Posts Tagged ‘Death and Dying’

In the past two years there have been two significant deaths in my family. Being the only Pagan in the family, much was revealed regarding the world view of Pagans to those of Christians. I will outline what I think those views are, but I would love to hear your thoughts on the topic and suggestions for bridging the gap. Keep in mind, everyone involved are passionate Christians with the exception of myself.

Scene One:
My stepmother is in her final moments. After a long exhale, a family members shouts, “Hurray, she’s in heaven with Papa!”. Then my stepmother takes another breath.

Scene Two:
My stepbrother is on life-support due to a terrible motorcycle crash (head on with a truck, no helmet, died at the scene and was revived). Everyone is praying for a miracle. I see his spirit floating about his body, only attached due to the body being kept alive. I see his body is broken beyond healing. The family takes comfort in knowing he was “saved” and would be going to heaven. I wondered about all the unresolved emotional conflicts and issues within his family. These will not simply disappear when he passes.

Scene Three:
My stepmother takes her final breath and everyone hugs and leaves the room after a few minutes. I sit by her body for another hour or more while she is dying.

Scene Four:
We disconnect my stepbrother from life-support. He is violently gasping for breath. Everyone is horrified. This goes on for twenty minutes. His wife comments, “This is horrible”. Everyone concurs. An injection is finally giving and he gasps less violently and stops breathing in another ten minutes. The family is traumatized from the harshness of the experience.

Each one of these scenes is an accurate retelling of what happened. And each of these scenes reveal diametrically opposed world views. Let’s look at each one.

Scene One:
In the view of the Christians in the room, as soon as the body stops breathing, the saved soul goes to Heaven. The human being is distinctly individual, autonomous. The body is just a vessel for the soul and of no value except as a container. Death is a single moment, a black and white distinction, on or off, like a light switch. She is here and then she is gone.

The Pagan view is totally other. The soul is entwined with all the souls it has touched. The body is spirit as well as flesh. There is no line drawn between the physical and the spiritual. The body is a living ecosystem of billions of microorganisms. It is built with living elements that are shared, not owned by us. What is us is indefinable outside of being part of the living Earth and the sum of our relationships. We are the creativity of our ancestors. Death is process, not an either/or dynamic. Death is a spectrum.

Scene Two:
The Christian point of view is the soul is distinctly embedded in the body. It is a ghostly version of the body and the personality of the person. It is not something one can engage with directly. As soon as the body stops breathing, the soul instantly leaves the Earth for judgment and just reward of heaven or hell.

The Pagan view is, the soul is expansive, more complex and not limited to being a shade of personality. Some of us are able to see the spirit essence of a person. We know the actuality of the universe isn’t limited by what we see as reality. It is much bigger than our limited view. Time has little, if any, meaning to the soul. When a Pagan relates soul to soul, much can be divined, such as, this person is ready to pass on and life-support is an unnatural interruption with a sacred process.

Scene Three:
The Christian view is the soul is gone. The body doesn’t matter anymore. It isn’t sacred.

The Pagan view is the soul has a process to go through when death comes. The bones of our loved ones and ancestors are sacred. They tell a story of which we are part of, the story of Life, evolution, humanity, and our engagement with the Earth. The bones continue to tell a story so remain part of life. We need to attend to the death process until it is complete – which has nothing to do with clocks and mechanization.

Scene Four:
The Christian view – Life is good. Death is bad. We must do all that we can to prolong and extend life. “The wages of sin is death”. Death is punishment. If you aren’t “saved” you will suffer eternal torture. And since we are going to be judged at the end of life, prolonging the inevitable is right thing to do. The prevalent culture is one of a cult of life. Interfering with the dying process is sin and goes against the will of God.

The Pagan view – Death is not the opposite of Life. The opposite of Death is Birth. Life has no opposite. Life is the creative impulse of the universe. It is built on destruction, disintegration and reintegration. “Death is the crucible of Life”  as Stephen Jenkinson put it. There is no judgment awaiting in Death. What matters is how we live. Are with living with honor? Are we crafting relationships filled with sanctity and empathy? Death is essential (in the true meaning of the word) for life to exist. It is understood that life is “unlikely” and is a precious gift that is only possible through death. Each day is a miracle and we should live each moment fully awake and with gratitude. We do not wait for “life after death” for our reward. Seeing the world as sacred and walking a path based on honor and gratitude is at the core of Paganism. The experience of Life itself is the reward.

Honoring the sanctity of community members (human and non-human) means treating the dying with compassion. The last moments of my stepbrother’s life were cruel and unnecessary. It traumatized him and our entire family. We treat our pets with more compassion and love than was given to my stepbrother. It was the Christian world view that stopped the hospital staff from euthanizing my brother. There was zero chance of recovery. It was his last dying moments. Having these be ones of violent gasping was inhumane and utterly cruel.

Finally, a word on “life-support”. My brother’s brain was torn apart by the accident. He was never going to recover. He was “brought back” at the scene of the accident. He was flown in a helicopter to the hospital and spent eight days on life-support (where was the Death-support!). Eight days of people praying for a miracle when the miracle was that we got to have him as a member of our loving family for 60 years.

The energy and resources put into extending his life for eight days, only to end with suffering and cruelty needs to be assessed. The cost was in the hundreds of thousands of dollars. Not to reduce to this to money, but what if we had dedicated that time, money, passion, knowledge, and emotional energy to helping the suffering, the poor, the hurting, the children who need help but there aren’t resources to meet the need? This is a difficult topic, but one that needs to be explored. With the Anthropocene, climate change, geopolitical destabilization, opioid crisis, environmental devastation, etc., where do we focus our energies and resources to maximize peace, to minimize harm?

Please note, I am aware that many Christians embrace a differing philosophy and ethos than the one’s I mentioned above. It is just my experience the prevalent cultural ethics and ethos are as I have encountered. Christianity has become a cult of life where euthanasia is sin; abortion is sin; fertility clinics are a gift of God. Death is to be driven away at all cost.

So I share this not to be critical, but rather invite dialogue as to how to bridge the gap between differing world views. One where the world is enchanted and sacred, a living ecosystem that is a continuity of ever-shifting tides of living and dying. The other view is the world is debased, fallen, and all that matters is life after death and the heavenly reward. One places us squarely in sacred relationship to the world, one we have direct experience of spirit and are an integral part of the whole. The second places us in a dynamic where we are born into sin and death is our reward. Escaping eternal torture is only possible through a belief in Christ. And we won’t know our reward until we die. At the heart of it all, I think most people agree with the Pagan perspective. It is the fear of death that binds them to belief in heaven. Which I would say is fine, but it is this belief system that is allowing the utter destruction of our sacred mother, our beloved home we call Earth. How do we begin to shift this culture? How do we bridge this gap?

Blessings of peace,
Snowhawke /|\

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