What is "keening"

It's a sound you won't soon forget.

Jessica Coutinho Newey

3/16/20232 min read

blue and white water splash
blue and white water splash

This post is going to remain in its written form, but below is a link to a very interesting podcast on this topic!

Hello Hurricanes! Today we will have a quick chat about "keening." Keening is a ritualist wailing lamentation performed at a graveside. It can be accompanied by the tearing of clothing, the beating of the earth with one's fists, and other signs of duress. The English word "keening" comes from Gaelic, but it is a tradition found the world over. The Irish tend to write a musical lament, but in other cultures, it is often an improvised wail without a lyrical quality. Many modern societies continue to observe this tradition globally.

Many cultures have professional mourners that perform this ritual. My first introduction to the concept of keening was in high school when I was in the chorus of Trojan Women (and we did have to tear at our costumes and rock and wail). Many scholars believe that Helen was a professional mourner. Because of this strong association with Greek mythology, Renee's line about the children being so upset by the Xbox shutting down in the storm becomes that much more hilarious. I believe it alludes to some of these classical plays and poems.

While keening seems a bit over the top for Westerners, it can provide a level of grounding and catharsis to mourners. I remember my father feeling that the teenager chorus was over the top, but later that same year, when his own mother passed, he slammed his fist down on our pedestal table and cracked it down the center. Twenty years later, that broken table is still held together with a bungee cord. Based on my own graveside experiences, I recall having moments of numbness that took me out of my body but hearing the dogs howling or my daughter cry in their own grief helped to anchor my spirit to my flesh and cry for the first time, at least one of those deaths, it took me a whole week to shed a tear. Having professional mourners, as many other cultures do, could be beneficial to get to that place of release that is needed in the earlier grieving periods. But maybe not for an Xbox or landline.

If you're interested in exploring this topic more, here is a podcast focused on Irish keening: http://www.aftering.com/gois-history-of-irish-funeral-keening/