Whilst at the Ancestral Tree, I was privileged to witness the funeral of one of its guardians and I must say, I do not think I have ever been so moved in my life before, or since.
The Circle's numbers have swelled over the centuries that followed the end of The Cataclysm Wars, in part due to The Ancestral Tree
's legendary resistance against Vaedrin's Blight
spreading belief that the tree is of divine origin. Even so, the death of Circle of the Ancestor druid is not a frequent event, especially since a significant portion of the Circle's new members were from races with longer lifespans than Goliaths, which were the dominant race prior to the Wars. The Circle experience, on average, a handful of natural deaths a year.
The Natural Casket
When an Ancestral Druid dies, regardless of their position within the Circle, their body is laid within a casket carved from a hollowed out tree trunk that came their grove. A small clipping is taken from The Ancestral Tree itself - the only time anything is taken from that three - and placed on the chest of the deceased. Using their druidic magic, the Ancestral Elder will use that clipping and grow it out, making it cover everything below the upper chest, leaving a v-shape open where the deceased's hands are crossed.
Ancestral Archdruids will utilise their ability to transport themselves via plants and visit any known loved ones or relatives of the deceased that they may have in the wider world. People have five days (an Aldenian week) to pay their respects to the departed.
The Setting of the Soul
As the sun begins crossing the horizon in the evening on the fifth day of this ceremony, the Rite of Passage is performed. Any outsider relatives and loved ones, if willing and possible, are returned back to the Ancestral Grove should they have had to leave during the week. The entire Circle is also present for this Rite. The Ancestral Elder is flanked by the next two most experienced Archdruids, one of which will start a fire beneath the casket and the other begins using divine magic, wrapping strands of golden light around the departed as the Elder controls the flames so that they intertwine with the magical wrappings. The Archdruid that conjured the flames taps into their druidcraft, creating more branches that bloom into life just as the flames burn them back out of existence and the life magic creating a small burst of golden energy as it goes. This dance between life and death continues as the sun recedes from view, working to a crescendo so that as the sun disappears entirely, the body the of deceased is fully taken too, the flames engulfing the casket. Then, a moment of silence as fire recedes, leaving no trace of the person or the casket behind nor any evidence of the fire either.
The divine magic coalesces into the form of the departed and drifts slowly backwards into The Ancestral Tree itself, pausing at the exterior as spectral images of the deceased's ancestor greet them at the doors of death and welcome them into the plane of the dead.
And then, they're gone.
A minute's silence.
The Ancestral Elder will close the Rite with the words: "They are with the Ancestors, may they now be the ones to guide us for evermore."
History of the Ritual
The first recorded instance of this ritual is dated well over a thousands years before The Cataclysm Wars, as far as anyone can guess, this ritual has been a part of Aldenian society forever. Since the elements of this ritual are only reliant on having wood for a casket, The Ancestral Tree's presence to take a clipping and to welcome the dead during The Rite of Passage and for there to be at least three druids capable of performing the magic for the ceremony, there is no reason to believe there has ever been a period in which the Circle of the Ancestor's funeral rites have not been performed.
Just as importantly, whilst the magic is a complex weaving, both the physical and magical components are simple. The records show that this ritual has not be altered in all this time either, for no matter the advancements of technologies in the wider world, they have no bearing on this ritual.