Pop Culture: Zombie

It’s not often that I find one (or five) musician’s tribute to another this moving.

The iconic 90s song “Zombie” about the Troubles in Northern Ireland, by Irish band The Cranberries, is both dirge and protest song. Dolores O’Riordan seems about to revive the fine old tradition of keening for the Dead with her haunting vocals.

On January 15, 2018, O’Riordan was set to go into the studio and reprise those vocals for a cover of the song by the band Bad Wolves. Instead, she was found dead. Bad Wolves released their version without her, in her memory, giving all proceeds to her children. And they made this video.

While five men sing and play the famous song, dressed in black and in the only illuminated area in a sea of darkness, we see closeups of parts of a thin woman’s body as gold paint runs over it. As the passion and volume mount, we draw back to see her on her knees in a puddle of the paint, wearing a beaded Cleopatra wig, clearly echoing Dolores’ costume in the original video, and meant to stand in for her here. Then she’s on her feet, pacing slowly as a pop culture zombie, towards the band. But there is a pane of glass between them. She is literally on the other side, separated from the people who wanted her to sing again. She is silent, like the Dead she sang of. She and singer Tommy Vext put their hands on the pane of glass between them, as if trying to touch. One hand leaves a print in gold paint. As the song continues, the Dolores figure uses the paint she’s covered in to begin to cover the pane of glass, separating her still further from the band, as her spirit draws further and further away. She marks Dolores O’Riordan’s date of death in the paint, then wipes it out again. And finally, with the band blocked from her view, she turns away, to begin her long journey into the dark.

The Troubles are not over, but on pause, and that pause may end before very long, as extremist politicians in England and Northern Ireland seek to end the Good Friday Agreement. But while the bombs are quiet now in Belfast, elsewhere they still ring out loud, as we find more and more ways to kill. Clearly, Dolores O’Riordan agreed with the applicability of her song beyond its initial inspiration. The song grieves deaths by violence in many places and times.

But the video grieves for Dolores O’Riordan. And it’s a kind of grieving I wish more people were able to express clearly.

The Cranberries “Zombie” video:


Research: Making Midas’ Funeral Feast, Attempt #1

For Anthesteria, I decided to finally give the stew from King Midas’ Funeral Feast a go. Here’s my recipe and results.


1lb lamb or goat stew meat
olive oil
1/2 bottle red wine (balanced blend)
1tsp fennel seed
1tsp cumin seed (whole) or 1/2tsp cumin (ground)
1 bay leaf
1-2tbs honey
1lb lentils
6c water or lamb stock/other stock

optional: cayenne to taste

Pat dry each piece of lamb or goat with paper towels. For the most authenticity, char grill or barbecue them. Otherwise, toss them in olive oil, salt and pepper (to taste, but I recommend fairly salty). In the bottom of a large dry pot or pressure cooker, heated quite hot, place each piece to sear. Occasionally turn them, until all sides have a hard sear.

If you want a little extra flavor, gently toast your fennel and cumin in a dry pan, being careful not to burn them.

Add the wine, spices and honey to the meat, rubbing at the bottom of the pot to get up the fond (the caramelized stuff stuck to the bottom). Cover and cook one and a half hours on the stovetop or thirty minutes in a pressure cooker. (Or four hours in a slow cooker, if you feel like it.) Wash and check over the lentils.

Uncover and reduce red wine by half. Add lentils, water or stock, and another teaspoon of salt. Cover loosely and cook twenty minutes. (Do NOT cook lentils in a pressure cooker with the lid sealed.)

Results: Should be more highly spiced. More salt on the meat, marinate it in the olive oil for a while, more salt in with the lentils. Try adding more fennel and cumin, and also some rosemary and anise.

An additional teaspoon of salt in the pot helped, and a small sprinkle of cayenne in my bowl helped even more, making the flavors pop and the sweetness come forward. Still needs more complexity, though!

