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Lesson 2: Various Viewpoints on Death & Passing Over

Viewing Death as Part of a Cycle

Death is such a fundamental process in nature that, without it, life could not exist. From the moment of our birth, the cells in our body are endlessly dying and being replaced. The body that dies is not the body that was born. In order to grow, we experience many deaths. Over and over again we shed our appearance, our attitudes and our behavior as we change from one stage of our life to the next. The person that dies is only one of the people we became as we lived. As we grow toward a better understanding of death and life, the distinctions between the two are slowly eroding. If we are to go beyond the conventional view of death, we need to ask ourselves if our own fear of death is rooted in an outdated model of life. And we need to seek other ways in which we view both life and death. There are a few different ways to see life and death as a cyclical pattern involving necessary change.


1. The Wheel of Life: Our existence is a constant pattern of cyclical change. Life constantly changes into death and each moment of death is a moment of rebirth. We perceive beginnings and endings, but the flow of existence is never-ending.


2. The Wavicle: Quantum physics shows that at the sub-atomic level there is no distinction between matter and energy. Both have the qualities of particles and waves, giving rise to the concept of the wavicle. We are perpetual patterns of the energy of the cosmos. What we perceive to be the death of finite individuals is simply the unending movement of the universe.


3. The Ascent of Life: Life forms have different levels of consciousness, but all of them have the potential for evolution. Human beings can manifest this potential to a very high degree. We can become aware of dimensions that transcend our limited understanding of our bodies and minds, and enter into a different experience of life and death.


Most Pagans view death as a passage rather than an ending, something to be celebrated, and not be feared or despised. Those left behind grieve for their loss but without the desperate edge often seen in the mainstream. This attitude tends to upset or frighten many people, since Modern American culture puts a great deal of energy into hiding death or not talking about it.


The dying person faces the task of saying goodbye to this world and hello to the next. Ritual can serve an important role in this process, as can study or contemplation on the possibilities. If we have no curiosity about what might exist after death, we blind ourselves to what many people believe to be the next stage of our journey. Exploring death directly tends to produce a calmer more positive experience than greeting death as an unfamiliar and terrifying prospect.


For friends and family, the dying process is also a journey. Their task is to support the dying person in whatever ways they can, according to the wishes of the dying person. They need to become sensitive to the needs of the dying person, and try to leave their own agendas at the door. Taking care of a dying person is a special commitment with special rewards. Participating in the dying process can be awe-inspiring. There are a wide range of services for people to draw on when caring for a dying person. One can be reading from a sacred text, such as the Bible, The Tibetan Book of the Dead or the Book of Going Forth by Day, reading suitable poetry, or playing soothing music. Incense may also be soothing and create a calm atmosphere. Often the dying wishes for company in their last hours. Such a deathwatch can be solemn or festive, depending in the wishes of the dying individual. For Pagans, this sacred duty often takes on a special meaning, especially for those who serve a god or goddess associated with death. Few people in contemporary culture understand this, so try to be sensitive to their feelings without letting them ruin the occasion. As death becomes imminent, members of the deathwatch may notice signs such as changes in the dying person's behavior, a sudden wish for the dying person to reconcile and reach closure in all matters, the abrupt absence of pain, and family members become more agitated and wanting to be closer or be away from the dying person. A dying Pagan is quite likely to know when death is approaching, or to see their messengers or guides. The best experience of death is a combination of joy and sorrow.


When we take care of the dying, we may forget to take care of ourselves. But we must remember by taking showers daily, keeping our auras clean, sleeping and eating when we are tired or hungry. Take vitamins and immune system boosters, move your body, get a massage, a haircut, a manicure or shave. Adore your body that holds itself. This is how you heal. Healing should start before the death of your loved one. Find ways to process your feelings both during and after the dying process. Talk to someone, write about your feelings, put them into artwork. If you keep things to yourself, you explode.


Making advance arrangements for your death and burial not only gives you a better chance of seeing your wishes followed, it also saves a great deal of time, money and energy. If possible, make your plans before you face a life-threatening situation. Pagans, unlike Christians and others from the Book Religions, find it generally more challenging to go through this process due to the relative scarcity of experienced help and the reluctance of mainstream service providers to accommodate our needs and preferences. However, a variety of organizations offer support for the persistent Pagan, so your quest is by no means hopeless.


