Tag Archives: Otherworld

The Land of the Dead: Regarding Your Recent Visit…,

I stopped writing.

There were reasons for the pause.

I needed to get my bearings, figure out where I was, and chart a course forward.

There were other reasons that cropped up along the way.

“Life stuff” – we categorize it, like it were something we could put in a box and slide under the bed, as if we weren’t swimming in it constantly.  Drowning even, when the waves catch us by surprise, and we find ourselves gulping for air.

So I stopped writing.

And I stopped reading.

And then there was a combining of households, and boxes to be filled, and what gets sold and what moves to storage, and…, life stuff.  Like I said.

But space, like time, was suddenly at a premium.

And the altar had to be put away.  All the bits and pieces carefully cleaned and wrapped and boxed.  Temporarily.  Until I can find the space for them.  Make space for them.

I stopped writing, and reading…, and talking.

To the gods.

To the spirits.

To the ancestors.

It’s the easiest thing in the world.

To let it all go, to be what this empty world we’ve created wants us to be.

I used to wonder, from time to time, about the Land of the Dead.

It is a place of dread that figures into so many of our mythologies: a grey void of a place where the dead wander, without purpose or meaning, hungry for the attention of the living.  I was never sure I believed such a place could exist.  It seemed so far removed from my personal experience of the universe we share.

The Otherworld, I had always been taught, always believed, is reflected in our own mortal realm, just as our world is reflected there.  Neither realm is wholly separate from the other, each profoundly present within and throughout the other, and still, for some of their inhabitants, frustratingly out of reach.

But where then, could we see any reflection of those ghostly fields where the dead are said to wander aimlessly?

Where, if not all around us.

Listless – Hungry – Craving.

I have found myself wandering among them in the grey realm from which they’d seek escape, if they only knew that they were trapped.  The Land of the Dead is not a mythological construct,  not even close.

We’ve built it, floor roof and walls, and we’re constantly furnishing it with all the ‘life stuff’ that we collect along the way.

And it’s not a terrible place to visit, from time to time.  We all end up spending time there eventually.  The important thing is not to get trapped there.  Never forget where you are.

Always be “Just Visiting” – because the alternative…,

JustVisiting

So here I am.

Writing again (and it’s harder to get started again, than I would have believed).

And reading.

And talking (to them, and you).

Still not sure of exactly how to get to where I want to be.

But at least I know where I was, and that’s as good a starting point as any.

Any day now I expect to receive my survey in the mail…,

“Regarding your recent visit to the Land of the Dead.”

I should probably give them a nice review.

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Filed under About this Blog, Culture, Death, Modern Life, Mythology, Spiritual Journey, Uncategorized

By Leaps and Bounds

I sat gazing at the fire, watching keenly as its flames climbed into the night and sent sparks dancing among the stars.  I watched, and could not leap.

I had been saving timber aside for months.

There are many traditions about what sort of wood should be used to build the Beltane fire, but I usually select from among the cuttings I make on my own property.  There does not seem to be any rhyme or reason to the logs and branches that I choose, except that some ‘want’ to be fed to the ritual fire, and others very much do not.

Each fire is unique, in both the way that I stack the wood and in the extra components that I include as I do so.  In the past I have included packets of herbs, or sprinkled oils, or folded slips of paper with messages secreted within.

This year, there was only the wood, and then the flame.  And I could not leap.

However different the composition of the fires may be from year to year, they are also very much the same.

We light the fire on May Eve, when the bounds that divide our world from the Otherworld are nearly absent.  By will and by rite the fire burns in both worlds.  It burns as a beacon, calling man and spirit and gods alike, to gather near, and to indulge themselves in that shared warmth and light.

We stoke the fire, and the heat of it penetrates us, moving through flesh, bone and spirit.  It burns away the cares and worries of our yesterdays.  It purifies body and soul and the airs through which it passes.  For this reason we snuff out the fires in our homes and relight them again from the sacred flame of May.  This is why we circle or dance around the flames, and why, in times now long past, the herdsmen would drive their charges past the fire, or between two fires built for this purpose.  The light and the heat are kindled to purify and to protect.

