How Long Until You Know You’re Dead?

People who are familiar with occult tradition — and I would put most Hardscrabble Creek readers in that group — probably accept the idea of consciousness continuing after bodily death, in some form.

Materialist medicine, however, does not, which is why this research is interesting.

Scientifically speaking, this research, which was first published in 2014, says our consciousness may still function for a period of time after our physical body is declared dead. So, in theory, a person could literally hear themselves be pronounced dead by a doctor.

There is a long tradition of such research though. I recall how some 18th-century French scientist (probably executed himself during the Reign of Terror) persuaded friends who had appointments with Madame Guillotine to start blinking their eyes as the blade came down and to keep blinking as long as they could thereafter, his way of asking the same question.

(That Wikipedia entry is kind of scary itself. How much do some of the French revolutionaries resemble the social justice warriors of today, such the ones who shouted down an American Civil Liberties Union speaker by chanting deeply philosophical slogans such as “Liberalism is white supremacy”? Read the entry for the inevitable trajectory such movements take, from outrage to radicalism to authoritarian radicalism to mass murder to collapse.)

Pagan Basics: How You Talk to Your Food, How You are Buried, and Other Linkage

Graves in the necropolist of Bouc-Bel-Air (Bernard Sillano, Inrap).

The slow abandonment of Pagan religion might be reflected in burials from early medieval France. “Within some of the tombs, the archaeologists discovered objects that suggest the persistence of pagan rites, even though Christianity was becoming more prevalent.” None of the articles that I have read give dates for these burials, so I am guessing they were from earlier than 1000 CE.

Women like the witch archetype because she is powerful. “On some level, all of the contemporary trappings of witchiness tap into that desire to feel powerful.”

Now you know. I suppose that it had to be said, and that my readers are mature enough to deal with this knowledge.

• Be buried in the Neolithic way so that your descendants may venerate you properly. It’s now possible in Britain.

She was a Celtic warrior-woman, in a sense — but not in Britain, Ireland, or Gaul.

“Animism at the Dinner Table.” From Sarah Lawless’ blog — really, this is the basic basic level of a Pagan life. It is more important than pantheons, Lore, texts, dressing up like the ancestors and all the stuff that people get worked up about.

What if we didn’t strive to be like the ancients, whose true ways are long lost and whose skills are beyond many of us at this time, but instead decided to bring the philosophy of animism to the dinner table? What would it look like? To be honest, it would look foolish to an outsider as it would involve talking to plants and animals, talking to our food sources, as if they were sentient and could understand us. Most of the old prayers collected as folklore weren’t really prayers at all, they were people talking to plants and to wild spirits.

Read the rest.

Passing of Gavin Frost

lone-magus

I called this photo “the lone magus” — Gavin Frost overlooking the New River, West Virginia, New Year’s Day, 1995.

I learned this morning that S. Gavin Frost, co-founder of the Church (and School) of Wicca and someone whom I counted as a friend, died early this morning. He was born in 1930 in Staffordshire.

Jo, his daughter, posted on Facebook:

In our family, we do not believe in grieving too much, so today, raise a glass, a brandy alexander, a glass of mead, but a spirited glass, have a good conversation with a friend, be a little risqué (or a lot), dance a tango, tell someone you love them that you might not have said this to lately. That was the true spirit of my father – living his life the best way he knew how. He shared a lot of information with the world and opened doorways for many. Celebrate Gavin’s passing as he begins his next adventure, never fear, this is just another doorway, another state of being. He left a legacy, in many respects, that cannot be equaled. In his final hours, consumed by pain, he felt concern for his wife, for him, his soulmate of nearly 50 years, for her safety and her future, as much as for his freedom from pain. He does not wish for flowers, and deeply abhors wreaths, so do not send these things as tokens of your appreciation. Instead, send your tokens of appreciation by way of donations to his favorite charities and educational institutions. If you have a raptor or rescue center nearby, send a donation to them for he loved hawks. Send a donation to an educational institution, high among the list, King’s College in London, St Andrews Presbyterian University in Laurinburg, NC, the Osteopathic School in Lewisburg, WV, and NCSSM in Durham, NC. And finally, if so inclined, send a donation to the Church of Wicca, PO Box 297, Hinton, WV, his late life passion. There is not a funeral, as he has donated his body for medical research, but you are welcome to plant a hardwood tree in his honor as this was also a passion of his – regrowing our forests.

