Monday, January 08, 2007

The Oak, the Acorn, and the Death of Death

Death eventually comes for us all. For some, Fate will call us away in violence or sickness. For others, a peaceful passing in the twin depths of sleep and old age. Once, I thought that religious beliefs would be the main comfort for human beings that had to face death, but now, so many years later, I realize that it takes more than just religion. Humans are, in some ways, a bit too demanding, a bit too clever for their own good, as the Allfather in Havamal warns us.
One of the curses of being over-clever is that we have much room for doubt. I believe that doubt has a place- a wise person cannot just believe everything they hear. But doubt is something that has to be utilized properly, or it becomes a great burden; it becomes the slayer of wisdom. There are things about our humanity and our reality that I don't think it is good to doubt; the sacredness of life is one example.

I always doubt the claims of modern religious leaders and politicians, for instance, and I think any intelligent person should. But I don't doubt things that I feel deeply about myself or the love I feel, because I don't think that we should live a life of second-guessing ourselves. I don't think any happiness or peace can be found in that sort of life.

Self-appraisal and re-appraisal of the contents of your opinions from time to time is a fine exercise, and indeed, I consider it to be the work of the essential human being. But re-appraisal of things inside you is not the same thing as doubting yourself or what you believe. The world grows; it changes; Wyrd is dynamic. Life is dynamic, forever changing. That our opinions and attitudes will change in response to that is only common sense. But what can we depend on in a world of changing and shifting Wyrd?

I believe that we can depend on the mysterious reality that is discovered when we discard the word-hoard and go beyond words and categories, to see what is real. I make it a point to keep this sort of exercise up as often as I can. We can depend on what we see, so long as we empty what we see of all our ideas and expectations of it, and let it be what it is. We can depend on the great power of Wyrd which brings all things into being, because the great, sorcerous, limitless, undying and open space in which Wyrd expresses itself IS our deepest reality, and it is not born, and it does not die.

The love we feel, the lives we lead- we can see what we need to see in those things, if we know how to look, because even the everyday life is a sorcerous event, a mystical thing. Learning to see life as a sacred manifestation of Wyrd or Fate is the first step towards finding what we can rely upon in this world. Not second-guessing your own sacred internal visions is another step which I consider important.

Yet, for all that, most of us claim to believe in things, in Gods, in myths, in ideas, but we allow our own doubts and uncertainties- which are sometimes well hidden- to remove much of the power of those things from us. Everyone wonders if they really will see the road to Hel when they die, or see the Allfather, or come back to the Ancestors in Hel's halls or in Folkvang. Everyone who believes in some religion wonders if heavens and hells await, if reincarnation awaits, if the Blessed Isles await, or what have you.

A very small percentage of these people have experienced the reality of these things, and have no doubts. But most people, despite their true activity of belief, do have doubts. And as I said before, doubts in this area of our lives may not be the best thing for us. It may be an example of humans applying doubt and skepticism where it need not be applied.

If we believe in the worldview of Wyrd, then what happens after our death isn't hard to divine: the sort of life you lead now, the passions you feel, the Gods, people and things you love all have direct impact on what comes "next" for you. Death isn't so much a vast interruption of life as much as a transition into a new condition in which many of the same fateful, subtle constituents that create this life-experience still exist. The consciousness certainly still exists after death.

Our mindstreams, our conscious mindstreams (and how they understand our experiences) are what actually create the emotional and perceptual character of our experiences. Change how you understand the world and your emotional experience of it will also change; Fair is foul to some, and foul fair to others. Perception is very much the key.

Some people wonder what leads me to believe that our consciousness or our conscious mindstreams still "exist" after our deaths, to be able to have further experiences. I have several answers to this question, but today, I will be writing to those who want a non-religious answer, an answer not based on myths or stories or trust in the wisdom of the ancestors.

I began this post by talking about how death was the Fate that eventually faced us all. Despite what we may believe religiously about death, doubt infects the minds of most people in our desacralized modern day, so the issue of death is difficult for us all. It is never more difficult than when we have to face the potential loss of close loved ones.

A few days ago, my friend Turanona's grandmother died. We had seen this coming for many months, but it is still hard, coming as it does on the heels of my friend Jason taking his own life. This is a season of death for me, as it is for many, and the fact that the Mother's nights and the twelve Wolf-nights should be the time that began these miseries is only folklorically poetic. This is hard winter, and winter is a time of death. Death, as a reality, has forced itself before my face in a way that it usually doesn't.

All people, if they would be wise, have to look to these events and see the lesson Fate is trying to teach us: death is inevitable. We have to carefully consider, everyday, how we are preparing for our own ends, and how we live, and what we think is important in life. Death is a lesson, not just an experience we will have one day; it's a lifelong teacher. Considering our deaths need not be a morbid thing; I find that it is very life-improving, life-affirming.

