I returned from Japan about a week ago. It was a surprise trip which happened because my grandfather passed away in mid November. I saw him back in September and he was doing pretty well then. I had been in a very different space since then – all in all I feel very positive about the status of his soul (if that makes sense), but still, death of a family member changes the world that one lives in.
In the beginning of the year I was talking with Noel Tyl that probably someone in my family is going to die, but I wasn’t expecting it to be my grandfather. Death is one of those things astrology can warn about*, but you can never fully prepare for.
Now I’m going to write about what I wanted to share: I was very impressed with the traditional way in which the spirit of the departed one is cared for in Japan. Maybe this can serve as a Plutonian metaphor for those experiencing a loss of any kind:
The eve of the funeral my uncle, cousins and I stayed up all night to guard the body, making sure the incense was always lit, according to the Buddhist tradition (my folks aren’t religious, but tradition like this is still respected in some parts of Japan.)
The funeral was a grand affair, with over 120 people showing up. Two monks came and chanted impressively. After the cremation the family members picked the bones and the ashes were taken home, to rest there for 49 days. The monk would visit the home every day for the first 7 days to chant for the spirit, and then thereafter every 7 days, until the 49th day, when the ashes will be moved inside the grave following a small ceremony.
The process clearly shows the belief (or the awareness) that the soul of the dead lingers on, and needs to be tended to (with incense and offerings such as food and drink), as well as encouraged to move onward to the realms of the spirit (apparently that’s what the monks chant about.)
Afterwards, the monk visits the house once a month to chant and pray (there is a small shrine in the home dedicated for the departed family member), for as long as the immediate family members continue to live. There is a ceremony after one year, and then after three years, and then after seven years…
I feel that the custom is very respectful of the process of transition we call death, and shows that we don’t just “get over” things as easily as we’d like to believe. The rituals give us a place to contain our emotions, a place to honor and celebrate the memory of the people that were with us once.
*The measurement I saw was Solar Arc Saturn conjunct the Descendant, as well as transiting Saturn and Uranus on the Ascendant-Descendant axis. It would be a mistake to associate these measurements to a death in the family – it’s just one of the possibilities Saturn brings. Many things have happened since then, some of which very positive and transformative for me – that is also within the range of archetypal possibilities for these measurements.