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MINNEAPOLIS, Minn – It is all to common to read only about the death of someone well known. The obituary is a write up of their accolades containing quotes about them from other famous Pagans. While it is newsworthy to cover influential Pagans, it’s equally important to note the building of religious rituals emerging from the lives and deaths of the rest of us.
Lola Moffat wasn’t well-known. She wasn’t an author or a speaker. She didn’t start a Tradition. She was, in fact, a private person who shunned the spotlight while still staying actively involved in her religious community. When she was diagnosed with cancer, her community came together to support her. Then, in her final days and hours, several members sat vigil with her in a way that is shaping up to be the norm for Pagan death rites. They chanted. They sang. They told stories. And, after Lola crossed the veil, they washed her body and said goodbye. For PNC Minnesota, Raven Moon wrote:
On the evening of Friday September 18, 2015, Lola Moffat passed away less than a year after being diagnosed with stage 4 melanoma. She was only 37, and is survived by her sister, Katie Daly, and a niece and nephew. She was a talented massage therapist, graduating from Centerpoint School of Massage this year. She was an active and beloved member of the Paganistan community. A member of the Wiccan Church of Minnesota, and regular attendee of the Earth House Midsummer Gather, she touched the lives of many Twin Cities and upper Midwest Pagans. Known for being a kind and loving person, the community was able to come to her aid after her diagnosis with an [ongoing] fundraiser
Several friends, who sat with Lola in her final hours, spoke with The Wild Hunt about her and about the ritual that they performed.
Ruth Burke met Lola 8 years ago at a public event. She said that Lola never stopped living life to the fullest. Even after doctors told her that the cancer was terminal, Lola went on a vacation with her sister and spent her last summer attending various Pagan festivals. She also didn’t give up on her dream of becoming a massage therapist, eventually earning her certification.Burke said, “Our final vigil for Lola was indeed a mash-up of chants, songs and stories. We had people call in on cell phones to sing for Lola, and of course we all sang and chanted for her as well. Everyone contributed something personal, songs from Spiral Rhythm or from their personal covens, or ethnic chants from their childhoods. I’m not much of a singer and I don’t know many songs, but I’m an avid reader and one of my favorite stories is that of a young boy’s transformation into the wind when he realized that we are all connected and we are all part of the universal spirit. The story is a part of the book The Alchemist by Paulo Cohelo. I read the story aloud to everyone in the room, and especially Lola, as a gentle reminder that we are but temporary vessels for energy.”
Nikki Wakal served with Lola on a non-profit board for a Pagan community center. She most remembers Lola’s smile but also how Lola would get giddy when someone did a something nice for her or her overuse of exclamation points in emails and texts. Wakal said, “At one point [during Lola’s passing] there were 7 or 8 of us standing bedside and singing to her. And you could tell it soothed her. It was a magical thing that I will remember forever.”
Wakal explained that the group sang and told stories because even when all the other senses are gone, a person can still hear. “We wanted her to hear our voices and know that she was not alone. We sang We are Light, We all come from the Goddess, I walk with the Goddess … Even her sister came in and sang a song for her. It was a nice way for us to remind her we loved her and were there. If someone wanted to sing or play a song they did.”
Heather Roan Robbins met Lola four years ago during an astrology class at Paganicon and then again at more classes at the Sacred Paths Center and Eye of Horus. Robbins said, “I was always impressed by her big heart, her warmth and enthusiasm, her bright mind and understanding, and her relentlessly positive attitude. She could find the beauty and hope in just about anything and anybody. I encouraged her when she thought about fulfilling her long-term dream of going to massage school, and had the joy of being one of her guinea pigs as she practiced her massage techniques.”
Robbins added that, after Lola received her diagnosis, many of her friends gathered for a special ritual. It was a Blessing Way for a different kind of birth and also a fundraiser to support her and her sister so they could attend to the work of dying. Nearly 70 people attended that ritual.
Recently, when these same friends knew that Lola’s time was near, they asked Robbins to sit with them. “I gather Thursday night was exhausting for Nikki and Ruth, Lola was very restless and they took good care of her. When I got there Friday they needed a nap desperately. Lola was already only slightly responsive, still moving around but less and less during the day. We cleaned the room and cleared the altar. I brought a large feather and with water and a dash of orange oil used it to smudge the room and clear the place without any smoke that would have bothered Lola. We lit a candle, called in the directions, set up the circle, sang when we could and … shared stories.”
Robbins read from Hafiz, a book called Continuum, an exploration of the continuation of consciousness, from Dreaming the Dark, and from some old Druid poetry. During the multiple singing circles, they sang Ojibwa songs and Pagan festival songs, including She Changes, The River Keeps Flowing,and Mother Carry Me Down By The Sea. Robbins said, “At around 7pm we called in the directions again … called in all her guides and guardians. I called in Frigga because I work with her, most of us called in our familiar deities. We also called in the spirits of all the cats Lola had ever had … to escort her over. We sang many rounds and left the circle open … By 9:30 we sang quietly on and off. We were sending her love and support as her breath started to slow down, and finally stopped, at 10:22.”
At the point, as Robbins explained, Lola’s closest family and friends “needed room to just feel their feelings.” Others present called hospice, washed her down, laid her out, cleared away the medical clutter away, and smudged the room with Sage. Robbins added, “By the time the funeral director came at 1 am, we were ready. We stripped the bed, hugged one another one last time and went to get some rest.”
Another close friend Carol Solitary said that everything that was done that night was what they felt would be comforting to Lola. “Heather cast a circle earlier in the day, and as we arrived we all took turns holding space so she was never alone. Once everyone arrived we sang We are Light. Sheila sang a beautiful song over the phone called The Weaver Song”
Weaver, Weaver weave her thread,
Whole and strong into your web
Healer, Healer, heal her pain,
In love may she return again
At the end, there were 8 people surrounding Lola with song, with stories, with love emanating the joy that her life brought to them. Wakkal said, “It really was a very beautiful moment and made me so proud of the community I was in. Lola was my best friend. Her smile and warmth will be missed. I will miss her saying ‘love you Nikki girl.’ But she is smiling where she is, that I know. And as a community we will not forget.”
What is remembered, lives.