I went to a Catholic funeral today and witnessed people taking communion for the first time.
The last funeral I attended prior to today was for a beloved character at a LARP some weeks ago. Even though it was all just roleplay, the emotion and energy was so raw and real and powerful and moving.
…today was a stark contrast.
Other than the electrifying transubstantiation ritual, it was overall a fairly bland affair. The departure of the deceased was neither sudden nor unexpected. Raw grief was tempered by acceptance. People were eager to get to the business of drinking overpriced beer at the wake. The business of living, and sharing stories. A very Australian kind of pragmatism. The old die, as is their right. Their legacy is their children and grandchildren. You get on with it.
As a pagan raised lapsed Presbyterian it was certainly an interesting and novel experience to find myself in a Catholic church; I’ve never witnessed a baptism before. The ritual waving of cheap frankincense, the shroud, candle, and sacred water, this is a language of symbols that is not unfamiliar to me. Even though I didn’t understand the words, I could still hear the music. Most of the people in attendance were not Catholic, and half-heartedly stumbled through the participatory aspects, or remained silent as I did. The singing of the Manticore Sun echoed in a hymn about unconditional love, but despite both being somewhat fatherly and leonine, the difference between the Lord of Catholics and the patron deity of the SGP is obvious. The suncult has no word for sin.
Communion was naturally the part that really caught my attention; the transformation of wine and wafer into blood and flesh. When the priest performed the rite of transubstantiation, I could feel the sudden and powerful energy shift in the hall, directed toward a silver chalice and what looked like an inedible circle of white paper from my perspective.
My witches initiatory shedding of Christian overculture is still fairly fresh in my mind. A ritual I performed some months back to release myself from any lingering influence and fear of hell. I could feel Lilith hovering near me, and I felt magnetically repelled from the energy of the altar. The pursuit of some paths closes the doors to others. I don’t think I could ever comfortably or successfully work angelic energy. Mine is Her blood. My light is my own inner fire.
I had a chance to ask what must have seemed like a bunch of daft questions afterward, such as ‘what’s the protocol for disposing of leftover Jesus blood?’. After feeling the energy that got blasted into it, I can’t imagine anyone being comfortable dunking stale godflesh wafers into the trash.
Ceremony done, we headed to the cemetery; a far more comfortable place for me. The hungry churning earth. The air filled with birdsong and eucalyptus scents as the trees jovially enjoyed the mild and nourishing sunshine. Wasps and butterflies. Green Death embracing Red and White.
I found the well-manicured grass of the newer and less affluent sections unsettling. Raised crypts and plaques make more sense to me. I whispered apologies to everyone I accidentally stepped on, because it was impossible not to. Gothic raised concrete slabs you can imagine someone lying on top of and weeping have a very different vibe to a grass field with plaques set it in, which feels industrialized and impersonal. Sterile. I understand financial pressures encourage people to choose such an option, but the cemetery keepers could at least put a stand of rose bushes between the rows of plots. The dead deserve beauty too. Not something that could be mistaken for a sports field at a glance. Nevertheless, it was a relief to be outside.
I’m sure many people find exactly what they need in that church, the modest, restrained embrace of community, song, and fervor. The promise of being uplifted when the apocalypse comes. But my end of the world is already here, and if I’m going to eat the flesh of a god, it won’t be so stale. I’m going to rip it apart with my bare hands, in a frenzy, let the blood run down my chin. Standing too close to the altar had made me uncomfortable, already feeling ill-at-ease in poorly fitted normal-person drag. I’m no longer welcome in churches as anything but an uneasy guest. One that must respectfully keep their distance from the action.
And I have no regrets.
The crossroads is where I belong.