Good Night, Sweet Child

(Originally published in Oak Leaves 27)

Toward the end of a trip to Austria (to start the reconstruction of the home we would be moving into) I found myself with quite the familiar feeling of sickness. In the first few moments I aligned it with some train sickness, but when it did not abate I knew it to be exactly what it was.

In our poor German we found a small shop selling assorted beauty supplies and we stopped in for a pregnancy test. Within the next hour we found that we were indeed expecting a sibling for our two year old son.

This news met us with a great deal of excitement. The previous year we had suffered a natural miscarriage at home when I was four months along. April 25th: it is a date forever impressed on my mind and one that lingers with each blessed moment I spend with my son.

There were no reasons given for the loss, and truth be told the medical professionals are as clueless as can be in regard to such things; although still quite kind in their absence of knowledge. Yet, even after being told repeatedly that they did not know why such a thing happened but nothing appeared to be wrong, I was greatly hesitant at trying for another child. I simply could not fathom how I would survive such a loss again.

This new child was a great joy for us. And yet, I was nervous. Then the bleeding started. There were a great many doctors appointments and there were declarations of pregnant and miscarrying tossed around carelessly. We found that one day we were having a child, the next we were not and the day after we were.

Every night was met with tears and the realization that this was not meant to be. I do not think one can describe the pain and fear that came from watching the tiny heat beat on the ultrasound screen as a pool of blood seeped up around the small child that we had yet to name. I was at a loss to help, there was nothing I could do. We waited it out until I miscarried at home on December 19th, 2004 upon returning from my Grandfather-in-Law's funeral.

At the end of it all I performed a ritual for this child of mine. I created an image of them in sculpture, I gave a name to them and I placed the image upon a shrine; just as I had done for the child before. And when I complete the 88 temple pilgrimage on the island of Shikoku in Japan I will be making a stop to pray at every shrine of O-Jizo-san1 that we pass.

Our Ritual for the Baby

As I began I made sure my shrine has a spot open to accept the sculpture I have made. I gathered my Vedic Householder's Fire; ghee (clarified butter); a ladle to pour ghee from, offerings of pure gold; kumkum2; a rake for the coals; a Brahmin's thread made by my own hand; a rake for the coals; a goat hand carved from wood3; a bowl of fresh water from the Danube river4 river that has been mixed with fresh chopped mint leaves5; the photograph of the ultrasound picture in a frame to place beside the fire6; kusa grass 6; and a small white cloth7.

Due to the personal and emotional nature of this ritual I opted to use music created by another to tie everything together. My selected pieces were taken from the Gladiator movie soundtrack due to the wonderful composition of Hans Zimmer and Klaus Badelt and the hauntingly beautiful voice of Lisa Gerrard. The songs were: "Progeny", "The Wheat", "Sorrow", "Elysium", and "Now We Are Free". Before the shrine on the ground, the fire was placed in the south with the remaining items laid out upon a vedi8 to the upper east of the fire. A small bed of kusa grass is placed to the right of the fire. Our small family was gathered with no processional and we began.

Brahmin:9: (Adhvaryu9 makes offering of ghee to the fire) "We give honour to Yama, Vivasvan's son, with our oblations. Yama who travelled on to seek out a home for us beyond this life."

Brahmin: (Adhvaryu makes an offering of ghee to the fire) "We call forth Yama, Agni and Vivasvan to sit beside us on this bed of sacred grass. Graciously look upon us with love and kindness."

Brahmin: (Adhvaryu makes an offering of ghee to the fire) "May those who have attained the life of the spirits aid us and join us. Sit beside us, countless ancient Fathers, on this bed of sacred grass."

Brahmin: (Adhvaryu places the Brahmin's thread around the sculpture and washes the sculpture with the cloth and water and then places a small dab of kumkum upon the forehead of the sculpture) "We ask that Agni, who devourers all things, heal the wound with which this child was inflicted."

Brahmin: (Adhvaryu coats the sculpture in the fat) "We encompass you with fat to shield you from the hunger of Agni."

Brahmin: (Adhvaryu pushes away the coals of the fire with the rake to make a spot for the sculpture to lay within the fire but not touched by it and then places the sculpture within it) "Agni let not your flames consume: do not burn the child up, do not let his body or skin be scattered.

Brahmin: (Adhvaryu places the wood goat within the flames) "Your offering is the goat, Agni. Allow your glowing splendor to take your offering with your fierce flames."

Brahmin: (Adhvaryu pour an offering of ghee on the sculpture) "Surya receives your eye, the wind receives your spirit. Go forth into the waters, await us in the celestial sea. Make your home in the one which awaits us. Seek care in the Fathers while they care for you until we are reunited."

Brahmin: (Adhvaryu makes an offering of gold to the fire) "When the child is ready, Yama, take them to the Heavens. Guide this child gentle past Sarama's10 offspring upon the path into the next life. Let Agni announce the oblations paid to the spirit followers of Rta and to the Devas. Let Vivasvan speak highly of them with their place in Heaven."

Brahmin: (Adhvaryu slowly pours water over the flames) "Cool, Agni, and let the spot where you have scorched and burnt be refreshed."

After cooling down the sculpture is placed upon the shrine. 11

The resources I used to create this ritual were the Rgveda Samhita translation by Griffith, the Rigveda Brahmanas translation by Keith, the Black Yajurveda translation by Keith, the Vedic Index of Names and Subjects by Macdonell and Keith.

Notes

  1. O-Jizo-san is a Buddhist deity who looks after children who has passed on.
  2. Kumkum is the red powder that makes up the circle worn on the forehead known as the is the red powder that makes up the circle worn on the forehead known as the bindi.
  3. There are two takes on the inclusion of a goat within the funeral process. One is that the goat acts as a sacrifice so that Agni does not see the body as an offering. The second is that the goat is to led the deceased to the land of the ancestors. I have carved a goat from wood because we do not have a real goat to sacrifice.
  4. We are moving to Austria in a location that is quite near the Danube. We have collected water from the Danube and found it personally fitting to use it in the bathing portion.
  5. I have added the mint leaves for no religious reason. To be ever mindful (keeping in mind I am not likely to forget such a loss) I have chosen to attach a different scent to each child. Thus whenever I smell mint I would be given a pleasant memory of the love I have for this child.
  6. We do not have the actual miscarriage tissue as it was sent for testing. Thus the ultrasound picture gives us something to focus upon.
  7. Kusa grass is a sacred grass in the grass is a sacred grass in the Vedas and is relatively easy to obtain. I do not know if it is what was used in funerals of old, but I chose to use it here.
  8. The vedi is the place where all the is the place where all the ritual tools, and sometimes the offerings, are kept.
  9. In our small family my husband takes on the role of the Brahmin and I the Adhvaryu. I complete all ritual action. My husband acts as the Brahmin to keep an eye on the ritual and he also takes the part of the Hotr by reciting (as we have no one to act within this capacity).
  10. This refers to the parent of the dogs of Yama which guard the path to Heaven.
  11. I have not decided yet what to do with the statues beyond this. Burial was not uncommon to the ancient Vedics but until I have secured our own funeral arrangements I shall continue to ponder.
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