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New traditions, revived traditions

Lighting a candle at the scene of accident is a form of expression loaned from Catholic traditions which has become more and more common in Norway in recent years.

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Privatization of funerals was a noticeable trait of the period 1960-1980. Participation in funeral rituals became often only for close family members, where it had formerly included neighbors and more distant relatives. In recent years, however, there has been renewed interest for participation in rites of passage from one life phase to another. And among many people, this interest is tied to a need to find new forms of expression and new inspiration - either within or outside of established religious groups.

An increase in the number of grave sites outside of the official cemeteries and spreading of ashes in the mountains may be seen in connection with a larger membership in neo-religious groups and a wish for personalized adaptation of rituals. The funeral law of 1996 allows for this:

When a signed and dated statement is present from a person who has filled the age of 15 years, the Regional Commissioner may give permission after the death of this person to those who are responsible for the funeral to spread the cremated ashes before the wind. The Regional Commissioner may set conditions for this permission. Church participation may not be made mandatory at such funerals.

Lighting candles at the scene of accidents is a form of expression borrowed from Catholic traditions, but which has become more and more common in Norway during recent years. The spontaneous mourning ritual after the death of King Olav in 1991, or the march of thousands of mourners to Baneheia in Kristiansand after a double murder in 2000 both show how people discover new ways of showing compassion.

Bishop Gunnar Stålsett writes:

Traditionally, the Protestant Church has had quite a sober relationship to the dead. In recent years, we have seen a kind of folk-religious protest against this sobriety. During the 1950's, we little by little stopped wearing black when someone near us passed away. Today, we again want more symbolism and rituals, and people show a greater openness for life's mysteries. One result of this is a very natural relationship towards lighting candles, both in churches, on graves and at places where fatal accidents have occurred. This is a Catholic tradition which the Church hasn't been very open for, but which has come through as a folk-religious need. Something else that has also become more common is that neighbors, friends and family of a dead person will lay letters and greetings at the place where the person died. I feel that this expresses a belief in God and a yearning after belonging outside of this life that has become much stronger in recent years. We can benefit by looking at other churches and other religions in relation to the dead, and give sorrow and longing new expression.

– Aftenposten Aften 6.8.99

Ask yourself the following questions

  • Can we place our own sorrow in a wider perspective by looking at how different religions and cultural groups handle death?
  • Can modern people fulfill their spiritual longing by borrowing forms of ritual expression from other cultures and other times?
  • Does a change in how we relate to death lead toward a change in how we relate to life?
Published Mar. 24, 2020 12:43 PM - Last modified Dec. 14, 2020 9:01 AM