Unlike religious or traditional funerals, non-religious ceremonies do not follow set rituals or include prescribed readings or prayers.
The whole purpose of a non-religious ceremony is to celebrate the life of the loved one who has passed away and to allow everyone the space to acknowledge the memories and legacy left by the person they loved.
We have often found that friends and families enjoy the personal, joyous nature of non-religious ceremonies, and even after religious funerals, many wish to hold a non-religious memorial service to commemorate the life of the deceased.
Whilst there is usually no set agenda for a non-religious ceremony, cultural practices and such common aspects as music; messages; readings; themed dress codes; poetry, films, photos and slideshows often make up a big part of the ceremony.
At Compassionate Funerals, we have had the great honour of working closely with many friends and family members to design a ceremony most befitting to the memory of the person they loved.
From an Elvis-themed service to a Caribbean or humanist one, we make it our mission to ensure every aspect of the ceremony is given the respect and attention it deserves.
Below are a summation of just some of the non-religious practices, beliefs and rites we have come to understand deeply and help see to fruition.
Click on each icon to find more information.
Nine nights is a nine-day long wake, culminating on the ninth night after a person’s death and before the funeral and burial take place. According to traditional Jamaican / Caribbean and Islander belief, the journey from this world to the next is not complete until nine nights after death. A malevolent ghost, or the ‘duppy’, of a deceased person may linger after death, inhabit its old house, or wreak revenge on those who have mistreated it in life. On the ninth night, it is said to depart permanently, at which time its loved ones must give it a celebratory send-off and bid goodbye. Showing a departed soul due respect is said to prevent retribution or other harm from a duppy, who may otherwise cause havoc to the wider community.
The root of Nine-Nights, also known as ‘Dead Yard’, is believed to have derived from African religious tradition and is practiced across many Caribbean communities such as those from Grenada, Dominica, Barbados, Jamaica, Guyana, Trinidad, Haiti and the Dominican Republic.
Food and music are core to the celebratory nature of nine-night. One of the most common practice for the final ninth night, involves setting up a table which covered with a white tablecloth to symbolise purity, and laying out food for the departed family member. No-one may eat from this table until after midnight, when it is believed that the spirit of the dead has passed through and friends and family have bid farewell to the duppy.
Another common practice is to turn up the mattress of the loved one and place it against a wall to prevent the spirit from coming back. This is done not out of malice, but because family members feel a responsibility to help their loved one find their final resting place, so that he or she can be at peace. All elements constitute a positive ceremony which allows family and friends to express their love for the departed and bid their final goodbyes.
Across the nights, games such as Dominos are played, and special hymns (sankeys) are sung emphasising the soul's journey to heaven. These are is sung in a style known as 'tracking', in which one person will call out one line of the sankey at a time, and the rest of the gathering sing the line together.
Lean more about Nine-Nights HERE .
The vast expanse coupled with the depth of histories of China ensures there are many different rituals carried out in different communities linked to regional and traditional local customs as well as religious faiths. From Buddhism to Christianity to Confucianism, different rites govern a funeral depending on the age, marital/social status and cause of the death of the person to be honoured.
At Compassionate Funerals, we have been honoured to host a number of Chinese Buddhist and Taoist funerals within local churches, whillst helping the families involved to source and obtain what was needed for every aspect of their specific funeral rite as desired. We therefore have a deepening understanding of the requirements and needs of certain Chinese rituals, and are always honoured to continue learning about the differing natures of Chinese belief.
For Taoist or Buddhist Chinese families, prayers are sometimes required to be carried out by monks. This is to help the deceased's soul to find peace and escape a fate of becoming a "restless ghost". The offering of food and joss paper at a funeral furthermore signifies the continuing interdependence between the deceased and their living descendants, whilst the funeral itself, serves to bind family and kin together more tightly.
There are several similarities uniting the wide plethora of Chinese funeral rites. These include the funeral ceremony being carried out over seven days; mourners wearing funerary dress in differing colours according to their relationship to the deceased; the number three being of great significance and which dictates that many customary gestures be carried out three times; and the use of white clothing to symbolise the dead. The custom of ‘shou ling’, wherein relatives hold vigils over the dying soul so as to accompany them until their very last on earth, is a core way for loved ones to show familial piety and devotion to the deceased.
The date on which the funeral is to be held is highly significant, and is usually selected to take place on an auspicious one in accordance with the Chinese fortune calendar ‘Tong Sheng’. Once a date is set, an obituary notice is commonly sent to relatives and friends announcing the date and time of the funeral procession. The deceased is dressed in clean funeral dress in preparation for their departure from the world. Following the ritual of transferring the body of deceased into the coffin, they are placed in a funereal hall decorated with character idioms, flowers, incense, food items, photographs etc as wished, prior to the burial or cremation. It is also customary that before the funeral procession, the very closest members of the deceased hold the ‘jia ji’, which entails the paying of the highest respects to the deceased according to the customs being adhered to.
The funeral procession ‘fa yin’ leads the hearse to the burial site or site of cremation, and during the funeral, offerings of food items, incense, and joss paper are most often presented.
