Falling Flower: a Simple Memorial Ritual

(Today’s article is by guest writer Tony Wolf. For a brief bio, see below.)

Oh, that sweet fragrance of falling petals….
With kind words, it is ended. Farewell.
The time to go is now.
– Lee Hyong-Ki [1963]

It may be that the people who would most benefit from symbolic ritual are those who are least likely to partake in it. The inclination towards formal, poetic gestures in moments of truth may very much depend on who you were when you first read a book that changed everything, or whether you have an intuitive understanding of “serious play”, or what happened when you first stepped into terra incognita.

If you feel a need for permission or encouragement to take that step, though, please consider this post to be that. I know the immediate and lasting values of personal memorial rites; undertaking your own ritual for the dead is a strong step towards comfort and closure. In the longer term, these rites also form enduring, positive memories in association with the end of life.

If you’re there, one way or the other – if, in the words of C.W. Nicol, your soul demands a dramatic gesture – I offer the following prescription for a very simple memorial rite. All you need is a special place in nature, a poem, a flower or handful of flower petals and a small glass bottle.

Because people often give flowers as sympathy gifts after bereavements, this is a nice way to extend that sentiment for a while; you can also pluck (and, if you wish, dry) some of the petals. Because dried flowers lose their scent, you may wish to add a few drops of essential oil before performing the memorial ritual.

The bottle is for a beverage or liquid that makes sense to you in this context. Mine contains honey, as a reminder of the sweetness of life. I recently attended a Falling Flower ritual in which the bottle held cold water, which had been the decedent’s favorite refreshment.

Step 1: Select your poem. There are no hard and fast criteria here; if it feels right, it’s right.

Step 2: Travel to the chosen site. Find an appropriate spot and time; this may mean at sunset, crouched on a riverbank with no signs of industry, or standing at mid-day on the center of a bridge in the heart of London, or at midnight perched on a tree branch overhanging a quiet country stream. It may mean the top of a windy hill at dawn, or standing next to a tree in your own backyard.

Step 3: Take a moment and bring to mind the person you wish to memorialize. Breathe. Smell the flower’s scent. Listen.

Step 4: Look at the flower/petals and speak the poem, and – of course – say anything else you wish to say.

Step 5: Release the flower/petals. If you wish, you can open your hand into the memento mori mudra; if so, complete the gesture with the carpe diem mudra.

Step 6: If you wish, watch the flower/petals being carried away by wind or water, or as they fall to the earth.

Step 7: Taste the beverage, then do as you will. Consider starting a new, creative project in honor of the deceased; transmuting grief into art is powerful alchemy.

Repeat as and when it may be necessary. You may wish to establish a tradition of performing the Falling Flower ritual as an annual remembrance, on the anniversary of the person’s birth or death. Flowers and petals can also easily be sourced by keeping an eye out during walks after summer storms. I keep a bowl of dried petals and a glass bottle of honey on my shrine, for these occasions.

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Bio: Tony Wolf (Council Member) is New Zealand citizen and US resident.  Tony is an author, producer, teacher, antiquarian and creator. A born and raised atheist, he developed a strong intellectual interest in the phenomenon of belief as a young teenager and began creating experimental, artistic “poetic faiths” during the late 1980s. Tony served as the Cultural Fighting Styles Designer for the Lord of the Rings feature film trilogy (2001-2003) and has taught performance masterclasses throughout Europe, North America and Australasia. His novels include the popular Suffrajitsu trilogy (2015) and The Life and Fantastical “Crimes” of Spring Heeled Jack (2020) and he co-produced and directed the independent documentaries Bartitsu: the Lost Martial Art of Sherlock Holmes (2011) and No Man Shall Protect Us: The Hidden History of the Suffragette Bodyguards (2018).  In recent years, Tony’s essays, lectures and online courses on the themes of poetic faith, secular ritual and “hidden history” have been featured via Morbid Anatomy, Atlas Obscura, OnlySky Media and Reimagine.

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