Since M. and I, as volunteer wildlife transporters for Colorado Parks & Wildife, interact with the Raptor Center down in Pueblo a lot, I think a donation is in order.

I took the photo above after M. and I had stopped for an overnight visit while passing through West Virginia, heading west. Gavin, Yvonne, and we went out for dinner at some restaurant high on a ridge over the New River, and talked for hours about almost everything except the Pagan scene. We were not avoiding that topic, but rather unlike some people in it whom we knew, the Frosts had many other interests besides just that one.

To some, he was a “controversial” figure, even scary, but I think his impish sense of humor plus British accent caused too many young Americans to miss the twinkle in his eye.

UPDATE: Twenty minutes after posting this— on a Sunday—the director of the raptor center and asked if I could pick up an injured hawk. Forty minutes later I was on my way to the Wet Mountain Valley to pick up a red-tailed hawk that had been found flapping weakly in a hayfield. It’s at the center now.

Thoughts after a Funeral

A member of my little rural volunteer fire department died last week at the age of 47.1)It was not a line-of-duty death; other causes So the chief, the treasurer, and I put on our rarely worn dress uniforms for the funeral — M. came too — and we went off to a little rectangular funeral chapel in a nearby town for the “celebration of life.”

The chief had quickly put together a quickie memorial display of an American flag in one of those triangular presentation boxes plus the man’s structural-fire helmet, which went onto the table with the urn and some other items, flanked by flowers and two easels holding collages of photographs. Pretty standard stuff these days.

But along with that, you had people sitting in rows and whispering too each other. The building was too hot (aren’t they always?). The music was canned vaguely spiritual pop — the only lively tune was “Spirit in the Sky” with its hard-driving opening chords — from way back in 1969.

The rent-a-cleric gave a [put deceased’s names here] eulogy, tripping over the fact that while the man’s legal first name was “Larry,” most people there knew him as “Scott” or “Scotty.” (His business cards read “Larry ‘Scott’ Lastname.”)

When the widow rose to speak — a tall, lanky woman clinging to the lectern for support, wracked by sobs — Scott’s mother rose and started waving her arms — the funeral director rushed up from the back of the chapel and led her away. She was not overcome by sadness, oh no, she apparently hates this woman, who was her son’s second wife.

The older woman came by the fire station two days later, wondering if any of her son’s personal items were there (they were not). She said she was “not allowed” to go up to his house, which is up on a ridge further on up the road. After she left, we looked at each other, and the words “mother-in-law from hell” were heard.

I ask that if I have a memorial service some day, there will be no recorded music. I think of these quasi-Protestant funeral-home services I have attended, where the rent-a-cleric sits on a bench gazing into the middle distance while some ghastly piece of “praise music” plays on cheap speakers.

If I cannot have live music — a harper playing “O’Carolan’s Farewell to Music” would be good — then just go straight to the fun part: “The evil bastard is dead — drink up!”  Fire a volley to scare away ghosts. Please don’t sacrifice my dog(s). Then go home.

Pagans, we need to do better than what I sat through last Tuesday. I know that some people are doing it.

Notes   [ + ]

1. It was not a line-of-duty death; other causes

Western Polytheists Have a Long Way to Go


For example, at our funerals, where are the dragon dancers? The all-female marching bands? The strippers?

“I want it to be boistrous. My father liked this kind of atmosphere.”

These Taiwanese make a New Orleans funeral look positively Lutheran.

And it’s much the same in mainland China, where the spicy-funeral custom is drawing the attention of the ever-vigilant government.

Take the outdoor funeral for an 86-year-old man surnamed Huang in central China’s Henan province in December 2012. A woman in a short, white skirt and halter top pulls a mourner on stage and begins to undress him, while periodically peeling off a piece of her own clothing.

Sex and death, baby. Keep turning the wheel.

Around the Blogosphere: A Pagan Cat, Multiple Souls, and Idolatry

¶ “I don’t want to be rude, but what religion are you?” A Pagan pet’s name produces confusion at the veterinary clinic.

¶   “The Three/Four Souls and Their Afterlives.” Heather at Eaarth Animist looks at different traditional accounts to learn what might explain her own experiences: “It has baffled many Western anthropologists how a studied people can talk about a dead person being reincarnated in a child and also being an ancestor. The problem comes from the anthropologist’s own Christian idea of one soul.”

