Funeral rites for a pet

JennyA week ago, Jenny, one of my dogs, passed away. She was old, around 15 years of age, and died quietly, almost like falling asleep. A large Portuguese Podengo, she was a stray and joined our family when looking for safety in a nearby village, after someone tried to poison and stone her. When my parents decided to take her in, it was the start of a long, comfortable and happy life. She did have health problems, like uterine lumps that caused her to undergo a surgery and me to make a vow to Diana, but she always found love and care in both the good and bad days. Now she’s part of our Family Lares and a photo of her has been added to our household shrine, where she gets her offerings and prayers.

I don’t know how many of my readers have pets and how many of them honour the spirits of their dead animals. But if you do and ever wondered how to conduct their funerals and pay them respect, here’s what I did for my dog.

On the day of Jenny’s death, we placed her body on the living room table, wrapped in a blanket and inside a box. Candles were lit, incense burned and we called out her name occasionally. The following day, we took Jenny’s body to a plot of land owned by my family and buried it under a fig tree, next to the graves of two other dogs. Offerings were made – food, water and a coin, adding to a locket my mother placed inside the coffin. Then came the period of mourning, which lasted three nights. During that time, we had a photo of Jenny on the centre of the living room table and kept a burning candle in front of it all the time. I also prayed to Mercury, asking Him to watch over Jenny’s spirit, so that it wouldn’t be lost and she could find her way home. It was only on the fourth day after her death that we had a family meal to honour her.

Jeny 02

There was soup, meat, fruit, bread and cake. A flower wreath for Jenny and an offering dish to collect portions of food for her. There was still a bit of a sad mood – which takes its time to go away – but the purpose was to mark the day Jenny joined our Family Lares. To that end, after the meal, we moved her photo to the mantelpiece, hanged the wreath on it and burned the collected food in the fireplace.

This is not consensual among Roman polytheists, but once you believe everything has a spirit – humans, animals, trees, rocks, rivers, mountains – it’s a small jump between worshipping the genii of the place and adding to your domestic religion the spirits of those that are part of your home life. Just like one may worship the nymphs of the trees or large rocks in your garden.

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