Death, the other side of Life

Every time my father, who has some serious health problems, goes to a new doctor he signs the DNR forms (Do Not Resuscitate). And each time, he has to explain to the doctor that if something happens during a surgery and he ends up brain-dead, he does not want to be kept alive. The doctor usually argues with him. But my father does not see that as being any sort of life; he would prefer to be released to whatever comes next. I would never act against his wishes in this sort of matter.

Where has our respect for death gone?

I’ve watched family members battle death down to the very bitter end, and I’ve watched other family members pass out of this world and into the next peacefully and quietly. Death is inevitable, it comes to all of us in the end. How you meet it, is completely up to you.

From the doctor’s perspective, it seems, life is life and the quality of it doesn’t necessarily matter. The point is to save life. I have a friend who recently graduated from medical school and is now doing her residency as an OBGyn in high risk pregnancy cases. I drive her up the wall when I tell her that if I ever have children, I want to have a home birth. I want to be comfortable in my own home, with the atmosphere that I choose. Her argument is that something can go wrong in an instant and if it does, I’ll want to be at a hospital where they can fix it. I think the differences in our attitudes is the fear of death. In her perspective, we have to be extremely proactive to insure that life is saved. In mine, I see birth and the possibility of death as natural aspects of the process. I have faith in my body to do what it needs to do. Does this mean that I won’t check with a doctor before hand? No, I will certainly go and see my doctor and make sure the basics are in order. I have the ability to do that, so why wouldn’t I? But I also think that the process of life has to occur the way it is meant to.

I see this argument often in our current society. I see it in the Pro-Lifers, who don’t seem to want to take into consideration the life of the mother and child after delivery or during the pregnancy, and I see it in our treatment of issues of gun control and the wars we’re fighting in the Middle East.

As a Pagan and especially as a Wiccan, I respect death and the role that it plays as much as I respect life.

This perspective on death is one of the big differences between Paganism and Monotheistic/Abrahamic religions. As a Pagan, I do not fear Death. While death itself may not be a pleasant experience, whatever comes for me next is not something to be feared.

When I was originally taking my Classics classes in college and we started talking about how Christianity went from a cult that the Romans were trying to wipe out to one that was the state religion, one of the things we talked about was that Christians offered something that people really liked, they offered an afterlife and answered the question of why you go wherever you go.  According to that world view, what you do in this life affects where you go in the next. Essentially, by living a moral life, you get to go to a nice happy place and if you do not live a good and moral life, you get to burn in Hell for eternity.

Understandably, this sort of world-view causes a great fear of Death. Death should be held off at all costs

As a Pagan, my world-view is not so black and white. Living a “good” and “moral” life is not a part of my particular liturgy. My values encompass things like focusing on my environment and my community. Essentially, I don’t need a nice after life as an incentive. There are other consequences for my actions.

In Wicca and in Ceremonial Magic, Death and Life are two sides of the human experience; In Kaballah the Tree Of Life illustrates this, in that life has a dark and light side. Not good and evil, but life and death (as well as conscious and unconscious, male and female, etc). In Wicca we believe the same thing: there is light and dark, and this concept includes life and death. This idea is completely antithetical to the Abrahamic ideas that most of us grew up with. The Light and Dark do not represent good and evil, they represent life and death in magical theory.

The High Priestess from the Tarot

The High Priestess from the Tarot demonstrates these ideas.

But I think this idea of death being the ultimate end and the fear that it brings, is an insidious perspective that we in the Pagan community don’t even realize that we’re carrying around. Death is not something that we should fear, it is something that we should strive to understand and incorporate into our work and practices. We need to embrace Death fully to be able to truly understand life. Death is natural and normal. Death is simply our transition to whatever happens next and when we fear it, we ignore it or separate ourselves as far from it as we can and when we do that, we can’t understand fully half of the world that we live and work in.