Life: When a Pet Dies

Life: Death of a Pet

On March 10, I was woken when the door swung open, the overhead lights came on, and my wife, in tears, said, “I need you. I think Rikki’s dead. He’s not breathing and he’s cold.”

Rikki Tikki Tavi was her long-haired tuxedo cat. Named for Kipling’s mongoose, who was eaten up from nose to tail with curiosity, and always had to run and find out. Ten years, he’d lived with her. He meant so much to her. To me, too, of course, but I couldn’t match what he meant to her.

Rikki had digestive problems. All his life, really, but in the past year he’d developed irritable bowel disorder. He was on prednizone constantly, and an anti-vomiting medication whenever he seemed to have trouble with nausea. He got canned tuna three times a day, sometimes more. Talkative, good natured, loving, and rather spoiled.

There was rather a lot of vomit. I don’t normally deal well with that, but after I checked for a heartbeat and found none, I didn’t hesitate to scoop him up in my arms and take him away to wash him. It didn’t even occur to me, really.

I washed him and dried him and checked with my wife to see what she wanted. She didn’t want to see him or spend time with him, but she did want to know that I’d perform funeral rites for him. So I covered the shrines that needed covering, out of respect, and placed him on my altar with candles around him. I lit candles, spritzed him with khernips, anointed him with sandalwood. Performed all the Hellenic rites “in miniature”, as I told my wife. Wrote him a threnos and everything. Prayed for him, prayed for Ailuros (the Greek name for Bastet), Artemis of the Animals, and Hekate the Lioness to see him home. I wailed my grief. Uther, our dog, who he used to cuddle with, came with me to drop off his body at the vet’s, to make a procession. The other cats (we have three left) all got canned tuna, and Uther got a marrow bone, to make a perideipnon. Everything I could do, I did.

As awful as it was, and continues to be, at least I learned that all the reading and studying and writing I’ve done have really taken. There was a death, and I immediately simply began to handle it, to take care of both the practical and the ritual matters. I did everything that needed doing. It’s not just duty, not something I have to force myself to do in spite of my grief. It is a part of how I grieve. Taking all those actions helped me, and continue to help me. Ritual mourning, and caring for the Dead to serve the living.

This is prompting me to add a section on the death of pets to the book. Pets are a part of the family, and it’s perfectly reasonable to mourn them as such.

A Threnos for Rikki Tikki Tavi

Let it be known
Let it be known
To mortals and gods
That Rikki Tikki Tavi is dead.
He has left on the long journey
Which has no end.
Life is bright and fine
Death is dark and hidden
Life is a mystery
Death is another.
Let Rikki Tikki Tavi pass gently
From one to the other.

Rikki, who was eaten up
From nose to tail with curiosity
Is now on the long journey
To discover new things.
May his whiskers and nose
Find new things to sniff out.
May his curiosity be satisfied at last.
Life is bright and fine
Death is dark and hidden
Life is a mystery
Death is another.
Let Rikki Tikki Tavi pass gently
From one to the other.

Rikki, who talked so much
Now is silent at last
And we find we did care
What he had to say.
We will miss his voice.
May it fall on the ears
Of gods who will care.
Life is bright and fine
Death is dark and hidden
Life is a mystery
Death is another.
Let Rikki Tikki Tavi pass gently
From one to the other.

Rikki, who loved good things to eat
Now has only the food of the Dead
May its flavor satisfy his spirit.
Let him have tuna and chicken and liver,
There in the halls of the Dead.
Let him have cool clear water,
And never know any lack.
Life is bright and fine
Death is dark and hidden
Life is a mystery
Death is another.
Let Rikki Tikki Tavi pass gently
From one to the other.

Rikki, who loved Uther
Now has gone ahead of him,
And Uther will miss him
As dearly as we do.
No more cuddle piles
Made of long dark fur.
May he find others to cuddle now.
Life is bright and fine
Death is dark and hidden
Life is a mystery
Death is another.
Let Rikki Tikki Tavi pass gently
From one to the other.

Announcement: Death Preparedness Class

I should have posted this before, it’s short notice now, but here’s the blurb for the Death Preparedness class I’m about to start.

