Rites of Passage #5: Memorials

Some time ago, I wrote a piece about Atheopagan Rites of Passage. In it, I described life milestones that might be celebrated by an Atheopagan, and which we as Atheopagan “clergy” (we’re all clergy, since we have none) might be asked to officiate over.

On reflection, it occured to me that just talking about these rites of passage probably isn’t helpful enough: that having some guidelines for each such rite would be helpful to the community. So here is the final installment in the series: Rites of Passage.

Note that the structure outlined below isn’t a formula; it’s a set of guidelines. Feel free to change any or all of its elements to fit best with the community you are serving.

This rite of passage is structured more like a traditional memorial service because funerals typically have more attendees than can be accommodated in an Atheopagan circle. A smaller and more intimate Atheopagan circle might be conducted around the grave before burial (if the body is to be buried), but this post is focused on the memorial rite.

Of all the life passages described in this series, this is the only one that is guaranteed to all of us: we all die. Some of us do so even before we are born. This rite of passage is meant to comfort the living, to celebrate the dead, and to contextualize living and dying in the great story of Life on Earth.

When planning a memorial or funeral service, there are many considerations: what did the deceased feel were their greatest accomplishments in life? How did their atheist spirituality fit in with the rest of their family? What were their wishes for a memorial, if they left them? If for a stillbirth or miscarriage, what are the messages the parent(s) would like to give to the deceased?

Here is a general outline for an Atheopagan memorial service:

Gathering/Arrival: play music that was loved by the deceased during this period*. It doesn’t have to be sad music! A memorial is a celebration of a life.

Welcoming remarks by you, the officiant. Bid everyone welcome and ask them to be seated. Welcome the family in particular, and if there are any “dignitaries” or special friends to the family, welcome them, too. Have everyone take a deep breath, and blow it out: we are here, in this place today, in the presence of the profound reality that is death. In our sorrow, we come together today to celebrate the life of ________.

Poem or prose reading celebrating the magnificence of existence: This is where the “Pagan” part of the ritual comes in. It is a reminder of the beauty of Life on Earth, in this extraordinary Cosmos. That we live here, surrounded by wonders, for a brief time, and then dissolve back into the Cosmos from which we came.

Musical Interlude: A song or instrumental piece–guests may be invited to sing along if the organizers wish it.  Be sure to provide music sheets to guests if you choose this option.

Eulogy: A prepared speech to memorialize and celebrate the life of the deceased. Usually delivered by a family member or close friend. May include description of the deceased’s Atheopaganism and what it meant to them, and/or any final words the deceased left behind for their community.

Poem or prose reading: Some good nontheist choices are available here.

Officiant invites guests up to share personal memories

Personal Memories: spontaneous memories shared by guests

Musical Interlude: another song or instrumental piece, possibly with guests singing.

Benediction: (Literally, “saying a good word”): a closing statement by the officiant acknowledging the love and respect that has been expressed for the deceased, gratitude for the deceased’s life, with well-wishes for the family and loved ones, an adjuration to embrace our precious lives, and an invitation to the reception following the memorial (or burial service if that is to follow).

Restart gathering music as attendees stand and prepare to leave.



*Or as chosen by the parent(s), if this is a stillbirth or miscarriage memorial

Rites of Passage #4: Elderhood

Some time ago, I wrote a piece about Atheopagan Rites of Passage. In it, I described life milestones that might be celebrated by an Atheopagan, and which we as Atheopagan “clergy” (we’re all clergy, since we have none) might be asked to officiate over.

On reflection, it occured to me that just talking about these rites of passage probably isn’t enough: that having some guidelines for each such rite would be helpful to the community. So here is the fourth installment in the series: Rites of Passage.

The Passage to Elderhood occurs when the subject thereof feels ready to take on that identity. There is no hard and fast rule about an age at which a person is an “elder”; some may never feel that they are.

Personally, I have decided that when I turn 60, it’ll be time for mine.

