Welcome, Wiccan time–travelers!
I am delighted you accepted my invitation to gaze over my shoulder as we tour sacred burial grounds that I tend as a caretaker. In your current time you would call this place a green burial cemetery. As you will see, there is a different look and feel than what you observe in your time, which is land taken up that becomes unusable for anything else. I believe such land use is a grave loss (yes, pun intended). It removes us from seeing death as part of the life cycle and limits honoring the miracle of death's mystery.
I invite you to consider new ways of honoring your death and the death of ones you know and love. After our future jaunt, if you are ready to explore more about natural death care, I invite you to read my book, Death Rights & Rites. Death is something we all get to do. It is our final journey from our sacred Earth plane into sacred Mystery. Our death deserves to be the best it can be. Consider what you want. As you get clear, share your wishes with loved ones and record your wishes on your state's official documents. I celebrate you and am glad to share Earth-time with you. Let us begin our magickal tour…
Together we step into a protective, floating bubble that brings us to our future location. A gentle caress of warm air is felt as Sister Wind softly whispers, "You've arrived. Breathe in the fresh air of your new surroundings. Surrender to the comfort of your perch upon the shoulders of DragonflyDancer, Pagan name of your guide and author of this guided visualization.
Guiding our floating bubble capsule, we gently descend on the green knoll and step out onto the warm, sweet-smelling ground cover of tightly mounded thyme. Its fragrant aroma fills our nostrils and invites us to sit for a spell. We distinctly feel the thyme deva's gracious spell cast upon us. Her energetic field affirms our desire to simply quietly sit, acquiescing to her subtle power joining with ours.
Our protective bubble automatically tethers itself at this place to await our return.
This day promises to be a delightful way to share time with the two young womyn I've invited to join me for a walk through this cherished sacred burial gardens. Here, just scant years past, my siblings and I carried our mother's shrouded body temple up this hill in a woven hammock we had fashioned together from reeds and willow boughs growing in and along the stream flowing by the edge of the riparian stretch to our community border. Invariably upon arriving on this ground I am transported to a joyous inner awareness of my mother's presence. Even as I continue to feel the softened ache of her absence, I'm simultaneously aware of her pervasive presence. I allow my breath to fill up with her essence and the energies that grace this land.
As a caretaker of the gardens, I often invite a couple of the newly initiated young gardeners from our collective farm community to join me for a walkabout. If they find an affinity here, some choose to be part of the garden caretakers with others and me. Being a caretaker of these grounds is part of my devotional practice and responsibility that continues to nurture me while I have the honor of facilitating the caretaker cadre.
We slip off our earth–made footwear, leaving them beside our protective bubble. Later, we'll return here for our journey down the hillside to our rural community home.
The sunshine warms our lightly clad bodies as we linger, sitting and rolling on the fragrant thyme. Joya is the first to break the meditative silence we instinctively share. "I'm so happy for this day to join you and float up here. I've enjoyed gazing up at these hills, wondering when I could get away from my captivating chicken chores to be here. Thank you, DragonflyDancer, for inviting me to walk with you today."
Serene joins in with her effervescent laughter. She is a quiet young womon who recently arrived on foot asking if she might have a stay as a garden goddess. Yesterday I came upon her picking string beans in the meandering bean rows. She was covered with bean leaves that stuck to her hemp shift, and rejoicing in a full mess of beautiful green beans.
Serene's laughter is infectious. We find ourselves in a chorus of harmonious sound, as much like a song as laughter. Serene's voice softly lifts up in song, one we frequently sing while working in the gardens below. She sings of meeting the spirit of the plants in the form of a dancing green goddess.
I feel an inner confirmation for inviting these two to share the day with me. My spirit is caressed by our shared energy. This promises to be one of those magickal days, sharing sacred space with Joya and Serene. As our song drifts off, it is time for me to take the initiative.
I invite us to begin our walk. "Let's find our way along this herb path that forms an entrance to the gardens and sacred burial grounds."
Again we find ourselves sharing silence as barefoot tickle of distinct herbal aromas fill our senses. Delightful bird songs trill. I feel a vibration tingle and dance exuberantly through my flesh.
