As well as my interest in Druidry, I am also involved in the growing “Death Positive” movement, and regularly attend events such as Death Salon and death conferences, where the societal taboo on speaking openly about death and dying is lifted, and we can address this ultimate human concern head-on, and often with a healthy dose of good humor to boot.
Once in a while, these two worlds collide, such as when Kristoffer Hughes, of the Anglesey Druid Order, spoke at Death Salon 2014 (Kris also works as an Anatomical Pathology Technologist). The other day, I saw something death-y online that brought Druidry to my mind:
The UK government are holding a consultation and review of crematoria provision, following concerns that “crematoria do not always pay sufficient regard to the cultural sensitivities of different faiths.” It is true in my experience that some (by no means all, or even most) crematorium chapels are replete with crosses, Bibles and Christian imagery.
Where does Druidry fit in this? Well, not only is it important for modern Druids, Pagans and others to be able to choose to be cremated in a way that is respectful of their path, without the symbols of another religion glaring down at them, but it was a Druid who paved the way for cremation to become mainstream in the UK in the first place.
William Price was a Welsh doctor and Druid of the 19th century, known for adhering to such principles as equal democratic rights for all men, vegetarianism and the abolition of marriage, all of which were highly controversial ideas at the time. He was also a supporter of people’s right to be cremated rather than buried in a churchyard. When his infant son, fabulously named Iesu Grist (Jesus Christ) died in 1884, Price cremated his body. He was arrested and tried under the claim that cremation was illegal, however Price deftly showed that there was in fact no written legislation that specifically mentioned it, and in so doing paved the way for the eventual passing of the Cremation Act of 1902, which made cremation fully legal. When Price himself died in 1893, he was also cremated on an open-air pyre on two tons of coal in a Druidic ceremony watched by 20,000 people.
While cremation is not my personal choice (I’d rather have a green burial myself) it is important for people to have funeral options that respect who they are and what they believed in life. If you want to contribute to the consultation, the Government have set up an online survey.
If you’re interested in the Death-Positive movement, check out the Order of the Good Death (they’re pretty awesome!).