Learn more about Chinese Funeral Rituals HERE.
Druidism (or Druidry) is a movement that promotes peace, harmony, connection, and veneration for the natural world, and usually incorporates respect for all beings, including the environment itself. The core principle of Druidism rests in the following of the rituals and ways of living of ancestors – especially those who lived in prehistoric communities. With a rich tapestry of prehistoric tribes and traditions to draw upon, there are many different Druid communities living across the United Kingdom, each with their own unique burial rites to be realised. All funeral rites have one core aim: to honour and grant the wishes of the one who has passed on.
At Compassionate Funerals, we work closely to ensure that the will of the deceased is heeded. So whether a service is desired to be solemn, formal and to take place at a specific location or temple, or informal, laughter-filled and comprised of poetry and ancient prayers (or a mixture of both!), we will work with you and the Druid community to which deceased belonged to see all wishes through to fruition.
The funeral rites for Druid communities are usually written and led by a celebrant – a priest who works to hold the energy and sanctity of time and place together. and make sure everything that is needed is done. Where a celebrant cannot be accessed, an organiser of the funeral may lead.
Conflict both before, at the point of, and after death is undesirable for Druidic communities, so to avoid conflict and strife with members of families / loved ones of the deceased who may desire a more traditional event at which to grieve, a number of rites can be held after a passing, to allow everyone space to grieve peacefully.
As there are no one group of Gods or customs to strictly adhere to, practices across Druid communities vary in accordance with their own customs and beliefs. Funerals can take place in a sacred Grove or other historically sacred site; in forest burial ground; a cemetery; altered for a crematorium wherein the transformative power of fire is celebrated; or ashes scattered, or a standing stone or cairn placed to celebrate the life of the deceased.
Learn more about Rites of Passing for Druid communities HERE.
Humanism emphasises the value and agency of human beings, individually and collectively, and the use of critical thinking and evidence over acceptance of religion, dogma or superstition. Often aligned with secularism, it is centered on a belief that science – not revelation from a supernatural source – is best placed to understand the world, and that a human being’s life ends with the death of the body. There is no belief in any concepts linked to an afterlife, and as such, the life of every human being is limited to the present alone.
Humanist funerals and memorial services have one aim: to give a personal goodbye to one who has lived without religion, and are often overseen by a Humanist celebrant. Having had the great pleasure of helping to arrange the funerals / memorial services of many a wonderful Humanist, Compassionate Funerals is able to ensure both the practicalities and style of arrangements desired are delivered down to every detail. We are also more than happy to help you find a celebrant you are comfortable with from Humanists UK, and work alongside your chosen celebrant and family and friends to ensure we gain as full a picture of the deceased so as to ensure a unique and personal send-off.
Humanist funerals are not only designed to bring people together to express their grief, but to celebrate the life that was lived. From music and dance to hand-stiched burial sheets embroidered with messages, the style of burial is completely up to the wishes of the deceased and serves as a reflection of who they were as a person.
Conducted by humanist celebrants, humanist funerals will generally not include any hymns, prayers, readings, poems or anything else linked to religious practices, as the deceased did not hold religious views. However, most do include kind words about the person’s life, readings from loved ones, music, and moments of silence to allow loved ones a short period of time to reflect on the life of the person who has passed away. Although the ceremony itself is often conducted by a humanist celebrant (otherwise known as an ‘officiant’), the family remains in control and can have as much or as little an input as they feel able to provide.
Learn more about Humanist ceremonies HERE.
Jainism is an ancient religion of India, which teaches its followers (‘Jains) to live lives of harmlessness and renunciation. The essence of Jainism is concern for the welfare of every being in the universe and for the health of the universe itself, and so Jains believe that animals and plants, as well as human beings, contain living souls, each considered of equal value. With a deep belief in reincarnation, Jains seek to attain ultimate liberation by escaping the continuous cycle of birth, death and rebirth, and obtaining an immortal soul lives forever in a state of bliss.
There are no gods or spiritual beings capable of helping human beings in Jainism. However, at its core, are the three guiding principles of (the 'three jewels'): right belief, right knowledge and right conduct, the following of which, is believed to help the soul eliminate all karma and reach true liberation and eternal peace.
All Jains must be cremated, and cremation ceremonies are usually very simple and short as death is regarded a festival (‘Mahotsav’), following which the soul is immediately reincarnated. The body of the deceased is usually dressed with garlands of sandalwood, and a swastika placed on / nearby the body on which a coconut, light and packet of rice with ghee is placed. Following recitations and a eulogy, family members apply water and rice three times on the body, and ghee (clarified butter) to the forehead, hands and feet. A piece of gold is then placed in the mouth and a pearl on top of the right eye, before the casket is closed and the body is taken to the crematorium.
It is essential that throughout the process, no living organisms like grass or insects are harmed. is selected so as not to harm them. Following cremation, the remains are collected and placed in a hole dug in the earth. Salt is then sprinkled on top so as to enable the ashes to dissolve easily. Jains are not permitted to place ashes in a river as this act may pollute the water.
Learn more about Jain funeral rites HERE .