This Rite is one of acknowledgement. In it, the achievements and efforts of the person along the way to becoming an Elder are recognized and celebrated. There is no “ordeal” involved; the subject has already lived many ordeals and survived them.

The passage into elderhood should be conducted by a circle of friends and family. The organizers may choose to include only those who have attained adulthood, or also to include younger members of the subject’s loved ones.

This ritual should be conducted in a comfortable, convivial environment. Age has privileges! Comfortable seats in a circle about the subject (also comfortably seated, perhaps in a swiveling chair so they can turn to face each speaker) are appropriate. This ritual doesn’t have a single “officiant”, but rather is a shared activity of all participants.

Arrival (Speaker 1): We are here, atop the accumulation of time. In their life, _________ has seen a, b, c, d, e, f… (list historical, cultural and technological changes). We come to this moment now filled with memories, with history. We arrive in this moment rich with hard-won knowledge. We are here, now, on Planet Earth at this very moment, the Now, to celebrate our kindred who is becoming Elder.

Qualities (Speaker 2): May we be imbued with kindness as we do this. May we be filled with courage and honesty. May we remember what is valuable to remember, and share what we have learned. May Love, and Truth, and Beauty, and the Sacred Cosmos inform our words and deeds.

Working: each segment taken by a different speaker.

We acknowledge your struggle: Speaker 3 invites the new Elder to tell a story involving personal emotional challenge.

We acknowledge your work: Speaker 4 invites the new Elder to tell a story about their career and creative efforts.

We acknowledge your wisdom: Speaker 5 states the ways they have seen the new Elder demonstrate wisdom.

We acknowledge the value you have to contribute going forward: All speakers state the ways they see the new Elder contributing to the world and the community. If gifts are to be given, they are given here.

New Elder speaks on their commitments to contribute going forward, their interests, and their passions.

Gratitude: While passing around food and drink, members of the circle express gratitude for the admirable qualities of the new Elder. When it is their turn, the new Elder expresses gratitude for the things in life that have brought it to the point of Elderhood.

Benediction (Speaker 1): We are grateful to the Cosmos for our lives, to the good Earth and human innovation for the longevity which has led us to reach this point in our lives. In the names of Love, and Life, and Beauty, and Truth, we welcome into the world the Elder ___________, our kindred. May we go forth in wisdom and joy!

Rites of Passage #3: Handfastings and Dissolutions

Some time ago, I wrote a piece about Atheopagan Rites of Passage. In it, I described life milestones that might be celebrated by an Atheopagan, and which we as Atheopagan “clergy” (we’re all clergy, since we have none) might be asked to officiate over.

On reflection, it occured to me that just talking about these rites of passage probably isn’t helpful enough: that having some guidelines for each such rite would be helpful to the community. So here is the third installment in the series Rites of Passage: Handfastings and Dissolutions.

More has been written, imagined and published on weddings (or “handfastings” in Pagan parlance) than on any of the other rites of passage I am discussing in this series, so I will just touch on a couple of traditional elements that I like and let people design their own handfastings to fit their personal wishes and needs. Meanwhile, here is a Certificate of Handfasting you can download for use in your own Atheopagan wedding ceremonies.

Handfasting. Handfasting is an old tradition wherein the hands of those to be wed are bound together with ribbons, symbolizing the bond of their relationship. They then…jump the broom!

Making and jumping the Wedding Broom. A festive wedding broom can be made as a keepsake for those being handfasted: each guest ties a length of colorful ribbon onto the shaft of the handle, with their good wishes for those to be handfasted. Later, when the broom is complete, those being handfasted traditionally “jump the broom”: it is held about a foot above the ground, and they–with their hands still bound together handfast–leap over it, to the applause of the wedding guests.

A Year and a Day: In some Pagan communities, people may choose a “trial marriage” of a year and a day of commitment, to see how well it will work before making a longer-term commitment. Obviously, this isn’t a legal marriage.

Dissolution ceremonies are rare in our society, but if those whose marriage is to be dissolved are able and willing, they can provide a sense of closure at the end of a relationship that is no longer working.