Everybody does it. Birds do it, bees do it, even little fleas do it. Everybody dies.

Unlike love, you (usually) only have one shot at dying, at least in this life. You never know when it will come, either. If you die unprepared practically, the ones you leave behind may face a lot of practical problems at the worst possible time, while they’re grieving. If you die unprepared spiritually, you may face difficulties in the afterlife you know nothing of.

This class is intended to help you plan for the practical and spiritual issues around death. It is designed most specifically for Hellenic Polytheists, and will pay the greatest attention to that understanding of the Underworld, but members of other traditions are also welcome.

This class covers:
Living Will, Advance Directives, Death with Dignity, and questions about life and death;
Organ donation, and the nature of the body and soul;
Medical powers of attorney, and spiritual allies and relationships;
Writing wills, both practical and ritual, and attachment to physical things;
Emergency planning, life insurance, and divination and the unforseen;
Funeral planning, what you can and can’t have, what you want, and both esoteric and exoteric rites.

We will be using Get Your Shit Together (gyst.com) as an aid to practical planning, will have weekly lessons and chats, and will be providing a range of resources.

All class lessons and discussions will be mediated through Discord (https://discordapp.com/).

This is very difficult work emotionally, and some parts of it can be expensive monetarily as well. If you find you don’t have as many resources of any kind to devote to this class, that’s alright, you’re still welcome. The intention is to provide a set of tools and resources, and some understanding of why death preparedness is a good idea, but the class is modular, and if you can’t complete the work for any given week, that’s fine, hang on to the materials and do it when you can.

10 week class, $30 per person, special arrangements available to those in need
Begins March 18th, 2018
Contact hexdotink@gmail.com

Writing: The Informational Parts

Some parts of this project are ritual, which is challenging to write in its own way. But other parts, like the sections on death preparedness, or those on dressing and laying out the body, are purely informational, and have their own challenges. Mostly that they are rather dull to write. Ritual is always interesting for me, even when it’s hard, but the minutiae of management of matters of death is at once sad and, well, boring. Often I’ve been over three or four different sources, some of them multiple times, that say more or less the same things, and I’m trying to say it again, but differently. Or else I’ll spend hours going through, for example, a textbook on cemetery law only to add just a few lines of text to the manuscript. More than anything else, these parts are research-intensive.

Some of that research is very interesting — the first time I go through it. But I’ll have to refer back to those books again and again to make sure I get the details right. Sometimes I neglect to mark a passage, or have marked so many that finding any particular one is challenging, and then I have to spend lots of time going through my sources again to locate it. Sometimes multiple sources, even. The stack of books I use as reference material keeps getting bigger, and probably I’ll keep researching matters of death well after this book is finished. There will always be more books to read. Sometimes it’s daunting. The topic, as I said to a friend, seems fractal. The details ramify the closer I look, and there are always more of them. Yet, if I try to draw back, there’s always more at a general level as well.

But somehow, I have to get through writing the informational bits. They’re an essential part of the book, and it would not be complete without them. People need to know these things. I need to know these things to be able to write the rest of the book.

So I keep plugging away, allowing ritual ideas to bubble at the back of my head while I write these parts. It’s something to do to keep the momentum going when I don’t know how to write the rituals, in addition to it being necessary. But it can also become a distraction from writing ritual, taking my time and attention away from it.

Movie: How to Die in Oregon

In 1994, Oregon was the first state to pass a Death with Dignity law that allowed terminal patients to commit suicide with the help of a physician. This 2011 HBO documentary follows several people who choose to exercise their option to die, their families, and some of the physicians and volunteers who help them. It also follows a woman in my own city of Seattle whose dying husband’s last request of her was that she fight for a Death with Dignity law here in Washington, after he was denied that option legally and died hard.