The herb path gives way to a snug, tunneled path of tall salvia varieties with flowers of multiple colors. Chiparosas (hummingbirds) flit about from flower to flower, darting ahead of us. Again we share soft laughter and exclamations of delight. The path opens to an immense meadow. Benches, tables, and many unique carved wooden stools form a large expansive circle around the meadow. Wild flowers, seeded in early spring, add color and muted focal points; random flower islands and mounds, some with creative rock and crystal borders, invite the eye.
"Later we'll share our luncheon here," I announce, breaking the silence once again, adding, "Let's leave our shoulder packs here on the shaded tables. Carry water and bring a cover to tie on in case we feel cool later in the forest above us."
We drift apart, each of us taking time to wander in the meadow. I notice each womon is taking note of places, obviously commemorating one that has been laid to rest.
Joya pauses by a large beautiful rock, spontaneously caressing it as she runs her hands across its massive, colorful form. She has found the almost hidden markings that tell of one whose remains are buried there. Serene discovers a fresh graveside mound; this one is the site of a more recent burial. A beautiful mound of soil is bursting forth with succulents, colorful ground covers, delphiniums and zinnias. She sits on the ground, leaning upon a beautiful carved bench, supporting her delicate frame. She, too, caresses what she has found; the earth, polished stones, and the bench, which is intricately carved with birds, flowers, and the name of our beloved Auntie Florence—she who only recently chose this spot and released her spirit. She was my mentor as the lead caretaker of these sacred grounds. Many hours we tended this meadow together. I gaze around, feeling the essence of her guiding presence joining mine.
Her voice drops in: "Have you returned for the autumn list of garden tasks I give you before the Mabon ritual?"
"Yes, Auntie Flo," I reply. Indeed I shall review her list and attend to the tasks in good time.
Hours go by as we each wander from site to site, sometimes sitting a while or lying down on the earth and sky gazing. Each burial plot is different, uniquely adorned and that expresses something of the person who is honored there and ones who love them. There are many beautiful rocks and crystals of varied size, floral arbors, and unique blossoming gardens. Some plots have a fruit tree planted strategically above the heart, giving forth fruit in season and in honor of one whose body temple is buried there. Others simply display only a carved chair, metal bench, or small sculpture. Some are identifiably marked with a name and others are not. Expressions of individual gravesides blend with meandering paths, resulting in a vast meadow mandala.
Like these two womyn, I, too, am entranced. I am enriched each time here, whether to meditate, wander, or work tending the land. There is always discovery and the feeling of spirit presence. I find myself pulling a few unwanted plants that crowd into a patch of summer oriental poppies and alstroemerias. Weeding calls me to one of my favorite activities. I love caring for this garden, accentuating and honoring its natural beauty, as well as allowing divine devic energies present to teach me new ways of seeing and relating to life creatively.
Joya and Serene wander my way. They are full of questions about what they have seen and felt. They ask about the people whose body temples have been laid to rest here. They want to know about them, what stories I may tell them of lives lived and deaths honored.
Joya carries her small drum tethered over her shoulder. She circles her own belly and then that of the drum before she lightly taps out a rhythm. Serene and I join in with rhythmic chanting. Our energy is uplifting and honors our spontaneous ritual. We sing a few of our favorite death songs and chants. Smiles, eye contact, and a deep trance of loving energy connect us. Simultaneously we reach out our hands to each other, forming a circle that embraces our joyful energy.
"This meadow is one of the community's frequented and favorite gatherings places." I tell Joya and Serene of some of the wonderful events that have occurred here. Some are playful times of community picnics, some are ritual times honoring seasons and sabbats, and some are graveside or memorial rituals. I explain that we see this place to be a multi-use area even as it is always respected as the sacred burial ground that it is. Many of our children love to come here to play hide and seek. We sense that their laughter calls forth dancing spirits of our beloveds as they play.