Dissolution ceremonies should be 1) short and 2) final. During or before them, rings and family heirlooms should be returned.

Here is an outline for a simple dissolution ceremony for a separating couple. The officiant may have to keep a firm hand on the proceedings if the participants are angry and hurt. The ceremony should include members from the couple’s community to support them and witness their dissolution.


A large, inexpensive vase of water is prepared, with two empty glasses. A towel large enough to swath the vase and a large rubber band are at hand.


Officiant: We are gathered here today to achieve the final separation of the marriage of ___________ and ___________. Friends have joined with us to witness the ending of their time in committed relationship, and to support their moving on to new chapters in their lives.


Officiant solicits spoken emotions, values and characteristics from the participants which they would like to inform the dissolution process.


Officiant directs the couple to return their rings and other heirlooms to each other.

A ribbon from the original handfasting is cast into the vase of water. Officiant states: this is the relationship you have shared.

Officiant then empties the water from the vase in equal amounts into the two glasses and gives one to each member of the couple, saying, now it is time to take yourselves away from what has gone before.

Officiant swathes the vase–now empty except for the ribbon–in the towel, binds the bundle closed with a rubber band, and puts it into the hands (all four) of the divorcing couple. They raise it above their heads and then cast it to the ground to break the vase, ending their relationship.

Gratitudes: Officiant solicits from each of the divorcing couple an expression of gratitude for what they have learned and experienced with the other.

Benediction: It is complete. Officiant declares the work to be done, sending all participants forth to live full, happy and wise lives.


Opportunity for Auroras! [Starstuff, Contemplating]

The energy beam is about to hit, just when our shields are not ready and we are most vulnerable!  Sci-fi?  No, this is reality, for you, on Earth, right now.  And it means we have 

a great chance for auroras on September 17th, when it will arrive and crash against the magnetic field of our Earth, which normally shields us, but has cracks right now.

From the Samhain Solar Storm of 2003

What do I need to do to see them?

It’s virtually certain that at least some places will get auroras on the 17th (depending on where you are, this can include the night of the 16th and/or the night of the 17th).  If you can see clear, dark skies at a latitude above around 45 degrees, consider going out.  You can also sign up for getting a free, immediate email notification if auroras appear near you.  There are plenty of details (and caveats) below – but that’s all you need to know to see them.   I’ve seen incredible auroras twice, and pretty darn cool auroras probably a dozen times.  I won’t take the time now to describe all of them, but the shimmering, waving sheets and streamers across the sky are transformative.


Where to start?  First of all, we can’t know for sure what will happen – only what the probabilities are.   Over the year, auroras are a little more likely near two of our Sabbats – the Equinoxes.  Because the Wheel of the Year gives us both a temperature cycle as well as a cycle of waxing and waning daylight, the Equinoxes (while being equally light) are not equally warm.  The Fall Equinox is thus the perfect time for aurora viewing, with longer dark nights, warm temperatures, and the auroras themselves.  The two interwoven cycles that make our 8 Sabbats each special are explored here.

Scientists only discovered the cause of Equinox Cracks in Earth’s magnetic shield recently, though we’ve known that auroras happen more often near the Equinoxes for a long time (centuries? millenia?).  With a dark sky unpolluted by electric lights, I would think that elders among our Ancestors even 20,000 years ago probably have noticed that they remembered auroras happening more often around harvest time.  In any case, like so many other aspects of our world, with scientific investigation, we now have a better understanding of why and how.  Due to geometry, then the Earth’s axis is perpendicular to a line from the Sun to the Earth (the direction of the solar wind), it’s possible for polarities to cancel out, making magnetic reconnections which cause parts of the magnetic field to disappear, where the solar wind can pour through.  More on how this works here.

But having Equinox cracks in our magnetic field is not sufficient for auroras.  If it were, we’d see auroras every Equinox, on a regular schedule.  We don’t.  It’s highly erratic.  That’s because the because the amount of solar activity (and hence the strength of the solar wind itself) is the biggest factor.

