elements of an Asatru funeral service - by Chris Haviland
The following is a basic listing of common elements in a modern
Asatru funeral service. It is not an exhaustive list, nor does it
answer all questions for any situation. Death, like life, is as
varied and multi-faceted as any human experience, and each
funeral service should be tailored to the specific requirements
of the situation.
- Firstly, remember that
Asatru is a religion of the living - not a cult of the
dead like some religious practices. As such, Asatru
funeral services are for the living as much as they are
for the dead. Consider the needs of the living that will
attend the service when constructing the final service.
For example, if the service is primarily for the comrades
of the deceased (such as a military group) - you may wish
to emphasize the heroic elements of death, whereas if it
is a service for a young child the message should more of
comfort and the continuity of the soul.
- Secondly, Asatru is a
religion of deeds, and remembering the deeds of the
individual should form a large part of the service
(obviously, children may not have accomplished deeds,
especially the very young, so it is desirable to focus on
memories of the joy they've brought). One caution for
anyone performing an Asatru funeral is that whoever
performs the ceremony must be familiar with the deceased,
if at all possible - do not fall into the trap of a
generic, unfeeling, ceremony as one often sees from
so-called mainstream religions. It is better for someone
who is a total novice to perform the ceremony, than for a
stranger to perform it.
- Thirdly, Asatruar do not
fear death - there is no evil to torture them in the
afterlife, only rest, joy, and healing. It is living that
is hard, much of what comes to man cannot be prepared for
or avoided - only met honorably and with determination.
- Determine the desires of the
deceased with regard to inhumation or cremation - when
depositing grave goods, it is important to know how they
will be used. For inhumation, the goods will typically be
buried with the deceased, and the deceased should be
groomed (preferably by his or her family) and arrayed in
clothing they loved, with grave goods arrayed about them.
These goods should/could include: swords, weapons and/or
tools that they have had a high affinity for, domestic
equipage, food, a drinking implement like a horn,
jewelry, and the like. In the case of a cremation, the
grave goods should be burned and interred with the
remains, or else buried with them. If the body cannot be
recovered, the goods may be ceremonially deposited in a
bog or burned and buried.
- A thorshammer must be given
to the earth, buried, or burned for every Asatru funeral.
This is the symbol of our faith, regardless of the
individual's affinity for another deity, and a potent
symbol of hallowing and rebirth.
- Ideally, a rune stone or
graver marker should be raised for the deceased - in the
Viking age this was done rarely, and only for those who
merited it. In the case of a soldier killed in war, this
is the highest honor that can be paid them. A rune stone
can be raised many years after the funeral, so this is
not properly required for an Asatru service.
- Music can be a powerful part
of the funeral experience. There are many fine modern
Scandinavian recordings that convey the sadness of a
funeral. If the deceased was particularly fond of certain
folk music, a selection of these should be played.
- Hallowing - The space in
which the funeral is to take place must be hallowed with
a hammer (or by hammer signing). Particularly, the body
of the deceased must be hammer signed if it is present.
- Introduction - If
non-asatruar are present at the funeral, it is desirable
to place the ceremony into context. This should be
tailored to the life and wishes of the deceased.
- Reading - Typically, a
portion of the Poetic Edda is read to open the memorial
portion of the service - most often, Havamal 76 is read:
Cattle die, kinsmen die,
one day you die yourself;
I know one thing that never dies-
the dead man's reputation.
- Memorial - People who have
known the deceased should stand before the group and
speak about the life and deeds of the deceased. Ideally,
this is done by raising the farvel or memory cup and
drinking a toast to the their memory. In an intimate
setting, a horn or cup might be passed around and
everyone speaks about the deceased or simply toasts them.
It is appropriate at this point if the deceased left
significant unfinished work or responsibilities behind
them for their friends and family to give oath to see
those responsibilities completed in their name. For
example, if they leave a wife and children behind, it is
appropriate to take oath to see them cared for, It is
meet and fitting that those gathered sing songs about the
deceased composed for the occasion, laugh at remembered
moments, cry tears at their loss, recite poetry they
loved - in short, to remember them well.
- Final Prayer - Many people
have come to love the Norse prayer recorded in the
memoirs of Ibn Fadhlan, most recently used to good effect
in the movie "The Thirteenth Warrior". Of
course, another prayer may be used here, but I have
included it in the generic service because it is so well
received. At my brother Jason's service it was copied out
on a pamphlet and distributed to all in attendance, and
the speaker lead them in reciting it together. It was
very powerful, and helped bring everyone together.
"There is an ancient prayer among our people,
uttered by those facing death, let us pray -
Lo' there I see my fathers.
Lo' there I see my mothers, my sisters, and my brothers.
Lo' there I see the line of my people back to the
They call to me.
They bid me to take my place amongst them, in the halls
of the Gods,
Where the Faithful and True live on forever."
- Closing - It is desirable at
this point to say a few words to close the ceremony. A
simple statement of love and respect, one that
underscores the eternal nature of the soul and life is
appropriate here. At a minimum, close the ceremony with
the phrase: "The rite is ended, but the folk go
on". Below find an example of a generic closing
"We will never forget you and we will always love
you. We wish you peace and healing. Come back to us when
you're ready - and until we meet again, rest safe and
sound in hands of the Gods. Farewell! The rite is ended,
but the folk go on."
The Kindred of
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