It seems to me that there’s a lot of fear in society at the moment and it all centres around one core theme – death. Death of an individual by COVID19, the death of humanity, death of life on Earth altogether. Death also seems to be something we avoid speaking openly about. However, like Voldemort, not mentioning it’s name doesn’t help – it just feeds the fear. So, let’s talk about death!
We are currently around the time of year of the spring equinox – when the lord of summer does battle with the king of winter for the marital hand of the goddess of spring. Traditionally the lord of summer ultimately slays the king of winter, allowing fertility to be restored to the land. But now, for the first time, it may feel to some that the king of winter is finally having the upper hand: the COVID19 epidemic, environmental disaster and species loss taking its toll on fertility.
Deities of death
In the goddess culture there are many deities associated with death. To name a few:
• Hekate, keeper of the keys and goddess of the crossroads.
• Persephone (Greek), mistress of the Greek underworld.
• Hel (Norse), a half goddess/half giant who rules over the identically named Nordic underworld.
• Cailleach (Gaelic), hag of winter.
• Morrigan (Irish), described as “monster in female form” with a ‘death screech’.
There are, most likely, many more.
As for gods, the one that most springs to my mind is Odin, the Norse god of war, death and wisdom. He is the foremost of the Áiser gods and for half the year he rules over Valhalla, the Nordic version of heaven.
As for apocalyptic myths there are, again, probably many. One apocalyptic myth of the destruction of humans is the Greek tale of Atlantis, an island in the midst of the Atlantic. In Greek mythology the people of the island anger the deities so much that the deities send a asteroid or fiery serpent on purpose to destroy it. It has now been proven that this island did actually exist but I’ll leave it up to you to decide whether it was deliberately destroyed by spiritual forces for wrongdoing.
The Nordic tale of Ragnarok, also known as aldar rök meaning ‘fate of mankind’, is surely one of the most apocalyptic of all. Every catastrophe that could possibly happen in the Nordic mythology occurs, there’s one last great battle in which all the deities are slain and finally the remains of creation collapse into the sea, leaving only a void. A poignant story considering our own times of rising sea levels due to the melting of the polar ice caps.
Some Heathens believe this is the ultimate end with no return. However others believe another creation, lush and beautiful, arises from the waves. A few of the deities survive along with one man, Lif, and one woman, Lifthrasir, who populate this new world.
To find out more about the tale of Ragnarok and what it meant to the Vikings visit https://norse-mythology.org/tales/ragnarok/
Another apocalyptic story, this time from Christian mythology, is that of Noah’s ark. In this familiar tale God sends great floods, again as punishment, but beforehand he warns Noah who builds a ark in which every species of animal enters, just one pair of each species. Noah and his ark survive the flood and are able to reestablish life on Earth once it’s over. Yet another poignant story considering our recent flood problems ( just a one Celsius increase in climate warming equals a seven percent increased chance of rain.)
The mystery beyond the veil
One of the reasons we fear death is, most likely, because it’s so unknown. Nobody comes back from the dead to tell us what it’s like after all. Therefore many speculations abound as to what the afterlife truly is. Often it is seen as another realm thinly veiled from the world of the living. It goes by many names, according to different cultures: the Summerlands, the Underworld, Valhalla.
However I’ve also read (I confess I’ve never discussed this with other pagans) that many pagans believe in reincarnation. Personally I prefer this theory. I think I’d like to come back as something completely different to the species I am now, possibly a butterfly. I’d like to experience what it’s like to have delicate wings, to fly, to sense with antennae.
One aspect of the afterlife that some people will possibly worry about is ‘karma’. It is important to consider what your legacy will be, how you will be remembered and what you will take with you. However don’t be overly harsh on yourself. We all have our strengths and weaknesses, our triumphs and our disasters. I think most of us are deserving of a comfortable place in the realm beyond the veil or a good reincarnation.
The reality of death
There are many real reasons for people to be scared of death at the moment but, I’d just like to reassure you, that many of them are somewhat overhyped.
If your feeling scared of death on a individual level due to the COVID19 epidemic, I’d just like to reassure you that if you’re fit and healthy, the chances of you dying are very slim. Also, as it’s a virus, it’s very difficult for it to travel on contaminated objects as it can’t survive for long outside of its host species. It can largely only be caught from direct contact with a contaminated person. I’m not trying to trivialise COVID19. I have a grandma in her eighties with weak lungs, who’s just gone into a nursing home, and COVID19 would certainly kill her. So long as we are sensible and hygienic however, we will likely survive this outbreak.
When considering the death of biodiversity it can often be scary to contemplate how many species are on the endangered list or, indeed, already extinct. We’re in the midst of this planet’s sixth mass extinction and there’s strong evidence it’s being driven by mankind. On the plus side though, due to our planet’s tectonic plates, it’s unlikely that we’ll ever kill off life completely. Movement of the tectonic plates causes changes in the atmosphere, driving evolution. Life as we know it may not survive but life in general would continue.
As for whether mankind survives is largely up to us. It’s easy to get bogged down by our faults as a species but we do also have positive points. We’re a highly adaptable species with plenty of initiative. If we can simply harness those attributes of ours and act NOW we may still have a strong chance of survival.
Whatever your beliefs, the reality is that everything dies. Even galaxies eventually explode. But in the gas and debris from the explosion of old galaxies comes the formation of new ones. Every individual, every species, every planet has its time. We’re blessed to live on such a unique one.
In this winter just past I was once struck, whilst on a walk, by how still and stark the time of year was. Perhaps that is what the state of death is like: a time of darkness and stillness before the cycle again turns, the atoms shift and new life springs forth. Look out of your window and watch for any signs of shoots between the paving or the chatter of birdsong because that time is coming!
Pagan transitions is a funeral service created to provide pagans with the resources they need to create meaningful funeral for themselves. Create a pagan pledge or fill in a advanced funeral directive. Whatever your own circumstances it’s never too early to plan your funeral! Blessed be!