifth (land/roots) added more recently.

Interestingly Treasury uses He Ara Waiora, which can be seen as Te Whare Tapa Whā version 2.0.

At this point Richard invited us to share with our neighbours one to three words which describe spirituality to us. My word was connections. We were then told that the most common definitions of spirituality in global research are connectedness and meaning of life/purpose.

Unaddressed spiritual needs can affect the patient’s quality of life, and integration of spirituality may result in more patient-centered care. Meaningful Ageing Australia is an organisation which is working in this area. Spiritual care is about enabling the person to access their own spiritual resources. Sadly in Aotearoa only 0.25% of the health budget is spent on spiritual care. However spirituality is increasingly becoming part of health policy, and healthcare providers are cultivating compassionate presence, which need not take a great deal of time. In pairs we discussed ways in which this policy might be put into practice.

It was acknowledged that many health providers are short of time to simply sit with patients. In Hospices the staff to patient ratio is one to three or four, whereas in hospitals it is one to twenty. Richard acknowledged the importance of having an Advance Care Plan, which is a place where you can specify your spiritual needs. It was noted that continuity of care is important, e.g. having a relationship with a particular G.P. Hospital chaplains are often Christian Ministers, but there is a trend to include non-Christians, and the title of Chaplain could possibly be changed to Spiritual Care Practitioner.

It’s something that needs to be there
the spiritual side of care

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Rain precluded a beach walk today, so we went to the Botanic Gardens instead. The autumn trees there are beautiful and especially so when viewed through misty rain.

We weren’t sure what cafés would be open for morning tea but the one at the Antigua Boatsheds was welcoming. Beside the building there was a large pink rabbit.

Later s/he came inside the café and handed out Easter eggs to the children.

Easter, originally Eostre, is a spring festival, and its story of rebirth always seems out of place in the southern hemisphere. The Easter Bunny predates Christianity and was originally the Moon-hare, sacred to the Goddess in both eastern and western traditions. Seeing the Easter Bunny gives me a gratifying reminder of how pagan traditions have persisted into the present day.

We mark it at wrong time of year
yet Easter Bunnies still appear

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