We may even take a bit of that flame, and walk the bounds of our property, whispering words to be carried away on a curling trail of smoke, to protect ourselves from those who would do us harm – in this world or the other.

And then there are those of us who feel called to leap through the flames.

The old stories say that we do it for luck, but it may just be that the power of the flame gets the blood racing and drives us into the air.  Or maybe, knowing that the fire burns in two worlds at once, we feel compelled to break the bounds and touch, if only for the space of a second, that elusive realm.  It might even be a hint of the daredevil, showing through in the heat of the moment.

As with most things, I tend to think there are multiple truths to be found here.

It is enough to say that every time I have built the fire, when I have stoked the flames to their highest, I run, and I leap through the rising blaze.  And when I land on the other side, I do so having lost much of the baggage I’ve collected since my last passage through the flames at Samhain.

But not this year.

Through a foolish accident which I will not bother to describe here, I broke the big toe on my left foot.  Damn, stupid, idiotic luck!

I limped through the few days between the accident and May Eve, my thoughts on the fire and the feast to come.  And it was not until I stood before the roaring flames that I realized I would not leap into May as I have always done.  I was, I am, for the moment anyway, bound to earth.

I didn’t know how much I would miss it.

And so I sat, and I watched the fire burn, and I felt bad for myself.

Then, I felt bad about feeling bad, knowing full well that there are plenty of people who have never known the joy of leaping over the Bel-Fire, and knowing that soon enough, I’ll be too old to manage it, whatever condition my bones might be in.

And as I sat there, stewing in my melancholy,  I noticed something to my right, glowing in the darkness, just at the edge of my peripheral vision.  Turning my gaze, I saw that it was a small moth, hovering not a foot from my head, and facing the flames.  It was not flying erratically, it did not trace that all too familiar doomed spiral, it simply hovered there, perfectly still in space, except for the blurred beating of its wings.

Turning back to the flames myself, I looked deep within that dancing, spiraling light.  I took a breath, and then another.  I let go of my self pity, my disappointment and frustration.  I accepted my place in the invisible circle which had formed around the fire.  And I finally, though I have unsuccessfully sought visions in the flame many times before, this time I traveled through the fire, though my feet never left the ground.

We learn and grow by leaps and bounds.

Sometimes we thrust ourselves freely into the unknown, never minding the risk, and knowing full well that we might stumble and fall, because we believe there is something to be gained along the way.

Other times, we feel ourselves bound by as much by circumstance as by gravity.  In those moments we may choose to bow down to the limitations which have been thrust upon us, or we can look instead for the shapes hidden within those boundaries.

Beltane Fire

Though late for those who celebrate on the 1st of the month, and early for those who remember ‘Old May’ on the 11th, I wish you all a joyous holy day.  To my friends south of the equator where time runs funny, a blessed Samhain to you and yours.

After a month long absence, The Stone of Destiny resumes its regular Monday posts (although I may be introducing an occasional ‘skip-week’ when things get hectic).  There may be other changes in the wind as well, which I will reveal when, and if, it becomes appropriate to do so.  For now, it’s just good to be back!

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Filed under Celtic Polytheism, Divination, Holidays, Religion, Spiritual Journey, Traditions

Where were they going without ever knowing the way?

While talking with some friends recently the subject came round to the ongoing hoopla over the Mayan Calendar and the supposed “end of the world” come December of this year.  While talking of other failed apocalyptic predictions we could not forget Harold Camping, the radio evangelist who made waves last year when he predicted that the Christian rapture would fall in May of that year (later revised to October – both wrong).  It was suggested by one of my friends that the actions of his followers (i.e. selling off their worldly possessions while waiting patiently for the big event) demonstrated the workings of a cult mindset.

I disagreed.

