In the Anthropocene, many things are dying at a rate unprecedented to human history. Currently, 75 % of the world’s life is endangered, and 50% of life in the world has disappeared since 1970 due to human activity. I’m not sure why these statistics aren’t getting more attention. But the unfortunate truth is, whether or not we are willing to see it, this is happening. Unfortunately, humanity’s actions continue to cause the death of so many species and so many individual lives, and given models and projections, the die-off of non-human life is expected to get much worse in the next decades. While earth has experienced other extinction events, this one is caused by humans. This makes humans, collectively and individually, responsible. As land healers and nature spirit workers, we might consider what happens to those spirits when they die and how we can help.
The two rituals here thus offer a way to “do something” about the tragic losses of life that are happening on a broader scale. I wrote about the fires in Australia two weeks ago and said that I’d be following up with a discussion of extinction. That took some time to work through and led me to some unexpected places, so I’m offering it here this week rather than last week!
I see these rituals as having two purposes. The first is to obviously help the spirits who are dying because of human activity pass on in love and acknowledgment. But the second is to acknowledge our collective responsibility as part of these tragedies, which I believe may lessen our own karmic debt for what is happening.
A Ritual for Honoring Species that Have Gone Extinct
This isn’t a “magical” ritual in the traditional sense. This ritual was written for anyone, regardless of their background (e.g. it is not required for this ritual that you are practicing nature spirituality, magic, or neopaganism or have familiarity with these traditions.) It’s something you could do with friends or family or a spiritual group to recognize and honor extinct species. If you are performing this ritual solo, you can simply do both parts.
Participants gather in a circle, preferably in a natural place or indoors in candlelight.
Leader: This is a moment we can share to honor those species who have gone extinct and our unfortunate role in that extinction <pause>. Participants, do you wish to acknowledge any species?
Participants take turns sharing about one or more extinct species. (Alternatively, the leader can hand out slips of paper that have information about human-caused extinct species for each participant. A list of species is included after this ritual.)
Leader: Does anyone here wish to share their feelings at this moment?
Participants: Share as they choose.
Leader: Let us now honor these species and all endangered species with a moment of silence.
(Optional: Leader sounds a singing bowl, chime, or bell at the start of the moment of silence.
<Moment of Silence>
Leader: Please say with me, “Species who have crossed the veil, I am sorry.”
Leader: Species who have suffered, I am sorry.
Leader: Species who are forever gone, we honor and acknowledge you.
Leader: We acknowledge the role of our own species in your deaths. And we are sorry. <Pauses>
Leader: What is one thing you can do, starting today, to help prevent the loss of more species?
Participants: Offer their ideas and lifestyle changes.
Leader. Thank you to all of you who have participated. It is through our own actions and raising the awareness of others that we can help save the species that still live in this world.
Ring the bell/bowl to mark the end of the ritual.
Extinct Species – List for Participants
- The Unknown Species. Many extinctions are in places that are undocumented or unknown. This accounts for insects, invertebrates, and many amphibians and reptiles.
- The West African Black Rhino. This beautiful rhino went extinct in 2006, after being poached by hunters for its horn, which was in demand in Yemen and China for is aphrodisiac powers.
- The Passenger Pigeon. The Passenger Pigeons were in the millions when Europeans began pillaging and colonizing the Americas. The Pigeon was hunted to the point of extinction in 1914.
- The Pyrenean Ibex. The Pyrenean Ibex, a deer-like creature with beautifully curved horns, was hunted to extinction by the year 2000.
- The Golden Toad. The Golden Toad, a bright orange toad living in the Costa Rican rainforest, was destroyed by global warming, pollution, and disease. The last toad was seen in 1989 and it was declared extinct in 1994.
- The Zanzibar Leopard. This leopard lived in Tanzania. This animal was hunted and exterminated, both by individuals and the Tanzanian government due to the widespread belief that the Zanzibar Leopard was kept by witches as pets.
- Po’ouli. This bird is a native of Maui, Hawaii, living on the southwestern slope of the Haleakala Volcano. The species went extinct due to habitat loss and a decline in its food source—native tree snails. The species went extinct in 2004.
- Maderian Large White Butterfly. This butterfly, with yellow and black markings, went extinct in the 2000’s due to loss of habitat due to human construction and pollution from agricultural fertilizers (for olives, figs, pineapples, bananas, and sunflowers).
- Carolina Parakeet. Native to the Eastern US with unusual orange, yellow, and blue markings, the Carolina Parakeet went extinct in 1918. Deforestation and poaching were the main causes; millions of these birds were killed so that their feathers could adorn ladies’ hats.
- Tecopa Pupfish. Once native to the hot springs of the Mojave Desert, this fish was destroyed by the destruction of their natural habitat by human construction.
- Pinta Island Tortoise. This Tortoise was native to the Galapagos Islands and went extinct in 2015. Humans introduced goats who destroyed their native habitats; humans introduced rats who prayed on their young; and humans killed tortoises for their meat.
A Fire Ritual to Honor Extinct Species
This ritual can be done individually or in a group setting. Before the ritual, gather up materials to build an effigy. Your effigy will represent one or more extinct species in the world. You can also tuck prayers (written on paper) and rolled up into your effigy. Construct your effigy only out of natural materials, things that can burn without harming the earth. Before the ritual, build yourself a fire that you can light. The ritual has no words, just actions, although you could certainly add words of your choosing.
Open up a sacred space.
After opening the space, take the time to carefully build your effigy and tuck your prayers inside. As you build, feel the energy of the extinct species enter the effigy. Hold the effigy into the air and speak the name of the species.
Place your effigy on the top of your fire.
Light the fire.
Watch it burn. Drum while it burns. Do anything else that you feel led to do.
Feel the energy of the species growing calm as it burns.
Feel the energy of the sorrow and death being released.
As the fire dies down, sit with that fire as long as necessary, utill it is nothing but coals and ash.
Bid the species farewell and blessings.
Close the sacred space.
After this ritual, ground and center yourself and practice good self-care. This is a powerful ritual and can connect you with the energies of death—thus, you should engage in life-focused activities for a few days after this ritual (e.g. gardening, sitting with plants, bringing in light and healing and blessing).