Funeral Ceremony Circles Are Cool

Ceremony CirclesWith people being more spiritual than religious today, funeral ceremonies are taking on a new schematic. There’s a lot more room for creativity to make funeral ceremonies more meaningful. Funeral celebrants are introducing the concept of circle ceremonies. Unlike the traditional rows found in most church services, the whole ceremony can take place with attendees in a circle. Native Americans have long used the healing powers of ceremonies in the formation of a circle.

Think about it for a moment. When in a circle, we are all equal.

There is no one below, above, behind or in front of you. A circle has innate healing power with the ability for us all to connect.

The sacred circle is designed to create unity. It is the hoop of life with a place for every species, race and plant. The ideas of a sacred circle and the hoop of life have been inspired by Native American traditions and beliefs that everything is connected, and we are all connected to each other. When we are connected, spiritual healing can truly take place. I have conducted a couple of services set up in a circle for native Americans here in Vermont. In the funeral home chapel and in the cemetery. It really made it special and I can truly say it added a sense of healing and more active participation was observed.
Funeral or Cremation Services

We can also take the Native American tradition of healing drum circles and apply it to today’s funeral ceremonies. All across the country drum circle groups have been forming and growing in popularity. Everyone can participate in the drumming activities, even young children. Native Americans believe that drumming up the spirits of the land enhances personal healing with its vibrations. It’s like awakening our hearts with the heartbeat of the Earth. Attendees can take turns standing in the middle of the circle with eulogies and prayers along with drumming. While bodies are never physically touched, the spiritual energy is channeled by mental intention and physical vibration. With Cremation services the urn to be tastefully placed in the center of the circle. Now as an experienced funeral director I know that drumming in a circle is just way to outside the box for some families and congregations. But for some situations its perfect. All around, drumming circles for funeral ceremonies are social, healing, musical and fun.

The aboriginal people are another culture that has a strong affinity with the circle. They believe the power of the universe works in circles such as the shape of the planets, birds making their nests and the wind whirling in circles. Like Native Americans, the circle is a symbol of equity where no one person has an elevated position over another.

Pagan funerals or transition rituals are also held in a sacred circle with offerings to Nature. Often, there is a sharing of stories and chanting. They believe that the circle ceremony is a way to help the soul on its journey to the afterlife. Because of this belief, the circle ceremony is an opportunity to celebrate the life that has passed instead of mourning.

With over 40 percent of Americans choosing cremation services for their final farewell, the philosophy goes hand-in-hand with circle funeral ceremonies. Many people view cremation as a natural way of returning to the Earth. It is a sacred way to continue in the hoop of a spiritual life. Even in death, we all remain connected in spirit. Whether you choose a ground burial for your ashes, a sea scattering of ashes or a land dispersal of ashes, we’re all set on the same plane for a spiritual life.

Funeral celebrants also go hand-in-hand with both cremation services and circle funeral ceremonies. These professionals can help you plan ceremonies from beginning to end. A celebrant is certified and trained to provide personalized funeral ceremonies that reflect the lifestyle and personality of the deceased. They can be used as an alternative to a clergy person or in conjunction with one. In addition, funeral celebrants are an excellent choice for those who are spiritual but not religious. These professionals have a large library of resources for music, readings and the development of eulogies. They also work closely with you so that all of your wishes are adhered to and ensure complete confidentiality.

Ideas for Circle Ceremonies

Come One Come All, Gather Round!

Circle Ceremonies for funeral services can take place outdoors in a natural setting. Funeral Celebrants can help you select a mountaintop, a place in the woods, a beach or a meadow. You can even elect to have the ceremony in someone’s backyard. Typically, an altar to the deceased with photos and flowers are set up. The funeral celebrant can be the officiator or you can act as your own. You can arrange for a circle of chairs for the attendees. Attendees can take turns sharing stories about the deceased and expressing their heartfelt feelings. Music can be played before, during and after the ceremony. Memory or prayer beads made from crystals and natural stones can also be passed around in the circle. They are beautiful keepsakes for comfort and remembrance.

Even if you are having a funeral service in a church setting, arrangements can be made for a circle ceremony with attendees standing in a circle together or seated in a circle. You can work with a funeral celebrant or make arrangements with clergy yourself. If you work with a funeral celebrant, they can assist you with choosing music that is appropriate for this type of setting.

Today, the style and tone for funeral ceremonies is wide open. There are some who like to go out with a bang in a party style. They may even prefer to have a ceremony in a country-club setting or a bar. Funeral celebrants are very versatile and can help you make all the arrangements for food, lively music and engaging eulogies. They will work closely with you to ensure that all of your loved ones favorite tunes are played, including rock.