These people were just being good Christians.   They may actually have been the best Christians I have seen in a long time.  They followed almost exactly the example set by the first followers of Christ, putting aside personal wealth and friendships and in some cases even family connections in favor of their faith.  They did not try to force their beliefs on anyone.  These devout individuals suffered through tremendous ridicule while simply cutting their worldly ties and waiting for their lord to take them home.

They waited and they prayed but the end didn’t come.  It never really does.

It is an interesting irony that the way in which we live our lives seems to be determined by the manner in which we imagine our deaths.  As time goes by, I find that our beliefs about the afterlife make up the very core of our understanding of the living world around us.  The biggest difference between a Christian and a Pagan is not truly which gods they choose to believe in but  which life.

For the Christian, life after death comes down to a choice between Heaven and Hell.  Our shared mortal existence is little more than a staging ground for the eternity (of either torment or divine happiness) that comes after.  This is the central promise of the Christian savior, an end to your suffering.

For the better part of 2,000 years the Christian faithful have been waiting for the return of that savior and the advent of their blissful eternal lives in the world to come.  This glorious Kingdom of God will, they believe, wash away our current imperfect world which was tainted and ruined by the sin of man.  In the new and perfect world to come there will be no suffering or regret and the faithful will live forever within the radiant presence of their god.

The Christian chooses to believe in the life after death.

And what of the Pagan?

The first thing I must point out here is that there is no singular Pagan viewpoint on these matters.  Modern Paganism encapsulates a growing number of beliefs and there is nothing like a unified position on the topic of life after death.  I may speak with some generalities for the community at large and more specifically regarding my own faith tradition, but the specifics of Pagan Eschatology are not really important to this discussion.  The reason for this is that generally speaking, the Pagan believes in the life before death.

This is not to say that we do not believe in life after death.  The great majority of us hold such beliefs and there are some beautiful traditions which explain the journey of the soul once released from its mortal coil.

The lore of my Celtic ancestors speaks of the Otherworld, a realm which exists both within and throughout our own, yet hidden by a thin but vital veil.  Within the Celtic Otherworld exists the Teach Duinn (the House of Donn) where the souls of the dead abide after their bodies have fallen into decay.

The veneration of our ancestors and the beloved dead is a common practice throughout the Pagan community.  Within my own spiritual tradition we honor the dead and provide what we can for their continued comfort.  Sometimes we may ask for their spiritual guidance and protection just as we would a parent or guardian in the living world.

It may be tempting to liken these beliefs to the Christian concept of the afterlife but the two are really very different.  Those who make the journey to the Teach Duinn do not remain there eternally.  The Celtic Otherworld (and most of its parallels in other cultures) is neither a final destination nor a place of punishment or reward.  Think of it as a Way Station, a place to take rest and watch over family and friends in the world of the living before moving on to the next life.

And that is the key difference: the next life.

The Christian appears to see things moving in a straight line with a beginning, a middle and an end but the Pagan sees only the Great Wheel rolling ever onward.

We are born, live, die, rest and are born again.

Spring is followed by Summer, Autumn and Winter after which Spring blooms again.

Billions of years ago a star erupted into a super-nova spreading gasses and heavy metals throughout the galaxy which eventually coalesced into our yellow sun and its attendant planets.  Eventually our own star will shed its solar gasses back into the cosmos and the cycle will repeat again and again.

If eternity exists, it is in the endless cycle of death and rebirth.

This is the life that matters!  What happens beyond the grave is no more than a temporary departure from the land of the living.  The lore suggests that we should care for the dead not only to honor the lives they lead but the lives they are yet to lead through us.

I sometimes worry that those who pass away expecting to be reborn into a blissful eternity may retain something of that dying hope upon their return to the mortal coil.  Perhaps that is the reason so many people exhibit such dissatisfaction with their lives.  They were born expecting something else entirely.

My hope is that they will instead awaken to a better appreciation of the world we all share.  This world, this life, needs our undivided attention.  Let’s try to focus on the now.  Tomorrow will take care of itself.

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Filed under Culture, Death, Mythology, Religion, Traditions