Our funerals tend to be quick and efficient conveyor-belt affairs where the mortal remains of our loved ones are quietly shuffled off-stage through a beige curtain. The shell of Grandad’s life is given one last spin around the room in a wooden box, before being ferried to the beyond by some anonymous furnace worker acting behind the scenes.
The body that he loved in, the body he managed to pull through a world war with only a bullet wound and crushed finger, the body that he took his wife dancing in on their anniversary every year, is filed away and processed through the system with a minimum of fuss. The salient points of his life are hurriedly summarised in a ten-minute sermon by a vicar who never knew him or shared a drink with him in life. We go down the pub and drink a glass of whisky in remembrance, then we change out of our black mourning suits and are encouraged not to think about any of it, He’s dead and gone and the past is in the past. No point dwelling on it; no sense in being morbid. So we put it all away somewhere and get on about our business. What else is there to do?
Our culture is not very well equipped for processing the trauma of death and bereavement.
Our funerary rites don’t even begin to give us a set of tools for dealing with the enormity of having someone so pivotal to our understanding of the world taken from us. There is little comfort to be found in the modern crematorium, and sixteen cups of sugary tea are not going to fill the gaping hole left by the loss of someone close to you.
Some of us take up religious beliefs as a way of coming to terms with the death process, and adopt vague, second-hand notions of an afterlife that couldn’t possibly be proven one way or another. Others take it a step further and invest belief in spiritualists, handing over money to spirit mediums who claim to be able to put you back in contact wit your Auntie Doris or Uncle Robert from beyond the grave. While others find their comfort in atheism, cutting through the conjecture and make-believe to find some peace and resolution in the finality of the grave. We’re all going to be just dirt in the ground….”
Stephen Grasso is a Newcastle-born witch doctor, a practitioner of modern occultism and a music obsessive. His description of the new rituals that he is evolving and how he places them firmly within a global tradition of ancestor worship is of particular interest to all whose religious palate has become dulled by increasingly meaningless gestures.
Stephen’sbeliefs about where we come from, the debt we owe to our forebears and how we should honour that debt are deeply respectful, and as relevant to the conventionally sacred as to the secular.