As we move forward in the 21st century, the etiquette for funeral ceremonies is constantly evolving. No longer are the somber funerals with sad music taking center stage. Survivors and the deceased are moving to funeral ceremonies that truly reflect a celebration of life and the personality of the deceased. People are searching for new ways to create a unique and meaningful funeral ceremony, and circle ceremonies are just another avenue for change.

Jeff Staab is a funeral director in southern Vermont. A certified Life Cycle Celebrant. He owns and operates and is a cremation memorial and ash scattering specialist. When he’ not dreaming up the next cool cremation product he enjoys adventure in the mountains and on the sea, cooking for friends, social responsibility and green living. He can be reached at

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3 Responses to Funeral Ceremony Circles Are Cool

  1. I have used the circle formation in funeral and memorial services for 30 years, and also find it more conducive to an interactive event and a sense of connection between those attending — especially if it is an small intimate service (although I had done ones who have 100 people or more).

    As Jeff mentioned, they are usually easier to set up in an outdoor environment, because ‘seating’ is not already fixed: however, it is possible to do indoors as well. For many families — those who love nature and/or are ecologically -minded, an outdoor environment may be much more significant. If you choose to use a pubic park, make sure that there is a semi-secluded area available and that you get a permit to hold the service (which is usually available from the city, and reserves that space for your use). Funeral/memorial services at an ocean/river-side may be particularly beautiful and significant to the family and/or Death Journeyer, but can often be quite cold and windy — compromising the experience (and ability to hear what is said) for those who attend, as it is also true for very large circles.

    If the service is in a chapel or church where the seating is fixed, but the service is small, consider using only the front 1 or 2 rows of seats with each chairs being brought in to create a semi-circle formation. If it is a larger service, consider planning some elements of the event to be active — such as forming a circle around the seating to sing and (yes even) dance. If you are using a funeral home, consider requesting use of a large meeting room (such as those used for the tea/coffee/food after a service) to hold the actual service. Especially if the family is not religious and/or are not parishioners of a specific faith community, there are lots of meeting halls that can be rented for the service, and which usually allow for whatever arrangement of seating the family wants.

    Jeff mentions a number of activities that can be incorporated into a funeral/memorial service — and depending on the family’s wishes and lifestyle, many more variations can be considered. The most important elements to consider are a) whether those elements are meaningful to the family and close friends, and can easily be understood by those less directly related; b) creating a balance of things that everyone can participate directly in (singing, drumming, etc.) and those that are based more on the usual ‘audience’ format; c) don’t use songs, or other activities that take time to learn — participants will be distracted from the ‘meaningfulness’ by feeling awkward about not knowing the words/melody, etc.; d) whatever formation you use, make sure that everyone can hear and see what is going on; e) leave at least small spaces of silence so that the participants can focus on, and attend to, their own memories and feelings, but make sure that they know how long the silence will be (most people will become uncomfortable or distracted — and unable to make use of the silence for their own internal processing — unless they have a general sense of how long the silence will) and let them know what the indicator will be that ends the silence; and f) ; e) be mindful of how infirm/disabled attenders can participate — both including elements that they can participate in, and not requiring them to participate in things that are impossible or dangerous for them given their condition.

    A funeral/memorial service generally has two purposes — a specific time/event to remember and honour the person who has died; and the building (even if temporarily) of a sense of community amongst those who are mourning and/or celebrating the life lead. And the second purpose — especially when done in the circle format, with elements that include everyone — can lead to a better sense of an on-going connection between participants, that facilitates further sharing of grief and fond memories in the future.

  2. Dave Savage says:

    I’ve always preferred circles in ceremonies I create. It’s the same feelings you get when eating with others on a round table vs a long- narrow one.

    I’m looking for pictures and ideas to include in our upcoming book, “The Best Memorial Service”
    Do you have a picture of a memorial service or small ceremony that we can include

    Our Beta supplemental website is already up and will be a collaborative source of ideas and materials for services and ceremonies. I’d appreciate hearing from folks who have things to contribute. Dave Savage in Atlanta Georgia

  3. Elsa Anderson says:

    It’s interesting to learn that funerals these days are evolving to be quite more versatile. There are even funerals that are done in the Native American tradition of using healing drum circles as your article suggested. I would like to have my funeral service at sea or have it with the healing drums circle if that won’t be possible. That said, I’ll be sure to take a look later and even plan my own funeral just in case. Thanks!

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