It opens with the final moments of Roger Sagner, the 343rd person to choose Death with Dignity under the Oregon law. “Are you ready?” a volunteer from Compassion and Choices, an advocacy group, asks him. “Sure!” he replies cheerfully. She explains the process. He has to swallow a quantity of a medication dissolved in water, drinking the whole thing within 60-90 seconds. He will then fall into a coma within minutes, and then quietly die, although how long that will take is unknown. He must, by law, be reminded that he can change his mind (“My mind’s not changing,” he insists) and asked what this medication will do to prove that he knows what’s happening. He’s very clear. “It will kill me and make me happy.”

When asked for his last words, he says, “I thank the wisdom of the voters of the state of Oregon for allowing me the honor of doing myself in at my own volition to solve my own problems. So thank you all.” He also wants them to tell the next person that the Seconal tastes like wood alcohol, and he sings and says that it was easy. And then he falls asleep.

Over and over, they say how important it is that they can choose this, and how easy it is. How easy to just pick up the medication at the pharmacy and find it mostly covered by insurance. How easy to go out this way. They’re all so clear on what they want, even if all they want is the option, to have the meds on hand to take if and when they choose.

I’m sure there are many people who are less sure, less happy with their decisions, but this film is very positive. There is a brief segment with a cancer patient who wanted to pursue more aggressive chemotherapy but was initially denied by his insurance, which offered him palliative care, including Death with Dignity, instead. He was furious at being offered death, upset that anyone would choose that. His story went public, and the insurance company reconsidered and said it would cover the treatment he wanted. The treatment didn’t work, and he died not long after beginning it. But he simply could not conceive of the idea that anyone might want to choose to end their lives, and did not think that they should be allowed to do so. That position always disturbs me. Why should it be up to others to decide such a thing?

This documentary will be upsetting to some people, not only for the subject matter, but for the somewhat graphic depictions of certain medical treatments, such as removing liters of fluid from a liver cancer patient’s abdomen. But for the most part, it’s sweet and touching, and less sad than one would expect.

“This is so easy. I wish people knew how easy this was,” says Cody Curtis, one of the most prominent subjects of the piece, as she slips away into a coma, soon to die quietly. A family member whistles softly to her, so that she can go out to music.

Hello Again

Well, it’s been more than a year. I never stopped researching or writing, but it slowed down a lot while I was in school, and I did stop writing about researching and writing. Now I’ve completed my certificate, and after some time to recuperate, I’m pulling myself together to dive back in heavily. To that end, I’m reviewing what I’ve already written, making changes, brushing up on old research, rereading this blog, and otherwise reorienting myself to the work. I’m also planning an online death preparedness class for Hellenic Polytheists (and anyone else who wishes to join us), which will start in mid-March. If you’re interested in joining, drop me a line at hexdotink@gmail.com. And planning that is some pretty heavy work in and of itself.

I can’t guarantee this blog will be back any time soon, but I hope it will.

ETA: I found a couple of posts I wrote some time ago for this blog, but never added to the queue, so those will go up over the next couple of weeks, on Mondays, while I try to get back in the groove of writing for this.

Death and the Gilmore Girls

Death and the Gilmore Girls

One of my favorite shows for years was Gilmore Girls. Snappy patter, pop culture references galore, a brilliant woman chef for me to identify with, and a close mother-daughter relationship contrasted with sharp conflict between the mother and her own parents. What’s not for me to like?

When the show ended almost ten years ago, it was on an upbeat note. Rory, the youngest generation of the Gilmores, was off to cover the first Obama campaign for a newspaper, pursuing her dream of being a great journalist. Lorelei, Rory’s mother, got back together with Luke, the man she was obviously meant to be with. She even made a kind of peace with her own mother, Emily, and with her father Richard.

When Netflix announced that they would be producing a revival miniseries, many fans wondered how the show would handle the death of Edward Herrmann, who had played the role of Richard Gilmore, Lorelei’s father and Rory’s grandfather. As it turned out, Richard’s death was the prime mover for much of the series.