Although Paganism covers a wide spectrum of ideas (under the umbrella of Neopaganism), most Pagan communities are united in the recognition of the divine in nature and the ongoing cycle of life and death. Most Pagans are eco-friendly, seeking to live in a way that minimises harm to the natural environment and celebrates the feminine as well as masculine and genderless imagery. The most important and widely recognised of these are the God and Goddess (or pantheons of God and Goddesses) whose annual cycle of procreation, giving birth and dying defines the Pagan year. With a strong emphasis on the equality of the sexes, women play a prominent role in the modern Pagan movement, and Goddess worship features in most Pagan ceremonies. Due to the breadth of Pagan belief, many communities have different beliefs about what happens after death, but most believe in reincarnation, or the union of the spirit with nature.
The star, known as a Pentagram or Pentacle, has come to have great meaning and power to both Pagan and others – including those involved in Wicca and Ceremonial Magic. For modern-day Pagans, the Pentacle contains many wonderful layers of symbolism. The five points symbolize the four directions with the fifth point as the sanctity of Spirit, within and without. The circle around the star symbolizes unity and wholeness. It represents the quest for Divine Knowledge, a concept which is ancient in origin and universal in scope from the earliest written ritual texts in Babylonia, to the Celts, to the Native American traditions. Similar to other figures which are made of a single unbroken line, this symbol is used to mark off magical enclosures or ritual areas, especially when used for invocation of deities or spirit.
Whilst there are no set rituals for a Pagan funeral, there are guidelines and suggested rituals specific to each Pagan community. But uniting all Pagan communities is the belief that the wishes of the deceased must always be respected. Most Pagan funeral rituals commence preparation of the body with a washing. The body of the deceased can be washed with regular water and a few drops of ocean water or water taken from a special place, and sometimes herbs such as rosemary is used as to add a source of purity and protection. After the washing, the body is often be wrapped in cloth, or clothed with simple clothing.
Pagans can be buried or cremated and can hold both funerals and memorial services depending on the will of the deceased. Services often combine prayers for healing, meditation, offerings to nature and ancestors along with many other traditions such as the sharing of stories of the deceased, and music, with drum use being most common.
Learn more about Pagan funeral rites HERE .
The Rastafari faith is a young, Africa-centred religion which developed in Jamaica in the 1930s, following the coronation of Haile Selassie I as King of Ethiopia in 1930. Rastafarians believe Haile Selassie – often represented by a golden lion, was a God who will return members of the black community who are living in exile as the result of colonisation and the slave trade, back to their homeland of Africa.
Believing that black people are the chosen people of God, but that through colonisation and the slave trade their role has been suppressed, Rastafarians main concerns centre around the repatriation of black people to Africa, and the reinstatement of black people’s position in society.
Following strict dietary laws and abstaining from alcohol, Rastafari believe in the existence of one God and follow a number of Old Testament Laws, with a separate code of religious practice for women. All Rastafari believe that reincarnation follows death and that life is eternal, and that substances such as marijuana used for ritual inhalation can increase spiritual awareness.
The Rastafarian colours are red, green and gold with red signifying the blood of those killed for the cause of the black community throughout Jamaican history; green representing Jamaica's vegetation and hope for the eradication of suppression, and gold symbolising the wealth of Ethiopia.
Forbidden to cut their hair, the thick and twisting dreadlocks unique to Rastafari followers represent the lion’s mane.
As the Rastafari do not believe in death but in reincarnation, there is no formal funeral ceremony to mark the end of life. Whilst there is no special morning ritual during the condolence period, family members and friends do come together to share memories and celebrate the life of the deceased at their home for a period of nine nights. This party is to mark the belief that the deceased is no longer suffering in life and that their spirit is passing amongst the people gathered. Music plays a significant role in Rastafari condolence practices and is viewed as a method of meditation. Reggae and drums are played accompanied by vocal sounds, with of course, a sprinkling of Bob Marley – an icon and fellow Rastafrian – tunes.
Learn more about Jain funeral rites HERE.
Spiritualists believe that every human soul survives the death of the body and enters a spirit-world that surrounds the material world.
These souls are believed to communicate with the material world, with communication being possible under the right conditions – and usually through a medium.
Spiritualists believe that those in the spirit-world are much the same as they were in the material world, but without any physical deficiencies, and are both
aware of, and interested in, the lives of those they have temporarily left behind.
Spiritualists may hold many different beliefs, but share belief in its key philosophy of the human body forging a vessel for the spirit or soul which lives on after we physically die.
Spiritualists see death as a moment to pay tribute to the life of someone who has travelled on to the ’Spirit World’, and take this moment to recognise that eventually they will be united with the deceased. Treated as a celebration, funerals are an opportunity to share memories, spend time with bereaved friends and loved ones and to look back on the life of the deceased with joy, whilst expressing what sadness may be felt.
There is no set guidance on Spiritualist funeral ceremonies which may include a burial, cremation and memorial services etc. The Spiritualists’ National Union (UK) established in 1901, trains Spiritualist church ministers who can help officiate the service desired.
To learn more about Spiritualism, see HERE.