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October 29th, 2012

A friend died the other day and her family and friends came together and we all talked about how much we admired and loved her. Sometimes we talked to those around us, sharing our feelings, sometimes we talked directly to Adrienne, who had left this world just three days ago. It was a beautiful, affirming time of honouring her as a person without the constraints of time or procedure that a funeral by necessity imposes. Even so, we used a little ceremonial, a few poems and prayers, and time sitting in silence, to create a structure, a container, imbued with a sense of reverence and the sacred – but not piety – for our time together.
Three days after someone has died feels a good time to hold such a gathering, and this moment is considered significant in many traditions, including Buddhism and Zoroastrianism, Christianity, and particularly the Orthodox Church, Judaism, and in some Islamic and Hindu communities. With the ancient Druids’ love of triplicities, and with modern Druids’ openness to the perennial wisdom that underlies all religions, it seems a good practice to adopt, when it feels right to do so.
The reason given for marking the third day, explained in slightly different ways by each tradition, is that it takes a while for the soul to free itself from the body and its earthly attachments. In some teachings this idea is expressed in symbolic and mystical terms, in others in a more defined way, as when Swami Kriyananda writes: ‘The process of the astral body detaching itself from the physical body takes between 48 minutes and three days, depending upon the evolution of the incarnating spirit.’
In the Russian Orthodox Church, St. Makary of Alexandria talks about the same process but in a more lyrical way: ‘As the soul, accompanied by Angels, is permitted to travel for two days about the earth where it will, this engenders in it blessed hope. Sometimes, the soul, which loves its body, hides near the house in which the body rests, and thus spends two days, like a bird searching for its nest.’ On the third day, according to St. Makary, with the help of its guardian angel and Christ, the soul ascends to God.
The fact that so many traditions express the same idea, clothed in different language, suggests a deep truth at work. If not, there would surely be variance, with some stating that four or five days had this significance, rather than three.
Since each of us is unique, each of our souls’ journeys must be unique too, with the time it takes to shed earthly attachments varying widely. But since we cannot know how long each individual will take to accomplish this, it makes sense that traditions have evolved that honour this moment in conformity with the most likely time, and with the symbology of their tradition.
Perhaps there is also another good reason for honouring this time. Perhaps, for those who are left behind, it can offer an early staging post, a still point, in the long journey of grieving.
In looking back, it feels as if Adrienne’s three-day marking was a graduation ceremony. She has left the university of life on earth, the school of this incarnation, summa cum laude, with the highest honours. We all graduate in the end, and perhaps it is at this moment – in some exquisitely paradoxical way – that we realize our potential and become fully human.
As the red leaves of autumn fall from the trees at this time of Samhain, I think of the message of the Death card in the DruidCraft Tarot: ‘The old and unnecessary wants to die. What passion! The new prepares to open like a rosebud at the dawn of a new day.’

You can see a video interview with Adrienne in an earlier post here.

8 Responses to “Graduation”

  1. How beautiful, and thank you for sharing this, at a time when many of us are thinking of those we know, who have taken the Great Journey,

  2. Thank you for this beautiful sharing, Philip, and the information about the timing of the soul’s journey out of the body. I have always known this and tried to share it with people, and now you have explained it so well. Bless your friend’s dear soul and all she gave people in her transition.

  3. People may wish to consider that the soul does not leave the body it is the body, it is also not the body…the two not being separate, what makes them indistinct is the Divine. A lovely article nonetheless.

  4. Thank you for sharing this moving tribute to your friend.
    About the timing of the soul I remember that I took a workshop on death a few years ago and was lead to ask my guides during a trance journey how long my family should wait before my burial…I just checked my notes to be sure and yes, the answer was:… 3 days…

  5. Hi Philip,

    I watched the incredible interview with Adrienne which you’ve linked here and had a myriad of emotions greet me upon watching her tell her life’s journey. It was indeed an honor to be able to share those 20 minutes with her; most of us have never or will never (certainly not I so far) get to journey so close to someone else’s transition into Spirit, and she allowed us/me to do that; I am grateful for that and grateful as well that you posted it here.

    I just wanted to note something that I found interesting, or surprising, wonderful and saddening perhaps at the same time. In the video she spoke of not feeling like she was one of those enlightened beings who at the end of their struggles seemed to rise above it in a state of absolute bliss. In Buddhism (Nichiren Buddhism, anyway) there’s an idea that the state of enlightenment isn’t one which you attain after years of strife, to then be rewarded by a life full of unceasing happiness; rather, it is a state of achieving complete inner peace, seeing the realities of life for exactly what they are, and living from a place of love for others’ lives. Watching the video, hearing Adrienne’s words, tears began to form beneath my eyes as I thought, she *had* attained enlightenment. It’s rare, I think, to find someone who is truly at peace with the changes they face, and so it’s easy, at least for me, to notice one. The emotional space she was in while filming that video was one of Buddhahood. There is no doubt in my mind about that.

    May her journey into the Other be as peaceful as her message was to us still here, and may you, her community and her family, find the benefits of her experience in all the days of your life.

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