Making your arrangements should include the following steps:


1. Consider your own needs and wishes. What motifs make you feel comfortable? Do you want to carry on a family tradition? Do you want a Pastor/Reverend/Priest(ess) of your own belief system to stand deathwatch and/or speak at your funeral? Which songs would you like to have played/sung? Would you prefer a wake or some alternative to the funeral custom? What do you want done with your body after you have left it? How do you want your possessions distributed?


2. Consider the needs and wishes of those closest to you. What members of your birth family would feel comfortable at a religion-specific funeral (such as Pagan)? Would your coven mates feel comfortable at a Christian or mixed-religious funeral? Would people feel left out if you chose not to have a public ceremony? How can you satisfy their needs for closure and remembrance?


3. Identify and memorize as much common ground as necessary. Would you like company in your last hours? Do you want flowers at your funeral or grave and if so what kinds? Are there arrangements for people to extend their condolences to your survivors, to leave offerings for the deceased, to remember you fondly to each other?


4. Research the legal and practical aspects of your plans. Find out if what you want is possible. And if so, under what conditions and in what locations.


5. Research religious and contemporary sources for further ideas. Take notes when you find something you like. From your various lists of ideas, compile a plan that will meet the needs and wishes of yourself and those close to you, and which will be both legal and practical to implement.


6. Draw up and formalize the final plan. If you have not already hired a lawyer to help you with your project, doing so now might be a good idea. A lawyer can help with the necessary wording and explain what documents you need to write, fill out or file.


7. Store your original document(s) in a secure place, such as a safe-deposit box or with your lawyer. Make copies and include a set with your important household documents, such as lease/mortgage papers, insurance records. Make sure important people--the executor of your will, your Durable Power of Attorney, etc.--have copies of your papers.


You may have more options than you expect if you are willing to take the time to do some digging. You may turn up information that surprises you, provides you flexibility, and that you can use to your advantage if some people are hesitant to help you with your wishes. In securing your rights, be polite but firm. Be creative too. For example, a green Pagan should also think twice about cremation, as burnt caskets pollute the air with many hazardous toxins. Remember that you do not have to use toxic materials. You can make or order your own coffin or shroud or decorate it as you wish, including in ritual. You can have a family member or Pastor/Reverend/Priest(ess) of your own tradition or denomination handle all the official details. In short, you can take control of most elements surrounding your death and the disposition of your mortal remains. If you are Pagan and need some help with the planning stages, you can turn to various organizations for support. “Natural Death Care Project” is one such organization, as is “Pagan Hospice and Funeral Trust“. Although some mainstream service providers, such as Christian organizations may prove intractable to those of Pagan belief systems, most will bend over backwards to help you get what you want.


Unfortunately, options for Pagan burial sites are somewhat limited, unlike those of the mainstream religions. In most areas, you can arrange a burial on private property or have your ashes scattered where you wish, but most of the actual Pagan cemetery sites are still processing their paperwork. However, the “Pagan Hospice and Funeral Trust” includes creating a Pagan burial ground as one of their long-term goals. Mother Rest Sacred Grove, a Nest of the Church of All Worlds, intends to do this as well. As members of the Pagan community, we need to weave a safety net so that members of Earth-based religions can be assured of spiritual support, health care and sympathetic professionals, legal assistance from Pagan friendly lawyers, and appealing sacred sites in which to leave their mortal remains. The mainstream, Book Religions have this in abundance. When you find an organization that does this, do your part and send donations and other resource that help these organizations flourish. 



To Die Well by Richard Reoch

"The Grandest Journey: Death and Burial for the Contemporary Pagan" Article featured in vol.2 issue 6 of Moonbeams Journal

Death from a Pagan Perspective


What is Reincarnation? 

To begin with, reincarnation does not take place within a matrix of linear time. It’s not as if e.g. you had a life in ancient Greece and then you died; then you had a life in ancient place, such as Rome and then you died; then you had a life in the Middle Ages and then you died; etc. Rather, all of your past and future lives are going on at once, in an eternal NOW moment. 


Think of it like this: survivors of near-death experiences often report seeing all the events that ever happened to them flash by them in no time at all. Thus, it would seem that we experience the thought forms of our lives twice – once in linear fashion over a lifetime, and the second time around in timeless fashion at the moment of death.


