Unfortunately my phone suffered a senior moment and my post for today went the way of all things. This means my post on the subject of death and the afterlife will be far shorter than originally planned. Fear not, I have made a note to revisit the subject at a later date as I want to try and replicate what was essentially three weeks of research and musing on the subject.
Death has been very much in my mind this year, not least because Death has stalked through the land claiming companions at a fantastic rate. Throughout the world of celebrity and paganism itself Death has taken for itself a number of high profile figures and beloved personalities and we have felt it keenly one way or another. For myself 2016 represents a significant memorial in my personal life so I have considered my beliefs on and off for a long time now.
Death touches us all at some point, be it through the passing of a loved one or the slow creeping decline of our own lives. Witchcraft and Paganism have a particular awareness of the cycle of life and death, and have various interpretations of what death means and represents. Though most religions see death as an end, or even a pause as they wait for salvation, many Pagans see it as a beginning be that in a reincarnated existence or on a whole new spiritual level.
Ancestors worship is a significant part of many witchcraft traditions. Be it that of the Ancestral Dead, those ancestors who are connected to the practitioner by blood, and the Mighty Dead, ancestors of the Land and Craft honouring the dead features within most streams of practice. The dead strengthen oracular work and through necromatic rituals can be called upon to give advice or information ir even lend aid in the work of the Witch.
Here I Lie
There is a serious disconnect between the process of death and dying which has formed over recent decades and centuries. Where once it was the norm to come into contact with the dead and dying in your everyday life, even within your own home, modern health care and hospices have erected a barrier between the living and the dead. It wasn’t talked about, even between loved ones, and this has created problems.
In part because of the aging population, increase in Dementia and people generally living longer medical and social services are being overwhelmed there are more and more conversions taking place. Death Cafés and Death Midwifery are part of societies response to these problems, as is the eco-burial movement which seeks to reduce the impact of human burial by reducing the space and material being used.
Even after deciding on how one should be laid to rest Pagans are left with the question of how their life and passing should be celebrated, and I use the word deliberately. Paganism emphasises the life lived and tried to step away from excessive mourning where possible. Rememberance and acting upon the positive legacies left behind are strongly emphasised, which is consistent with Humanism. Given that today Paganism is a minority religion with a small pool of celebrants, both recognised and independent, The Humanist celebration is relatively inclusive way for family and friends of all religious backgrounds to come together in rememberance.
Many modern Pagans will talk about the Otherworld; a place ‘beyond the veil’, neither here nor now and beyond mortal understanding. This is primarily a realm of Spirits, daemons and Gods but the spirits of the dead are also thought to travel here once they leave life.
Many names are given to the realm where the dead go to reside and one that often appears in modern paganism is The Summerlands. The Summerlands are a neutral location, unlike the binary realms of heaven and hell. Whether you lived a good life or an evil one all mau enter the Summerlands to learn their lessons and be reunited with loved ones before being reincarnated.
Most of the names ascribed to the realm of the dead and the theories used to describe its nature within Pagan streams are drawn from various mythologies from around the world. Karma and Reincarnation are Eastern concepts, the Otherworld Celtic and so on. One thing that is rejected is the binary view of good and bad, reward and punishment, common in monotheistic religion. Most pagans actively deny this concept, rejecting the concept of sin and emphasising personal choice and responsibility and so the afterlife becomes a place to review decisions and prepare for the next life.
As I said earlier, I have thought about my future passing on and off for the last decade. I will admit I am conceited enough in my youth to have treated it a little bit tongue in cheek however I have made some wishes clear; a private ceremony celebrating my spiritual and religious beliefs written either by myself or someone close to me followed by a Humanist ceremony for my wider friends and family. I am not sure if this would be possible however time (a long time I hope) will tell.