Celtic Funeral Rituals

Celtic Funeral Rituals are an intricate part of the Celtic people and In talking about the Celts, we do not talk about a nation, or even a race, but rather a culture. The nations that still observe a lot of the Celtic traditions, are Brittany (France), Ireland, Scotland, Wales, Isle of Man, and Cornwall even to this day.

Celtic Funeral Rituals have Pagan origins

Like all pre-Christian people, Celtic funeral rituals involve various customs surrounding death. Some of the superstitions surrounding the deceased have their origins in Pagan times. One example is the custom of burning candles day and night until the funeral. This goes back to their belief that the demons of darkness were held at bay by the light and power of fire.

Celtic Funeral RitualsSome of their other fascinating rituals –

  • the dead were washed using sea-water, or water from a sacred well. This protected them while passing through the realms of water to the land of Under Wave, where the Lord of Death lived.
  • the body was wrapped in a Death-Shirt and laid on a bed in the home for 7 days. Rush torches were kept burning.
  • the Rites would begin by loud wailing, followed by periods of praise, for the deceased. This would continue for lengthy periods.
  • later feasting and games would also be held in their honour.
  • a bowl filled with food would be placed on the chest of the deceased plus gold and weapons alongside him to help him on his journey.
  • on the morning of the burial, a visitor would arrive with a ‘fey’. This was a measuring rod to measure the deceased, ensuring a proper fit in the final resting place. The mourners would look in the other direction when the rod came into view, as it was thought that if the rod caught your measure, your death was inevitable.
  • finally, when the sun went down on the 7th day, 7 men would carry the body and bury or burn it depending on tribal custom.


Waking the Dead

Celtic Funeral Rituals also included the practice of Waking the dead. This was so that the mourners could keep watch over the dead until they were buried. These customs can still be seen today in a Christian form. The traditional Wake has become popular again all over the world.  Sometimes the Wake can last for several days to allow for people who are coming from far to pay their respects. In this case the body would need to be embalmed.

A Typical Wake Ritual

If the deceased died at home mirrors would be turned or covered, and the curtains closed.  After death a window is opened to allow the spirit of the deceased to leave the house. No-one must block this route as it will mean bad luck will follow them. After 2 hours the window is closed so the spirit cannot return.

All  visitors will visit the room where the body lies, say a prayer, and pay the deceased compliments. At all times, a member of the family or close friend would sit in the room watching over the body. At midnight the Rosary would be recited, and after prayers supper would be served, after which storytelling, games and celebrating would then get under way.

The funeral gave people who couldn’t attend the Wake the chance to express their sympathy. For the funeral, a hearse would collect the body at the home, take it to the church where-after a 45 minute Mass would get underway. The hearse would then lead the procession to the cemetery.

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All info was correct at time of publishing