Playing Games with Death

Reflections on the Irish Wake


  • Roger Grainger Independent Scholar



Irish wakes, rituals, meaning, new order


The symbolism of chaos which emerges from the “amusements” around which traditional Irish funerals were organized brings home an essential truth about corporate rituals: that they serve to focus our awareness of a global truth embodied within an articulated gesture of human meaning. In the act which signifies a specific dying, a message about all human life is encapsulated. The funeral is seen as a communication about survival. Examples of this are given, and it is argued that the structure of such ceremonies reveals the underlying function of ritual itself. Corporate rites present us with a paradigm of the use of chaos to clear a way for new kinds of order. In their three-fold configuration, rites of passage reveal the need for genuine beginnings to be preceded by actual endings.


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How to Cite

Grainger, R. (2011). Playing Games with Death: Reflections on the Irish Wake. Implicit Religion, 14(1), 93-98.