¶ Added to the blogroll under “Classics”:  Roman Times: An online magazine about current archaeology and classical research into the lives of inhabitants of the Roman Empire and Byzantium.

¶ Scholar of esotericism Wouter Hanegraaf from the University of Amstersdam discovers a solid book on idolatry as a category within monotheistic religions: “One searches practically in vain for authoritative monographs about the notion of idolatry and its significance in monotheist religions generally.” There are some contemporary scholars of Paganism working on that area too, but maybe not enough.

Consciousness after Death: “Neurologically Inexplicable”?

Doctors performing “resuscitation medicine” keep finding people living longer after they are clinically dead — and talking about it:

New techniques promise to even further extend the boundary between life and death. At the same time, experiences reported by resuscitated people sometimes defy what’s thought to be possible. They claim to have seen and heard things, though activity in their brains appears to have stopped.

It sounds supernatural, and if their memories are accurate and their brains really have stopped, it’s neurologically inexplicable, at least with what’s now known. Parnia, leader of the Human Consciousness Project’s AWARE study, which documents after-death experiences in 25 hospitals across North America and Europe, is studying the phenomenon scientifically.

Read the whole thing.

Necrophilia: An Ancient Egyptian Tradition?

This may be the worst sort of environmental determinism, but what is it with Egypt? Is there something in the Nile water?

For centuries Egyptian Paganism seemed to function—on one level—as as sort of post office of the dead. All those mummified cats, ibises, crocodiles, etc. neatly stacked in little p.o. boxes. What’s with that?

And of course there was the elaborate bureaucratic ritual that accompanied the mummification. The Greek historian Herodotus (a bit of a gossip) commented,

The wives of men of rank are not give to be embalmed immediately after death, nor indeed are any of the more beautiful and valued women. It is not until they have been dead three or four days that they are carried to the embalmers. This is done to prevent indignities from being offered them. (Link is to a different translation, but quite similar.)

Then, for several centuries, Egypt was mostly Christian. Christians liked to store the body parts of saints in their churches, which is why the Emperor Julian (PBUH) referred to them as “charnel houses.” What went on in the funeral business I do not know.

Today, in majority-Muslim Egypt, the Dubai-based Al-Arabiya television network reports that Egyptian women’s rights campaigners (there are some) are protesting two laws proposed in the “Islamist-dominated parliament”:

She was referring to two laws: one that would legalize the marriage of girls starting from the age of 14 and the other that permits a husband to have sex with his dead wife within the six hours following her death. . . . . Egyptian prominent journalist and TV anchor Jaber al-Qarmouty on Tuesday referred to [cleric] Abdul Samea’s article in his daily show on Egyptian ON TV and criticized the whole notion of “permitting a husband to have sex with his wife after her death under a so-called ‘Farewell Intercourse’ draft law.”

Because nothing expresses grief over losing one’s spouse quite like that.

UPDATE: Another source says that no such law was proposed. Was Al-Arabiya fooled?

Do the Living Outnumber the Dead?

Did you ever get into a discussion of the possibility of reincarnation only to have someone announce, “Reincarnation is impossible because there are more people alive now than have ever lived”?

And then they sit back smugly. Or perhaps they quote George Carlin, the favorite sage of the Barstool Philosopher.

Not so fast, bubba.

It is true that if you delve back into the mists of time, the population of Earth was tiny in comparison to today and logically it might seem plausible that the living outnumber the dead.

Picking the right starting point seems to be crucial, and there is a certain amount of hand-waving involved, but see for yourself.

Cemetery Theory in the Upland South

From a blog about the archaeology of American cemeteries:

There are cemeteries that are formally laid out, for example, most city cemeteries (many of which follow the ideas of the Rural Cemetery movement, but that’s a topic for another day), then there are the folk cemeteries – those that follow a folk, or vernacular, pattern. The distinction is roughly analogous to that between Landmark Architecture (created by professionally trained and schooled architects) and Vernacular Architecture (everything else – often applied to barns, houses, and other structures). Like Folk/Vernacular Architecture, Folk Cemeteries follow a cultural pattern developed through tradition and practical experience. There are many different traditions in cemeteries, one of which is the Upland South Folk Cemetery as defined by D. Gregory Jeane. I’m going to prevent a sort of thumbnail sketch of the Upland South Folk Cemetery (USFC), if you’d like to know more check out suggested reading at the end of this post.

Fascinating reading.