Joya asks what official records are kept. We diverge, speaking of the importance of understanding how our stories weave a tapestry that allows growth to consciously evolve. The library square in the township is often full of community activity mingling about. The vitality exhibited enacts an example of this; local bards, town criers, circle groups singing, impromptu airing of issues and portrayals of community life intermingle. Official records, agreed on in collective tribal council, are kept in perpetuity and recorded in the library's tribal office. A recorded death certificate is seen important, as is returning our energy and nutrients to the soil. GPS quadrants are officially recorded; some also choose to place a GPS marker on-site. Others wish to simply return to Mother Earth with only her receptive acknowledgment.
It is time to move on. I guide our intimate group to the path leading from this tended area to a steep incline upward through the open oak tree hills, descending into a redwood forest. Though tended, it is left more wildly natural. The paths are kept tidy and easily passable as the hills gradually give way to denser forest. Many people have chosen to be buried in these hills and forested areas as well. We may see evidence of their altars off the path, under an oak tree, in a burned-out redwood, or a naturally concealed alcove along the way. Some burial places are quite noticeable; others have long ago or even recently morphed, merely blending in with the surroundings. Although we may not notice them, we may yet feel the brush of an energetic awareness.
Walking through the forest is exhilarating. Each breath fills me with the freshness of oxygen gifted from the trees. My exertion is quenched with such spiritual refreshment. I pause occasionally to sip from the fresh spring water I carry. At the crest of a climb the canopy of trees open and there is an expansive bird's-eye vantage three hundred and sixty degrees around. Benches and sit-upons form a circle around a beautifully crafted hearth with an ornate welded cover crafted by one of our Renaissance artful welders. There are multiple use possibilities here as well. Off to one side of the circle are neatly stacked rows of covered firewood, cupboards, and tables. We keep a stash of candles, feathers, small statuaries, table coverings, and other altar items in the cupboards enabling us to be ready for rituals that spontaneously arise (as may often occur either with solitary moments or celebratory gatherings). Thus, we provide another gathering spot for families, group picnics, and sacred rituals. Other communities and individuals from afar are able to access through the tribal office a request for burials and ceremonies to occur here. In this way, as we steward this land, we also participate in an outreach that enriches community consciousness.
Our bodies are warm from the hike, yet the air is cooling and dusk is foretold. We bundle up and begin our descent downhill. The day has been full and now we are full of chatter, songs, chants, and more conversation. It has been a wonderful experience and we each wish to linger. Yet we agree it is time to move on. We will take a loop trail down through the forest, the open hills and return to the sweet warm meadow. The return hike will complete our tour. There is more to see and breathe in as we go.
When we arrive back in the meadow we sit at a table and enjoy our tasty meal. Meaningful chatter, reflections, and questions continue. Joya and Serene both are enthusiastic about being considered to be part of the Burial Garden–Tenders Cadre. I sense they are both natural to the task and willingly will recommend them for positions to join me. I feel their respect and appreciation of this sacred burial ground and know we will work well together. I look forward to returning with garden cart, tools, plants, and creative energy.
I look forward, in days hence, to finding my place of sacred soil to claim for my body temple-resting place. My love of plants and rocks may grace a spot on the meadow edge. I'll ask that I be shrouded in my old wool cape and laid to rest with worms from my worm bins and mushrooms from the forest added to the soil, assisting my nutrient-remains' return to the Earth. Perhaps Joya will drum for me and Serene will sing me into the Mystery with my community of celebrants. Perhaps friends and family will return to the community barn where I have worked, sweat, and danced. Perhaps they will dance and rejoice in celebration of my passage.
Back at our protective bubble, we don our earth–shoes and cuddle up inside our bubble for a gentle float back down the hill for the community dinner in our present time.
We sing our way home.
Thank you for joining me on this guided journey through our community green burial grounds. Again, I encourage you to consider new ways of honoring your death and the death of ones you know and love. If you are ready to explore more about natural death care, I invite you to read my book, Death Rights & Rites, in which I furthur identify and honor a perspective of mutuality in the traditions of Earth–centered spirituality, metaphysical ministry, and a Pagan Priestess embodiment.
Rev. Judith Karen Fenley (Sonoma County, CA) is an ordained metaphysical minister, a pagan priestess, a certified home funeral guide and death midwife, and a health practitioner. She is a member of the Final Passages Support ...