Pagan rituals usually start with spiritual support during the dying process. The dying person is caressed, sung to and allowed to discuss their fears and feelings about their passing. This is radically different from the way in which most modern Americans die, and is probably a lot closer to the way our ancestors dealt with death.
Most Pagans believe in reincarnation in some form, so that death is seen as a change of form, a “shedding of the skin”, rather than the end. For this reason the snake that sheds its skin is viewed as a symbol of rebirth rather than as a symbol of evil or death. Pagans see life and death as two sides of one coin; one leads into the other, unendingly. Many Wiccan traditions believe that the souls of the dead rest for a while in an Otherworld called the “Summerland” where they are healed of the traumas of their last life before being born again. Death is not considered a personal stroke of bad fate. Those who die are comforted in the arms of the Goddess and given another chance next time.
Paganism involves the spiritual but non-religious worshipping of people, animals, plants, energies and the earth. The elements of fire, water, earth and air are associated with pagan rites. Most pagan funeral rites are therefore held outdoors in a beautiful, natural setting.
Many Pagan traditions prepare a special feast for the dead and invite them to come back and eat with us, a practice very similar to the Day of The Dead as it is still celebrated in Mexico.
The rituals are guided by an experienced Pagan practitioner. In such rituals, we sit in circles, recite the names of the dead and talk about their lives, their deaths, and the way we felt about them. Many Pagans act as if the dead were literally present and talk to them directly, perhaps also taking the opportunity to tell them things that we did not have the opportunity to say while they were alive. There may be moments during which sadness, tears, tension, anger and laughter are exhibited, but connecting with others in this manner can be very healing.
The rituals include invocations, silence and handling of sacred objects and are conducted in a meaningful atmosphere including fires, music, chanting and dance.