As a part of the natural world we must deal constantly with cycles of life and death. Several of today's stories in Earthy Thursday deal with these and related themes, as well as what sits just beyond our everyday human experience.
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Lithuanians tell of
Giltine, the death goddess
Long nose, even longer tongue
dripping deadly venom
Clad in a white sheet
Found in cemeteries
seeking coffins’ contents
her poison’s source
She bites, strangles, suffocates
a million ways to die
Giltine knows no obstacles
fences mean nothing
doors open themselves
She’s an unseen shadow
but you will hear her whip
cracking thrice in the air
or the clatter of her bone rattle
Feel a sudden shiver
She’s looked you in the face
and moved on…this time
Though a Patroness of healers
do not interfere with her will
tricking her is possible
but all measures are temporary
She will come for you
There is no escaping fate
Look where she stands
to know thy future
foot of the bed, recovery
head of the bed
say your prayers
your life is done.
With the Winter Solstice approaching, and in the cold dark months of the year, we have an excellent opportunity to reflect upon the deeper parts of our existence, those shadowy elements that seem to fade away so easily in the heat of the midday sun, those thoughts that require darkness and the teaching that it can bring. Thoughts such as life and death, darkness and light and the cyclical nature of existence are all excellent themes to meditate on at this time of year, with a natural introspective element to this season allowing us to perhaps go further, deeper than we could or would in the warmer, more outwardly focusing half of the year.
This season, with the increasing darkness and the lack of light here in the UK brings more sharply into focus thoughts of death and dying. It is often said in Western Paganism that the Sun God dies at Samhain and is reborn at Yule, when the days begin to lengthen and the light in our lives is increased. However, lately my thoughts have abandoned the concept of death, as well as birth, into a more Zen-like “No Birth, No Death” frame of mind.
Having meditated on this for a couple of months now, and seeing it reflected in nature around me, as a Druid this is how I internalise the teachings. For me, nature is the greatest teacher. I look to no other authority other than nature. It is the core of my religion, the core of my being. Having looked deeply into the nature of death and dying, of birth and living the concept of no death, no birth makes a lot more sense to me right now. Let me explain.
Scientists motivated by a deep love and fascination for the natural world share with most Pagans a recognition of the world’s intrinsic value, but without our metaphysics. However they bring skills of observation and analysis many of us lack to deepen in their own way their love and fascination. This was a happy insight I had while researching the role of Pagan religion in the modern world. Biologists are important teachers who can help us deepen our own understanding....
Continuing my story of my personal journey, this post is about my father’s death. Here I’m going to talk about visiting dad before my junior year of college, which happened before the events of the previous post in which I became a sworn priestess of Freya, and then go forwards to dad’s death at the end of my junior year. His funeral was on Father's Day, June 17, 1989.
I had a problematic relationship with my father. He abused me in many ways. His death was one of three three traumatic things that happened right after my dedication to Freya, and I think she removed him from my life so that I could eventually heal. But he was still my dad, and his death affected me in more ways than getting a toxic person out of my life. He was not only the dad who touched me sexually while telling me I was too fat to ever get a man; he was also the dad who taught me to fish. He was not only the dad who hypnotized me and tortured me in ways that he had picked up from his North Korean captors during the war; he was also the dad who taught me how to communicate with the land spirits.
Here in the UK, the weather has turned and the colder air sweeps down from the North. Nights are longer, as the sun jumps along the horizon with each rising and setting, heading further and further towards the south. Trees are changing colours, and plants are beginning to die back, the green fading into golden and tawny hues, foliage less dense and earth beginning to peek through the underbrush.
The tide of Samhain has begun, when, after the autumn equinox we prepare for the darkness to come. The balance has been tipped, and we have tipped with it, our internal clocks trying to adjust to new temperatures and light levels. Often, we try to establish our centre, attempting to find some foothold or handhold in the coming darkness, our egos crying out the great rallying cry of “I AM!” The darkness, however, knows the folly of this, and smiles as it creeps ever closer.
