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Pagans Words On Death & Dying
From an interview with Candace Dempsey, lead editor of UnderWire at msn.com.
Q - Pagans say birth and death are one. What's that mean?
A - That's one of the things you experience if you have the opportunity either to be present at a birth or someone's death. Birth is, of course, tremendously joyful and death is sorrowful,
but there's a sense with both of them of some kind of gate opening
and a transition happening.
Birth and death are both processes that totally take over. They're more important than anything else going on. You may have planned to go out to a movie that night, but if your friend is giving birth or your mother is dying and you're called to that bedside, it's the kind of thing you drop everything for. And there's that sense of a vigil, of waiting for an opening, for something to take place.
Q - You refer to your mother's death as a crossing. Why?
A - Again, the idea in the pagan view of death is that your soul, your spirit, doesn't disappear when you die. It's more like it moves into another dimension of reality. So it is a kind of a crossing of the threshold rather than an ending of everything. The imagery that people like to use is that you sail across the sunless sea to the island of rebirth and there your soul grows young again and reviews things it's done in this life until it's ready to be reborn.
Q - What do herbs have to do with grief rituals?
A - There are lists and lists of traditional herbs and crystals and stones and colors and what each represents. But the more I do this, the more I use things I either grow or gather for use in my daily life. So when I'm called to somebody's bedside, I take a moment to wander around the garden and say, 'Well, what's calling to me? What herbs want to come?' Bay leaves grow profusely around here and are one of the things I take everywhere, like my American Express card. Other things might call to me at a certain time and not at other times.
Q - When the dead appear to you in dreams, are they really there?
A - There's always the possibility that you're imagining it or it's something that you need. But I think that something of a person's spirit and essence does live on after death and, yes, that person can return and can visit and can communicate.
Q - What's a grief ritual that anyone can practice?
A - One of the things I suggest — it's actually a Latino tradition — is to create an altar for the person who died. Put some of their favorite things there, some pictures of them, and spend some time just talking to them. Don't worry about whether you're really talking to their spirit or just talking to them in your imagination. You need to express all the stuff that's unexpressed — the whole spectrum.
Often, a part of our grief is anger at the person who died. Another part might be release as well as loss, especially if somebody suffered greatly. We might also feel cheated out of the chance to resolve things that were going on between us and that person. So really give yourself time to let that process happen, to let it transform you.
Q - How do you know when you've grieved enough?
A - The grief takes on a different quality. Instead of being a kind of anguish, it'll have almost a beauty to it. You'll start to remember and focus on the good times that you loved rather than the painful times you had with that person. Eventually that person's memory becomes warm and beautiful. The grief is still there, but it's like a beautiful song in a minor key.
If you have an opinion or wise words about pagan views of death and dying, please email Jamie at