In addition to Equinox cracks in the magnetic shield, the 11 year solar cycle affects when solar activity is more likely.   There are many different types of solar activity that can lead to auroras.  One of the most common is a coronal mass ejection (CME).  That’s what made last year’s massive auroral display.  However, this time it’s a coronal hole, which opens an easy passage for charged particles, (which race outward at millions of miles an hour, and consists of many different types of energetic particles).  When these energetic particles slam into the earth, they are mostly deflected by the  magetnosphere, and reach farther toward the Earth’s surface along the magnetic poles, where the magnetic field lines are vertical instead of being horizontal.  There’s more to it, but this is the basic reason why we get Northern lights (Aurora Borealis) and Southern lights (Aurora Australis).

The most recent solar cycles, by sunspot number. Notice that the current cycle (#24) is relatively weak.

In addition to simply getting outside at night (and/or using the free, automatic notification linked to above), you can also check the auroral activity using the auroral oval map at spaceweather.com, and reading the updates there.  Also, the map for the Southern hemisphere can also be seen at spaceweather.com, just click on “New Zealand”.

If this one fizzles, or if you aren’t in a good area for viewing, or clouds intervene (as they likely will here in Michigan), the graph above suggests that a flares as powerful as this will likely come again by 2025, when the next solar cycle (#25) is likely to peak.  Either way, I hope you get to experience this wonderful part of our Earth (and Universe!) centered spirituality – and, if possible, to share it with kids, who will build the world of tomorrow.  

Auroral Oval Map from a strong storm. If the map looks like this, and the red area moves near you, get outside and look!


Naturalists of any religion have, I think, a special connection to our world.  As the only world we have- which are are part of, we cherish it and revel in it, savoring the gifts this Universe has to offer, during this one brief life we know we have.  Auroras are one more of those wonderful gifts.


The Author: Jon Cleland Host

Starstuff, Contemplating: We are assemblages of ancient atoms forged in stars – atoms organized by history to the point of consciousness, now able to contemplate this sacred Universe of which we are a tiny, but wondrous, part.

Dr. Jon Cleland Host is a scientist who earned his PhD in materials science at Northwestern University & has conducted research at Hemlock Semiconductor and Dow Corning since 1997.  He holds eight patents and has authored over three dozen internal scientific papers and eleven papers for peer-reviewed scientific journals, including the journal Nature.  He has taught classes on biology, math, chemistry, physics and general science at Delta College and Saginaw Valley State University.  Jon grew up near Pontiac, and has been building a reality-based spirituality for over 30 years, first as a Catholic and now as a Unitarian Universalist, including collaborating with Michael Dowd and Connie Barlow to spread the awe and wonder of the Great Story of our Universe (see www.thegreatstory.org, and the blog at evolutionarytimes.org).  Jon and his wife have four sons, whom they embrace within a Universe-centered, Pagan, family spirituality.  He currently moderates the yahoo group Naturalistic Paganism.

See Starstuff, Contemplating posts.

See all of Dr. Jon Cleland Host’s posts.

Rites of Passage #2: Into Adulthood

Some time ago, I wrote a piece about Atheopagan Rites of Passage. In it, I described life milestones that might be celebrated by an Atheopagan, and which we as Atheopagan “clergy” (we’re all clergy, since we have none) might be asked to officiate over.

On reflection, it occured to me that just talking about these rites of passage probably isn’t helpful enough: that having some guidelines for each such rite would be helpful to the community. So here is the second installment in a new series: Rites of Passage.

Modern Western cultures, with a few exceptions such as the Jewish community, do not mark rites of passage into adulthood. This leads to a variety of problems, many of them rooted in people feeling uncertain whether they are ever “really grown up”. Participation in gangs, having children at far too young an age, and other life-damaging activities are sometimes the result. We would be well served to begin again to mark the passage of young people into adulthood.

