|Original Artwork © Julie Cox, 2008
I had quite a time coming up with an article for Samhain. My immediate instinct was to write a humorous piece. I have quite the stock of funny Samhain stories, especially from my days in rural Arkansas with a bunch of Ozarkian Wiccans. A theological article? A cranky one? Finally, however, I settled upon a theme of Samhain that is not addressed nearly as often as it ought to be.
My grandmother died recently. It was expected, almost a relief, since shed been sick and in pain for so long. At her graveside, under a tarp next to her coffin, I cried. Not because she was dead, but because it struck me - this moment would come for everyone. Not just the old, the sick, the distant - everyone. Everyone. One day, I would stand beside my brothers coffin and watch them put him in the ground. My mother, my father. One day my husband would be gone, my sisters-in-law. My college buddies, my best girlfriend. Death would come for my children, my grandchildren. Everyone, everywhere, would die. And I found myself desperately hoping, selfishly, that my funeral would come before I had to attend the funerals of so many loved ones in my life.
Dear goddess, dont make me bury a child.
This consciousness of death must have been more immediate for those who lived in harsher times. I am so very happy to live in an era where it is reasonable to hope that all my children will outlive me. But in staving off death with medical advances and enforced safety, we have disassociated from it, and made death an unknown, something to fear even more. Where is the American holiday for mourning and celebrating and communing with our loved ones who have passed? Why do we as a people try our best to ignore our own mortality? I cant help but think that the Christian concept of the afterlife has something to do with it. Heaven is a beautiful idea, but very far removed. And no one wants to imagine anyone they knew going to hell. (Unless he was just a real son of a bitch.) So where does that leave the living? Hoping against hope to be good enough for heaven, fearing damnation?
This is what I like and dislike about my own brand of paganism. The idea of the afterlife is so varied and fuzzy. I dont feel pressured to try to imagine whats happening to the souls of the people I love. I dont know what will happen, but Im pretty sure there is no judgment after death. It may be comforting to some to think that everyone will get what they deserve, but really, does it ever balance out that simply in life? Why should it in death? I dont believe death is the trial of our lives. It is a change of state, in the body from living to dead, and in the soul - to what? Energy reabsorbed into the consciousness? Another plane? Reincarnation? Samhain allows for the walls between the worlds to grow thin, and is thus the time to celebrate, to mourn, to fear death, both for those whove passed beyond and those of us on the near side of the veil. I dont think it is weakness to fear death. What could be more frightening than a passage of that magnitude? Fear acknowledges the greatness of the change, the value we place on life, the love we have for those who are with us. To say you dont fear death is at best denial, and at worst a dismissal of its importance.
My brother once said, "When we are young we fear being attacked by monsters. When we are old we fear the monsters attacking our children." Its true of death, too. I am afraid of death as much as the next person, because I dont know what comes after, and thats pretty intimidating. But the terror that keeps me up at night, that haunts my dreams and breaks me into a cold sweat, is the idea of my children dying. Because then they are beyond my help and my guidance, if indeed they continue to exist at all.
If you want to know fear, have kids.
So this Samhain I will tell my son the stories I know about our ancestors, because as long as someone remembers them, they are in a way immortal. Death came for them, and it will come for us one day too. My son will go trick or treating with me, and perhaps be a little frightened of the spooky cobwebs and ghosts and such. "Mama, you go first," he will inevitably say, when we go somewhere he finds intimidating.
And I will fear too, not for my own safety but for his. In confronting and acknowledging our fears, maybe we will each find a little more strength. And I will ask the universe to give him more time than I have. All I want is to go first.
About the Author: Julie Cox is a new pagan writer and artist who lives with her two young children and husband in Texas. She carries degrees in both Art and Religion. To see more of Julie's artwork go to Shopping and Art gallery on our main menu.