In the darkness there are no guidelines. There are no boundaries. There is no up or down, no left or right. There is only impenetrable night, a sweet release from the constraints of the known.
Continuing my story of my personal journey on my heathen path, in college I discovered that I could advise other people with rune readings, but when I read for myself, all I ever saw was my own death. I was still a teenager the first time I foresaw my death, and it scared me. At the time, I was studying Russian Studies and Soviet Political Analysis at UC-Santa Cruz. I wanted to be an intelligence officer after I got my degree. Actually I wanted a military career, but my eyesight and asthma precluded that, and I thought the closest thing I could achieve would be to become an intelligence analyst. I had already been a freelance writer for several years, and those were the two career paths I asked about when I tried to read the runes for myself.
A quote from my memoir, Greater Than the Sum of My Parts:
“I did a lot of rune readings for myself, friends, and people I met at parties. Acquaintances brought people to me to read runes for them. One evening I decided to read for myself and ask about future courses of action. Was I on the right road? I asked the runes, “What will happen if I join CIA?” and they said, You will die. I was frightened, so I asked, “What will happen if I become a writer?” You will die. “What will happen if I take some third course of action?” You will die.
My fear evaporated. I laughed out loud. “Of course. Of course. Whatever I do, I will eventually die. I am not a god. Of course I will die. It doesn’t matter what I do, the end is the same for everyone. So I should just do what I want to do, and let the end take care of itself.” I resolved to make my decisions based on what I really wanted, and never again ask the runes for advice in deciding a course of action. In the coming years I would sometimes think of asking for advice making decisions, but I always remembered this lesson, and chose without the runes.”
In a way, knowing about my own death since my late teens has been a positive experience, because it has allowed me to act fearlessly. It's not comfortable knowledge, though. Most of the time I ignore it. What I ignore tends to become an unconscious issue that comes back in my fiction writing, and the question of what prophecy is and what it's for and whether it can be changed is one I'm currently exploring in the heathen mythology based novel I'm currently writing.
About 20 years after seeing my death for the first time, after I had been teaching my Rune Seminar for many years, I decided to make a Rune Seminar video and include sample readings. I got several people I know to be in it, with me doing readings for them. I also figured I might as well do a sample self-reading. I had not tried to read for myself since college, but I thought I was prepared for what I would see, since I knew I would see my own death again. This time I saw more than that. This time I saw past my death, and caught a glimpse of my own afterlife.
Since I became a sworn priestess of Freya in 1989, I had expected to go to Freya when I die. When I read for myself again in my 40s, I saw the face of Odin. I only saw it briefly, but it was unmistakable. There was a light like a white cloud in front of the sun, and his white-grey hair and beard were made of that cloud. He had one eye with a light in it like the sun piercing through the cloudy sky.
I was frightened again. Odin had been my original patron and was the god I had actually intended to swear myself to the day I went out in the woods and ended up with Freya instead. But by this time I had been hers for decades, and I associated an Odin-centric afterlife with death in battle, which is not what I foresaw for myself. Even if I did die in battle, Freya takes half the slain so I could still end up with her. But I saw Odin. I was disturbed thinking I had my vision all wrong all this time and I was with the wrong god or things were not going to happen the way I had foreseen after all. I decided to edit that whole sequence out of the video, and just ignore the whole vision, and file that glimpse of Odin in the place where I file experiences I can't explain and don't want to think about too hard.
Link to Rune Seminar video: http://www.amazon.com/Rune-Seminar-Magicalrealist-Gallery/dp/B003KZ5UGG
I don't have any of my self-reading in the video, I cut the entire thing, because the video is supposed to be an upbeat teaching tool and I didn't want to show myself having a negative experience on it. I actively ignored what I had seen and went back to expected to go to Freya after death. Only very recently have I come home to Odin and know that I saw the truth that day. But that's getting ahead of my story. Returning to the chronological order of my journey, next time I'll write about the day in 1989 when I went out in the woods to dedicate myself to Odin and ended up a Priestess of Freya.