I recommend this ritual be conducted around the time of the subject’s reaching the age of 18, which is the first point at which the broader society acknowledges their adulthood. While it may be tempting to do it earlier (say, at 16, when the child becomes legally able to drive), it should be remembered that our brains continue to develop until we are around 25. Later is probably better than sooner.

The ritual should be conducted by a circle of adults who have been selected for their relationship to the subject and their family. If the subject has a preferred gender identity, they may be initiated into adulthood by a circle only of those who share that gender identity, if that is their wish and/or the wish of their community.

Rites of passage into adulthood are generally associated with ordeals or quests. If the example given isn’t workable or desired, some other ritual in the form of a challenge or quest is advised.

In some cultures, these rituals involve instilling the subject with an altered state of consciousness. A wide variety of techniques have been used ranging from ecstatic dancing and drumming to consumption of hallucinogenic mushroom tea. You may choose to use such an approach at your own option and depending on the laws in your area.

Here is the outline of a Passage into Adulthood you can use or adapt as you see fit:


Ritual bath: in advance of the ritual, the subject should cleanse themselves, perhaps with special soap provided by the circle of adults who will conduct the ritual.

Fasting: Unless there are health reasons why they should not, the subject should fast during the day leading up to the ritual, drinking only water.

Ritual clothing: New ritual clothing such as robes or a tunic should be provided prior to the ritual (the subject may be charged with making these themself, though they may need help to do so). Alternatively, some communities may conduct this ritual with the subject skyclad (naked) until clothed with a cloak or robe at the point marked below with *.

Arrival: The ritual begins at midnight, and continues until dawn.

First, the Circle of Adults (who have painted their faces with white clay) convenes, invoking the container of the circle and noting that humans have done these rituals since before we were even fully human. The strength of community and the power of history are evoked as the circle comes together. A heartbeat rhythm is begun on a drum; it continues throughout the ritual (drum may be passed from circle member to circle member as fatigue sets in).

Qualities: In turn, passing a rattle, each member of the Circle of Adults speaks into the circle a characteristic, emotion or value they wish to be included in the nature of the ritual.

Welcome: The subject is then invited to enter the ritual space and stand in the center of the circle. Each member of the Circle of Adults welcomes the subject in turn, by name. Once welcomed, the subject is invited to sit (*and given a robe or cloak if skyclad)

Passing of Wisdom: In turn, passing a rattle, each member of the Circle of Adults tells a wisdom story from their life, charging the subject with the powers and burdens of adulthood: honor, dignity, autonomy, capability, political franchise, responsibility. (a few hours.)

Breaking the fast (1): bread or savory snacks and water or wine are circulated to all, including the subject.

Sacred Lore: The Circle of Adults confers the Four Sacred Things and the 13 Principles to the subject, one at a time, passing a rattle, explaining the importance of each. (a few hours.)

Breaking the fast(2) and conveyance of adulthood: When the sun peeks over the horizon, circulate sweet snacks and water or sweet wine to all. A designated Circle member states: “with this sweet taste, we impart the blessings of adulthood to you. You are one of us: you are an adult.” (The heartbeat drumbeat, which has been carried out all night, ceases)

The adult’s pledge: New adult makes their declaration to the community: pledging to hold Sacred the Four Sacred Things and to uphold the 13 Principles.

The Lasting Mark: New adult casts a handprint outline on gray canvas “cave wall” with sprayed ochre-water (diluted brick-red tempra paint). The paint may be sprayed by mouth, as is traditional, or with a spray bottle. This canvas is rolled up and saved to be used for adult initiations by the same community going forward. Over time, it accumulates handprints of dozens of young people becoming adults. The first time this “cave wall” is used, the members of the Circle of Adults may wish also to place their handprints on it, to establish the lineage of adults in the community.

Gratitudes: In closing, the Circle thanks subject for joining them as adults. They express gratitude to the Earth, the Sun, the Cosmos, to Life itself. The new adult thanks the Circle.

Benediction: A designated member of the Circle declares the ritual complete, the new day arisen, and the circle of the community expanded. May all go forward in joy and health!