They could not, of course, show the death. Herrmann died on December 31, 2014. Even the funeral was shown primarily in flashbacks. Instead, what we see is three women in mourning. Emily, her world shattered by the loss of her husband of so many years, trying desperately to cope with life without him. Lorelei, mourning the loss of the relationship she never had as much as the father she did, while trying to deal with chaos as work and uncertainty in her personal life. Rory, caught in the Millenial’s dilemma, and never having had to deal with grief like this before, finds her life spinning out of control.

Each of them is mourning in her own way, but all of them have trouble mourning together. Emily and Lorelei are driven farther apart than ever by something Lorelei did after her father’s funeral. Lorelei and Rory have one of their vanishingly rare huge fights, and do not communicate for months. Emily and Rory barely see each other.

In many ways, the miniseries shows what’s wrong with our society’s handling of death. No cultural structure for mourning. An expectation that one should simply be done mourning at some points only a few months after the death. Little or no planning for one’s own future death, unless the idea is brought home to one by tragedy, and a resistance by family members to discussing the matter. The burdens that we place on one another.

It is, in many ways, a very dark little series. It faces up to death and mourning in a way not much in pop culture does, and many fans have been distressed or disappointed by that.

Writing Graveside Offerings

One of the most important things in all of Hellenic culture was veneration of the Dead. Not having proper observances paid in your honor was a thing of horror for many people. Childless men would adopt younger men, just so that they would have someone to perform the rites after their deaths. A funeral was held only once, but rites to honor the Dead happened at least once a year, and usually more often. So of course the graveside offerings, both those to be performed in the days and weeks after the funeral and those performed on special days, were going to be very important things.

I started with two things. The first is an excerpt I found in The Greek Way of Death by Robert Garland.

(Athenaeus IX. 78) However there is a unique use of the word aponimma [normally ‘dirty water’] among the Athenians, where it is applied to the ritual actions in honor of the dead, or to the purification of those who are enageis, as Kleidemos says in the work called the Exegetikon. For, having made remarks ‘on sacrifices for the dead’, he writes as follows, “Dig a trench on the west side of the grave. Next, [standing] right next to the trench, look toward the west. Pour water down, saying the following, ‘For you the water of purification, to whom it is necessary and for whom it is right.’ Then immediately pour down the scent.” Dorotheus also cites this, alleging that such things are written down in the ancestral [laws] of the Eupatridai [FGrH #356 F1], concerning the purification of suppliants, “Next, after you yourself and the other persons taking part in the sacrificial ritual have received the water of purification, take water and purify; clean off the blood-guilt of the one being purified, and after that, having shaken off the water of purification, pour it into the same place.”

And the second was a Starry Bull offering ritual written by our founder, Sannion.

Cleanse with chernips.
Apply titanos.
Ring a bell seven times.
Light a candle.
Inscribe or trace a labyrinth.
Offer incense.
Make a triple libation of:
– wine
– milk
– water
Offer grain.
Offer fruit or flowers.
Offer honey.
Offer an egg.
Recite a hymn.
Ask blessings for your community.
Thank the god or spirit.
Thank the predecessors and preservers of the tradition.
Spend some time in personal prayer, meditation and communion with
the gods and spirits.
Perform divination.
Close the rite by ringing a bell three times.

From these two things, I was able to create two rituals for graveside offerings: a complex, formal one called the Aponimma, and a less formal and structured one called the Deipnon or Daïs, the latter of which also has similarities to the Southeastern US’s tradition of Dinner on the Ground, a tradition of sharing food with one another and the Dead at the graveside. The Aponimma, on the other hand, is to help cleanse the Dead for their journey, to make offerings to strengthen them, and to make offerings to the Chthonic Gods to encourage welcoming the Dead.

This was a tricky but not a hard piece to write. The high formality of the Aponimma is not my usual ritual style, but it was important to me to strike that tone here. And unlike some of the other pieces for this book, writing it didn’t leave me in tears. Instead, it was an experience of strength and confidence. I felt as if I were writing well, as if I were really hitting my stride with the project.

“Graveside Offerings” will shortly be available on Patreon for patrons.