In an analogous manner, while there is indeed an evolution going on in the universe, this evolution is not taking place in linear time: it’s all happening at once. Space and time have no objective existence. They are merely cognitive tools which evolved as sentient beings evolved, to enable them to focus upon one thing at a time instead of everything at once. The linearity of time is an illusion, a falsehood, which Eastern philosophers have termed maya or samsara. It is this false appearance that there is such a thing as an objective reality out there unfolding in linear time, which animates the striving of all sentient beings and keeps the wheel of reincarnation – of life and death and rebirth – turning. 


Babies (and even young children, who sometimes talk about memories from other lifetimes) are not as centered in a one-track existence as adults are. Babies and young children are consciously impinged upon by influences from other lives and probable realities which most adults have learned to ignore. The same socialization process which props up a baby’s sense of being a unitary, abiding, separated individual also imprisons that individual in a furrow of inexorable linear temporality. 


For most people, 99.9% of decisions are made on the basis of socially-conditioned actions and reactions – what they were taught by their parents and society. But every now and then everyone has poignant moments – moments of consciousness or conscientiousness or conscience – when they sense that probable realities are branching off this way or that; or they feel echoes from other lifetimes and realities; or they hear voices from deep inside them. When this happens, people feel connected to something more profound than their customary hustle and bustle; and that something is their true purpose in this lifetime – the reason they were born.


Source unknown



Pagan View of the Afterlife

Not all Pagans have the same views of what happens after death. There is no set doctrine among Pagans when it comes to the details of the afterlife. Some other Pagan paths do have a more specific mythology in this regard.


Most Pagans believe in reincarnation. Our souls come back lifetime after lifetime, to learn new lessons and to grow as individuals. Between lives, our souls reside in the Summerlands/Otherworld. It's neither heaven nor hell, but a place for our souls to rest and reflect on the experiences of completed lives. You may be reunited with loved ones as well. What happens when we learn all we can on this earthly plane? I really couldn't say. 


People who are unfamiliar with Pagan Traditions tend to see the lack of heaven or hell as meaning we live our lives without responsibility. 


We may not consider ourselves doomed to suffer for an eternity in a Christian hell, but we certainly believe that there are consequences to our actions. Those who do 'evil' deeds, will find their punishment in another lifetime. Karma follows a soul from life to life. Our fates are not determined by any one single action, but rather by the overall accumulation of actions throughout our lives. 


Since many Pagans are influenced by the pantheons they work with, their views of the afterlife may come from the culture they work with. In other words, if you are Pagan and work with Norse Deities, you may feel more drawn to the idea of Asgard rather than the Summerlands or the Otherworld, even though you are not truly following an Asatru path. 


Asatru / Norse

The realm of the Gods is called Asgard, and worthy souls go there after death. There are many great halls in Asgard, for the many Gods and Goddesses. The greatest of these halls is Valhalla, where fallen warriors go after death. Those who did not live a life of glory would go to the underworld Niflheim, ruled over by the Goddess Hel. Niflheim is a dull and cold place, where you would be separated from your kin. Reincarnation does exist, but not all souls are reborn, and it's typically found within a family line, reflecting the importance of family and ancestors. 


Kemetic / Egyptian

After death, a soul would have to journey to the Hall of Judgment. There, the heart is weighed on a scale against the feather of Ma'at (truth and justice), by the God Anubis. If you lived a sinful life, the heart would be heavy, that soul could not enter paradise and would be devoured by the monster Ammut. The ancient Egyptians believed that the physical body was needed in the afterlife, which is why such elaborate means were taken to preserve the body. 


Hellenismos / Greek

The dead would be buried with coins, to pay the ferryman to cross the river Styx and enter the underworld. Once there, worthy souls would enter the Elysian Fields (paradise). Unworthy souls were sent to Tartarus for punishment. But even then, a soul could earn redemption and rise to paradise. There was also a region of limbo, called Asphodel for the souls neither good enough for the Elysian Fields or bad enough for Tartarus. The judges at the gates of Hades would decide the fate of your soul, or whether you would be reincarnated into another life. 


Original source unknown ~ w/ modifications made by Lady Muirgahn

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