A friend of mine from Scandinavia has a mother who is going through a difficult time, and though I am working for her, she has an illness that could be life-threatening. That same friend asked if there was anything she could tell her mother to help her through this difficult time. I think that anyone who has a relative or friend who may be near death or dying should concentrate less on what to tell them, and more on opening themselves up to them and seeing what they want to say.

I think this is very important. Talk to them about the idea that they could possibly take a turn closer to death, or even die. See what they think about that, what they believe about that, and how it makes her feel. Try to discover what their hopes and fears are.

I think people who are in dangerous times want to be listened to,and supported in that way, every bit as much as they may want to be re-assured on other levels. It's re-assuring to have our loved ones around us at times like that, just listening, I think.

As far as what you can tell them, well, I don't know. Without getting too metaphysical or religious with them (as I am wont to do) you can bring up the point that life is a HUGE thing- human life, the life of this world, the life of this universe. It's massive. All of us, all human beings, as well as all other living things, are in the hands of a greater reality, no matter how you want to look at it.

Our lives are in the hands of greater forces; life is just bigger than us. We don't choose our births, our beginnings or our ends. We don't choose sickness or health. We also don't choose who we love. Try to make sure that your loved ones aren't seeing their sickness as some punishment from "on high", or something that they chose; they don't make life; life makes them. Life makes all of us. All we have to do is make the very best of the time that has been given to us.

Now, if your friend is afraid that death will be the end of them, some oblivion for their conscious mind or "self", you have a way to soothe their fears on that. You must apply the somewhat mystical (yet clear) logic of the oak tree and the acorn.

Examine the world; oak trees don't grow from rocks. Fires don't come from water. Winds don't spontaneously emerge from mountains.

In our world, all effects are of the same nature as their causes. Do you understand? A small flame lights a fireplace; the big fire inside (the effect) is the of the same nature as its cause (the small flame).

Oak trees grow from acorns, and acorns are packets of oak tree genetic material. Inside an acorn is the nature of a forest of oaks- and so big oaks (The effects) can grow from acorns being buried in the ground (the causes).

This is an immutable law of reality. And we can examine our human existence from this angle, as well. Consciousness cannot arise from something that is not also consciousness. In the same way that an oak tree comes from a previous oak tree, consciousness comes from a previous moment or event of consciousness. Do
you understand?

In much the same way a fire comes from a previous flame, and cannot come from a stone or a pool of water, our consciousness cannot come from just matter- the brain is not the cause of consciousness. The brain, the matter of the human body, cannot give rise to the continuum of consciousness. Blood cannot give rise to consciousness; bone cannot; marrow cannot; flesh cannot; teeth cannot; brains and hearts cannot. Consciousness arises from previous moments of consciousness within its own continuum; it arises from previous moments of consciousness in its own unique Wyrd-thread, which is always spinning.

Thus, neither your birth nor your development in the womb "caused" your first moments of consciousness; your body during life is not "generating" your consciousness; your death does not end your consciousness.

The body belongs to its own continuum, its own thread of Wyrd; consciousness belongs to another. These two continuums (body and mindstream) merge and become entangled during conception, and they interact during life, with the brain acting as a cooperative condition for the mindstream to help it create the experience of a human life.

If you understand what I have said, then your fear of death should be lessened. Our mindstreams are bound to these bodies by the forces of reality; we might as well call it Fate. Those same mindstreams are un-bound by the same forces of Fate at death. The mindstream, the consciousness, can no more begin with the body than flame can suddenly burst out of water, or an oak tree can suddenly come from a piece of marble. It requires other mind or consciousness to give rise to it. And such a fact immediately destroys the boundaries of life and death as we have been narrowly taught to see them.

The mindstream is a very subtle phenomenon, and it has no real beginning or end, just as the deep void of Ginnungagap has no beginning or end, and just as the great web of Wyrd has no beginning or end. When the mindstream interacts with the body, it experiences a more coarse sort of consciousness. At death, it falls away from that, back into its subtle, free state.

Who we loved and who loved us back means everything in that subtle state, because we are still "there", and still very much alive, even after what we call "death". And in that subtle state, this reality, ever larger than us, moves us on to the next
destination in this mysterious journey. Love never changes, however; it makes bonds that cannot be broken.

Do not give yourself over to doubt about who you love, or your capacity to love. Do not doubt that your mindstream will persist past your death; it will. You will lose so much energy that you need for living by doubting such things. Release yourself from those doubts and concentrate on the life you have now. The wisdom of our ancestors and the Gods will be there for you when you need it most- and their wisdom is about living more than it is dying. This should tell you something: they knew something that we have lost sight of. They knew that death wasn't the end that so many of us fear today.

What we should fear is doubt and despair. In some ways, doubt and despair are the real deaths; look at the lesson of the oak and the acorn, banish doubt, and let the dead tree come to life.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Thank you, Robin - this post means so much to me. I blogged about it tonight at, with a significant quote. I hope you do not mind. I also blogged your previous entry there, as well.

You are a hell of a writer! Thank you for blogging.