Cremated in secret, did Bowie get it right?

David Bowie, December 2015.

David Bowie, December 2015.

Eyebrows have been raised in certain quarters about the fact that singing icon David Bowie chose to have his body cremated privately, even secretly, with no funeral service even for family or close friends to attend. But, while it would not be everybody’s choice, he most definitely got it right – for him.

He did not want a memorial service either and, while his wishes in that respect may be honoured, his remarkable achievements will be remembered via a memorial concert in New York’s Carnegie Hall and at the Brit Awards ceremony at London’s 02 Arena on February 24.

Other artistes will also, no doubt, include tributes in their own performances.

As far as the rapid and private cremation is concerned, I can only admire the man. He wanted no fuss and this was one way to ensure that happened. Many tears are shed at funerals and when people mourn the death of a loved one. But these tears are more for those left behind than the person who has died.

There is no right or wrong way to grieve, it is very much a personal issue. Counsellors will tell you that grief has five stages, these are said to be Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression and Acceptance. However, these are certainly not set in stone; it is up to each of us to mourn in our own way.

Bowie knew he was dying and did not want any events to be a focus for people’s grief and, from my point of view, that is to be admired.

A natural burial at Circle Cemetery, part of the Circle Sanctuary, Wisconsin, USA.

A natural burial at Circle Cemetery, part of the Circle Sanctuary, Wisconsin, USA.

Dying without a fuss is a wonderful idea. While we don’t like to talk about dying, it is something that will happen to all of us sooner or later. We are advised to prepare Wills and some make arrangements for our own funerals. While I have not gone that far, yet, I do know that I don’t want a gravestone or a formal grave that can become overgrown. Nor do I want my loved ones to feel a need to visit it – and without any kind of marker they hopefully won’t.

While I trust that I will live for many years yet, my choice is now between two options and I have not yet chosen which. These are to be cremated with ashes spread somewhere of my choosing or a green burial in an eco-friendly, maybe even cardboard, coffin that will enable my body to return to the soil.

A bio-degradable cardboard coffin.

A bio-degradable cardboard coffin.

As I am a Pagan, interment in a suitable green spot would be the best if I choose the burial option. But it would need to be without any headstone or any other marker where grass can grow over the spot and no sign left.

Like David Bowie, I’d like no fuss but just to be sent on my way to the Summerlands with as little Pagan ceremony as possible.





A good time to celebrate

solstice new light

Officially, according to the calendars, the shortest day or winter solstice this year is tomorrow, December 22. This is because the actual time of the solstice is 4.48am UTC (Coordinated Universal Time) which is equivalent to GMT (Greenwich Mean Time). And that means it will be at 5.48am CET (Central European Time) in most of continental Europe while it is on December 21 between 8.48pm PST (Pacific Standard Time) on the west coast and 11.48pm EST (Eastern Standard Time) on the east coast of mainland America.

Confused? Well, don’t forget that it’s only the winter solstice or shortest day in the northern hemisphere. South of the equator it is the summer solstice or longest day but I am not going to get involved with exact times there.

The winter solstice is also closely associated with and often celebrated as Yule but, in reality, the Pagan festival of Yule runs for 12 days.

The winter solstice itself is the first day of winter and, in Pagan traditions, marks the rebirth of the Sun God or the Horned God of the Hunt and celebrates the return to hours of daylight being longer than hours of darkness.

Bonfires have played an important part in the festivities, as they still do in many areas in Spain today, being long established allegorical symbols of cleansing and purity.

It is widely accepted that, as Christianity spread, the ancient Roman winter celebration of Saturnalia and Pagan Yuletide were seen as being an ideal time for Christmas. Never mind the historical fact that Jesus was not born in December, nor the highly unlikely situation of shepherds being outside in the cold and snow tending their sheep. Instead, the sheep would have been brought off the hills already and put safely into their winter quarters.

Oh, and just to add to the issue of the date; if the bible story is correct in that Joseph and Mary travelled to Bethlehem because of a census, it cannot have been in the winter. Censuses were held when it was safer for people to travel.

Today, many Pagans continue to celebrate the winter solstice with some also choosing to celebrate Yule on the same day as the Christmas holiday. It is convenient and makes sense as the Christian winter holiday still falls inside the 12 days of Yuletide.

The Christian and Pagan celebrations are remarkably similar. Although existing well before Christianity, Yuletide includes decorated Yule trees, Yule decorations, Yule gifts, a Yule feast and the burning of a Yule log. Then there is the Ancient Druid influence of introducing the sacred mistletoe plant into the festivities.

Doesn’t it just make you wonder where today’s Christmas celebrations had their origins? One thing is definite, they most certainly did not start in Bethlehem on a bitterly cold December night.

Happy Solstice everyone. Remember, from tomorrow days get longer again.


Christmas in Spain so unlike USA or UK

three kings

As the festive season approaches, it looks like Lisa and I will experience a totally different Christmas this year, especially since Santa Claus in Spain is called Papa Noel and he does not bring toys to children like he does elsewhere.

The gift bringers of the Spanish Christmas are the Three Wise Men or Los Tres Reyes Magos. This happens on Three Kings’ Day – January 6.

Spain is a deeply religious country in which Christianity, and in particular the Roman Catholic church, is predominant. It should come as no real surprise, therefore, that it has a noticeably different approach towards Christmas than in countries such as the USA or the UK.

Here in Spain, Christmas is not such a huge commercial event. Town centre Christmas lights are not usually lit until the first week of December, by which time shops are well stocked with seasonal goodies. However, it is nothing like other places where the build-up begins as early as September.

At home, Christmas trees are a common sight but they don’t tend to make an appearance until the second half of December. Also, emphasizing the religious importance of the festival, very many homes will have miniature nativity scenes called Belénes. These depict life in Bethlehem at the time of the birth of Jesus and each Belén always includes the key characters of the nativity – the baby Jesus, Mary, Joseph as well as the Three Kings, Baltasar, Melchior and Gaspar.

Being such a Christian country, it may be surprising that the traditional seasonal celebrations have pagan roots. On the winter solstice, or shortest day, which is also the pagan festival of Yule, the celebration of Hogueras (bonfires) takes place. This involves people jumping through fires to protect themselves against illness. Pagans have a long tradition of including bonfires as an important part of their Yule celebrations.

Throughout Spain people will not be far from a TV or radio on December 22 as the Christmas lottery is drawn over a period of many hours. Most people seem to buy tickets in the hope of winning El Gordo (the fat one) and the winning number usually means that a good number of people from the same village become a lot better off overnight. As well as three large prizes there are thousands of smaller ones.

Christmas Eve is called Nochebuena (Goodnight) and it is the most important family gathering of the year. In the evening people often meet early for a few drinks with friends then return home to enjoy a meal with the family. This is the main festive meal, which is followed by a trip to church for the Midnight Mass ceremony.

Children may receive a small gift on Nochebuena or on the morning of Christmas Day but the real day for presents is January 6, Epiphany, when the Three Kings brought their gifts to Jesus and, today, bring gifts for the children. In fact, children write letters to the Three Kings, like UK and USA children write to Santa. To children in Spain, the Three Kings are more important than Santa.

Christmas Day is, of course, a national holiday in Spain so shops are closed but it is not a day of great celebration but rather a calm day after the major family festivity the previous evening. There’s another large family meal for lunch or, maybe, it’s time to eat out in the afternoon.