Two commentaries of DYING from Tony Kelly
How do we meet death? I don't mean the death of another, for that's something which is in our hands to do away with if ever we can rebuild the shattered fabric of our lost tribalism in the Old Ones. I mean, how do I meet my own death? And it might be more immediately meaningful, if less accurate, if I added, "And how do you meet your own death?" Death might strike with utter, unpredictable suddenness, and if he does, it will be no concern of ours and need occupy our thoughts no further. Occasionally, death comes in painful or agonising circumstances, and if he comes in this guise, we're a pain or an agony and have no mind to do anything but die the more quickly, and that need occupy our thoughts no further. But death is not usually so stark in his taking, nor usually comes unheralded. Let's suppose that I know, or feel almost certain, that I will not live to see the young Moon wane away. How should I pass those closing days and nights? And let's suppose, then, that the Bean sidhe wails at the door, and I know I will not live to see the Sun rise again. What should I be doing, thinking, feeling, and who should be with me? And in the same way, of course, when you see the dark face of the Sun, and know the things that will be done no more, how should it be with you before the face of death?
Another question is this. If you were a priestess, or it might be, if you were a priest, and the dying pagan called you to be by them in their dying for the last rites and such things as one does for the dying pagan while they die, what would you do?
You would do whatever it was they needed, and so we return to the previous question and ask ourselves, "What do I need in my dying, and how should I prepare?"
This isn't a question that can be answered straight off the top of our heads if it's to be meaningful, so let's all give it a lot of thought between now and next Samhain. After all, dying is an extremely important event in our lives, and yet an event for which we make scant preparation. Think how you would feel about dying, and what sort of situation you would get yourself into to die if you knew that death was imminent. Think about it often between now and Samhain, makes notes of what you feel about it, and what your emotional state is at the time of thinking. Think about your attitude to dying when you feel happy, when you feel miserable, when you feel full of energy and ambition, and when you feel restful and sleepy, when you are in bed, when you are on your way to work, when you are in drab surroundings, when you are in a place of beauty..... When would death be welcome, unwelcome, feared, hated, accepted.....? For when we know this, we will create among us priestesses and priests who will know, and will be able to give, even when the time for asking has gone.
People die and their death usually follows an aging process. Since I (now 40) am manifestly taking part in the same aging process, it's virtually certain that, some time, I'll die too. Yet it's so difficult to accept this as being a fact. I don't mean intellectually; that's just a matter of deduction. I mean that I have so many interests and relationships with so many people and things that it seems incredible that all this will one day come to an end. So what will things be like with me no longer in them? That doesn't seem to mean anything. I suppose we can cheat, as it were, and imagine that I'm some sort of soul which steps out at death and takes an interest in the goings on. But no, without going into detail, my attitude is that death is the end of me; yet I'll be as utterly unaware of it as I am unaware of dreamless sleep. The larger issue (of possible reincarnation) I'll leave aside. After all, I'm not aware of any previous lives, so there will be no-one in the future aware of this, my present, life (and I discount the illusions born of hypnosis, self-delusion and arbitrary interpretation of paranormal phenomena). The person I feel I am will be gone, though I won't know I'm gone because I won't be there to know it. So how do I feel about this?
Mostly when I think about dying I feel that I'd like the date to be well into the future. I don't know whether I'd like to know the date or not. Dying seems an awful lot of knowledge and feeling to commit to oblivion. But if I contemplate the alternative which is living for ever, this doesn't seem a good idea at all. Certain failings as permanent attributes? The discoveries of life all made and done with? No, it seems better to go back into the cauldron. But this isn't rational, is it? If I derive a lot of satisfaction from solving a complex mathematical problem, then if I throw my solution away, I could get satisfied all over again by working out the solution afresh. But this isn't so, is it? So why do I accept that, having had a go at life, it's a good thing to discard all the knowledge gained and start afresh with an empty mind? When I ask myself whether I'd like to be a baby, I find I don't like the idea; but that's because I'm not a baby, isn't it? After all, at my present age, I wouldn't prefer to be younger, more active, and less knowledgeable, and nor would I prefer to be older, more knowledgeable, and less active. It feels right as I am. And it always did. Being what I am seems to be what is important: finding out when I'm curious, meeting people when I'm lonely, fucking when I'm sexy, eating when I'm hungry - these are me. So, dying when I'm ..... what?
Usually when I think of dying I think immediately of fustration. There are so many things I want to do and it would prevent me from doing them. If I'm worried about things, though, my attitude to death becomes fear. It seems that insecurity in life is also insecurity regarding dying. If I'm miserable I feel a tenacious attachment to life. Sometimes, lying in bed all drowsy and warm, with no worries, and everything running smoothly, I have thought of dying and my attitude then is that if I knew I were about to die, I wouldn't be particularly bothered.
I think this is important. When I'm sleepy, the only thing I want to do is surrender myself into oblivion, and that is when I would not have a bad reaction against the knowledge of being about to die. Insofar as one can have an attitude about nothing, then, I feel that my attitude to dying is very close indeed to my attitude to entering into the oblivion of sleep. But of course there is no attitude to nothing; the attitude is with regard to so many other things. Thus, if I've a problem on my mind, I can't drop off to sleep very easily; I can't let go. Similarly, if I'm stacked up with ambition, I'd be very upset to learn I was about to die. My attitude to dying, then, is really my attitude to the various other things I want to do. If I live contented, I will die contented. If I live frustrated, my attitude to Death will be as my attitude to a thief. To surrender all into the arms of the Goddess is a beautiful and peaceful sentiment and welcome when the work is done. But we feel very differently about those same arms if we're bursting to set out on a quest of discovery; we just wouldn't want the Goddess fussing around us, however loveably, if with the fire of Pahh in our veins, we were all pent up for action. But when the actions have been done and we're tired, and all is well, it seems then that there is nothing more to do. Other hands will pick up our tools; other minds will carry the burden of our thoughts. From the strain of pushing every outward, to create, to form, to mould, to plan and solve problems, we sink into the arms of the dark and melt away.
If my feelings are similar to other people's, it seems we should, and indeed can, make preparation for our own dying. The important thing is not to have a problem unsolved, not to have an ambition unfulfilled, not to have deeds undone or words unsaid. These will be to dying what they are to trying to sleep. As we drop off to sleep, if we are content, images seem to arise in our minds, images of happy things and pleasant places, often very old, and they are images which seem to have so much to offer us and take so little from us, and they are images which are sensitive to the slightest stimulus and built of the most delicate threads. They will drift as they will or they can be woven by another.
Wouldn't it be beautiful if a pagan in their dying need never be without a priestess skilled in the art of weaving these dreams. And when words would no longer come, she would sing to us in a low voice and her song would be as an old memory of things we had forgotten, but things we remembered again in her arms where once we had left them so very long ago.