Yes, pagans do have funerals, although they vary widely and are entirely up to the family of the deceased as to what will be included in the ritual.
A good glimpse into one of these ceremonies occurred just last week when the famous “Eron the Wizard” (real name Ian Wilson) was laid to rest in the UK at the age of 62 after succumbing to cancer. Wilson’s wish was to have a Wiccan funeral and his daughter, Rebecca Spencer, 27, obliged him.
In this article appearing in The Mirror, Spencer details the service which included a high priestess who began the ritual with four torch bearers who represented the four elements. The group then cast a circle and blessed it with the elements before calling upon the watchtowers. (Watchtowers are tutelary spirits of the four cardinal directions of north, south, east and west who are called upon to guard a circle and are dismissed when a ceremony has ended.)
Once the watchtowers were summoned, pagan prayers and blessings were said.
“To me, he was just my dad but he was different to others,” Spencer said about her father. “He was a practicing wizard who looked like Merlin and even carried a staff. He travelled all over the UK telling people to believe in magic. Being pagan meant a lot to him and, with this Wiccan funeral, I’m giving dad everything that he wanted.”
The service is not like any other, she said, although there is still music and prayers (albeit pagan).
“You still have people standing up to speak, but they talk about dad’s body going back into the ground. Even though he is going up to the pagan heaven, his body also goes back into the ground, so he becomes the trees and the ground. His soul goes back into the earth.”
Attendees to the funeral wore a variety of different outfits. Some were dressed as witches, others as fairies and even pirates.
Spencer said her father believed he possessed magical powers and thought if a person believed in magic, it became true.
“It doesn’t matter if other people don’t believe it. He believed he had feeling powers, and could feel energy from people. He believed he could help people,” she said.
Ian’s car, a yellow Subaru decorated with witchcraft symbols, followed the hearse bearing his body to a local crematorium.
“He was a car fanatic, he loved his Subaru,” Spencer said. “He just loved cars and women, they were his passion in life, as well as being a wizard.”
Pagans are either buried or cremated. If they choose the latter, the ashes are always scattered, never buried.
The following is a typical pagan funeral prayer:
“O Great Spirit, Mother and Father of us all, we ask for your Blessings on this our Ceremony of thanksgiving, and honoring and blessing of (name). We stand at a Gateway now. A Gateway that each of us must step through at some time in our lives. (Name) has stepped through this gateway already. His/Her soul is immersed in the shining light of the Unity that is the Mother and Father of us all. The sadness and pain that we feel now is in our knowledge and our experience of the fact that we ourselves cannot yet cross that threshold to be with (name) until our time has come.”
It’s important to understand that today’s version of paganism, known as Neopaganism, is an unorganized and eclectic movement that embraces a wide variety of polytheistic and animistic beliefs from ancient pagan traditions to goddess worship to spell casting and earth worship. A fundamental belief shared by most neopagans is that nature is divine and the earth itself is sacred. They practice astrology and various methods of divination.
There are also various branches of Neopaganism, such as Asatru which embraces pre-Christian Nordic beliefs; Hellenic paganism follows the beliefs and dieties of ancient Greece; Kemetic Reconstructionism which seeks to recreate ancient Egyptian religions as accurately as possible, and; Wicca.