Day 57: Samhain’s Meaning

Roderick seems very concerned about the general negative feelings about death that folks tend to have, and I don’t blame him.  If I’d not spent the past several years studying Wicca and neo-Paganism, maybe I’d be terrified of death, too.

But, even though I personally feel a little bit…flat…in response to this day’s exercises, I do admit that Roderick makes a couple good points in his discussion, particularly about the “right” attitude to take towards death.  Roderick says:

The most powerful position you can take is one void of opinion.  This means that you consciously make an effort to hold no associations at all with death.  When you clear your mind of everything you have learned about death, it unfolds as a simple, natural process.  When you come to this more neutral understanding, death holds no power over you.

Well, put, really.  Roderick also explains how Wiccans believe that your spirit survives death and goes to the Summerland, a place of rejuvenation before re-entering the world through reincarnation.  He also stresses that Wiccans believe in reincarnation as a literal fact, such as Pythagoras of Greece or the Druids once did.  Therefore, our symbols in Samhain note an “ending of one phase of our lives and beginning another,” and also that endings are, in fact, beginnings as well.  It’s our wheel:  the circle has no end.

Roderick has a two part exercise today, and both involves a fair bit of journaling.

Exercise:

Take time to journal about your thoughts and feelings about death.  Simply free-associate about death for five minutes.  Set a timer and do not allow your pen to stop during the five minutes.  Just keep writing, even when you have nothing to write about.  Say whatever is coming to you:  even if you experience writer’s block, you’ll move thorugh it to reveal your deepest insights and understandings.

Death is…death.  It is darkness and quiet.  It is the end of a long day.  It is–to quote J.K. Rowling–the next great adventure.

We don’t really know what awaits us after death.  Science suggests not much.  In fact, I once read an author in my undergraduate genetics course that said something along the lines of “I believe that when I die, that will be that.”  It can’t really be demonstrated that anything ‘leaves’ the body or goes to another plane.  Even all those ‘near death’ experience narratives of the 90s–you know the ones, bright light at the end of the tunnel and all that–a lot of scientists have demonstrated how its an effect of rapid neural firing or some such thing.

Yet, at the same time, what makes one person different from another?  We’ve all got to be similar on some level–otherwise the species will not continue–but what is it that makes Mother Teresa different from Ted Bundy?  It is seductive to think that the soul is a product of chemistry…but if it is, it is a chemistry that is divine.  Why then couldn’t it transcend or be transmuted?

Exercise:

Make a list of every deceased person you have known or that has been part of your life.  Examine the list and, if possible, visualize each person whose name appears on it.  Next, imagine your own name appearing on the list and then add it in writing.  Post this list near you and refer to it throughout the day.  Take note of how it feels to periodically refer to deceased persons throughout the day.

My list is a short one:  my aunt Barbara.  I suppose my uncle Jim would make the list, too, but I never met him.  In fact, you could say I barely met Barb.  She was always around when I was a little child, but after we moved, I only saw her once when I was 13 or so and once again when I was 19 or so.  Siblings of some associates have died, but no one I was especially close to.  Elizabeth Johnson and Opal Foster–they were two girls I went to high school with who died my senior year.  Liz had epilepsy and had a fatal seizure.  Opal had cystic fibrosis.  I suppose that I was closest to Liz out of all the people on this list.  We had lunch together an awful lot when I was in middle school, and we were always friendly in high school.  Still, I admit it’s something of a stretch.

So this list then stands as:  Barb, Jim, Elizabeth, Opal, and me.

I didn’t particularly have any reaction to seeing my name on this list, nor did it greatly affect me to have it about during the day.  I thought about these people more than I would have otherwise, but I wasn’t especially melancholy.  I don’t know if its a matter of me having internalized the Wiccan concept of death or the fact that I really wasn’t incredibly close with any of them, though.

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