The Sanctity of Death
If you live in America like I do, you’ve probably heard a lot about the “Sanctity of Life.” You’ve seen the pro life protesters outside of Abortion Clinics with their posters of half alive fetuses. And who can forget the “big ta do” that was made about Terri Schiavo (The woman whose husband wanted to pull the plug on her because she was in a permanently vegetative state). If someone has suffered permanent brain damage and is hooked up to a machine that keeps them alive – their family will be forced to shell out astronomical amounts of money to keep a brainless body filled with air (unless the person made specifications in a living will before-hand).
Also, we have an insistence on keeping people alive for as long as possible: the elderly and cancer patients. Even if these people want to die, they are kept alive against their wishes.
What is this obsession we have with perpetuating life?
Okay, I’m not going to lie, I’m happy to be alive. I’m happy that out of the millions of sperms my father had, I was the one that landed in my mother’s ovum. I’m happy that our planet is just the right distance from the sun to harbor a rich and complex Eco System of life. And yes, life itself is endowed with much beauty and power.
But life is only one aspect of that beauty and power that defines the natural world. The other necessary stage is death.
Death is almost always thought of as a tragedy and a morbid affair in our culture. In the Disney movie Hercules, Hades (Lord of the Underworld) played the bad guy for example. Even though in the real Greek Legend of Hercules, Hera (Zeus’s wife) was more of an Antagonist than Hades.
Yet think of how horrible life on this planet would be if nothing died? We’d be overrun with rabid creatures, competing for the tiniest molecule of space.
There are many cultures in the world that actually celebrate and accept death as a natural process, a necessary stage of life if you will.
In the Hindu Religion life is seen as a type of suffering. The wheel of life and death is called Samsara. This is the wheel of constant reincarnation and death. When someone dies, their soul will have a short resting period, and then come back in a different body. The goal of existence is to be released from the wheel so that one can finally achieve the peace of non-existence.
With the Vikings, dying an honorable death in battle was important. Dying of old age was an embarrassment because it signified cowardice. Death wasn’t the end, but merely a new beginning. Those who died in battle got to go to Valhalla, a perpetual feast where they got to battle, hunt and drink forever. Those who died a boring, natural death went to a less spectacular and probably equally boring realm of existence. Some warriors would even wound themselves with spears before dying, in order to trick Hel (A Goddess who received a portion of the dead) into thinking they died heroic deaths in battle. (Norse Concepts of the Afterlife)
Many cultures in the world practice Ancestor Worship and keep the spirits of the dead around them as they go about their daily lives. Some keep the bodies of the dead near their homes in ancestral shrines. Others keep a token of the dead relative. Many even consult the spirit of that dead relative for wisdom.
Am I saying that we should go on a killing spree because death is good? No. Death is neither good nor bad. It is simply a natural phase that all life must transition through. It can be mourned, but it can also be celebrated. Death is the harbinger of new beginnings. He is the reaper that harvests the grain of life, so that new life may one day grow. This is why fire is often characterized as the element of creativity. Destruction is a necessary part of creativity. Kenaz itself is the rune of creativity, symbolizing the union of fire and wood. It is the congregation of destruction and life for the creation of heat. Brigid is the Celtic Goddess of inspiration, which is why the flame is one of her symbols.
When my grandmother died many told me how sorry they were. But I wasn’t sorry. Why should I be? She was an 86 year old woman who was in pain and having delusions. She even repeated that she wanted to die.
For all things have a time and a season. When the leaves begin to brown and the sunshine dims, we should anticipate and welcome the coming winter ahead.
We talk about “the right to life.” But shouldn’t there equally be a “right to death?” Each person’s life is their own. They should have the right to choose when and how they want it to end.
So let’s stop keeping people alive against their will. Let’s stop limiting condom use and abortion use. We don’t need to live on a planet where life has great quantity but little quality. Let’s stop tip toeing around the issue of death, but instead, celebrate death – the sanctity of death. For it is the reaper that keeps the field bountiful, it is the scythe of death that gives life its meaning.
Don’t fear the reaper.
Enjoy that cowbell!