On Death

What is Good? It is not absence of pain, or of uncertainty, or of fear. All of those things may be necessary for the Good to survive. You cannot understand Me until you accept the essential paradox of existence, that there is neither good nor bad, there are only ice and fire. There is that which moves and that which does not move, and the fire melts the ice and the water flows. If there is what you call Good, it is in the interaction, the balance between forces in which growth and death and change can occur.

Why do you think the old heroes laughed as they died? They lived on the edge always, and if death did not come on a foe’s sword, it was likely to come from cold or the sea or disease or starvation. The men of the north knew themselves vulnerable, and so they exulted in using the power and time they had. It is not necessary to kill in order to know this, but it is necessary to accept danger, to forgo the idea that health or money in the bank will make you secure.

Even the dead change, though more slowly. Without bodies to anchor them, some do not have the force of character to maintain a pattern of identity, and it dissipates, only the elemental spirit remaining to be reborn. Others maintain their identity, especially if their deeds cause them to be remembered. They last longer, though the memories of those who honor them may transform them in the process from the original human to an alf, or loa, or saint whose powers are greater because human understanding has made them so.

They become points of access, intermediaries between the human state and the divine, that humans prefer to work with because they are easier to understand. That is why the monotheistic religions never survive in pure form. You are human, and need human images to work with.

At least this is true for most men. Those who develop the capacity to understand spirit while still in the body have a head start — at least if they then are able to transmit this understanding to others either by teaching or by example. But it does not matter — spirit does not die, and if it does not comprehend this in one life there is always another. Those who become alfs gradually evolve, becoming more and more assimilated to the archetypal patterns you call the gods.

The warriors always want to hear about swordplay, but do you not think I would make provision for all my children? If your idea of heaven is a non-stop Bardic Circle where all the poetry is first-class, then that is what you shall have.

I learn as much from sharing the experience of pain as I do from joy — but only when it is freely offered to me by those who understand why I need to know human pain. I do have rewards for those who work with me — and that, not service, is what I want….

I surround you as the air you breathe. Breathe in and you take in my power, breathe out and you rest within me. Men die and cattle die, but that does not mean you should not mourn. While you hold me at arms’ length you will never be able to embrace your sorrow.

Grief is an offering. Rest, let go the busy mind, I am consciousness but I am also Peace, lack of thought, Being. You can come to me for help in all your troubles — do not think I am there only for those functions that the mythologists have defined. So mourn, not for death, but for the change it brings. When someone you love dies you lose a certainty, a habit, a resource, and you see your own mortality. It was well that you should do so. This is part of being human. Sometimes, with courage and training, it can be conquered, but sometimes it must simply be endured. The process of birth is recapitulated in reverse, you become subject to the whim of others, dependent, helpless. You will hate that, unless your body itself forces you to accept it . . . Practice letting go — there are things you cannot control. It will be much easier if you learn to trust me. You may abandon me, but I will never abandon you, not so long as you breathe, nor after.

We serve the same goals, but even that is not entirely the reason I am with you; I need your awareness. I am what I am, and you, by your nature, are in tune with a part of me, therefore it requires neither choice nor effort. Do not try to limit me; for in doing so you will limit yourself. Bear me with you always, into the death chamber and into the birth chamber. Give my blessing to the child and to the dead. Where you are. I am. We will walk together, and I will share your burden. Do not be afraid, even of the end you fear. Trust in me.

I am a god of the living as well as of the dead. Not that there is always as much difference as humans are used to believing. It is all life, in one form or another. I am the giver of Önd, and wherever the breath goes, I go. But the dead are without breath. Does that mean they do not know me? No — only that they are known and know after another manner. All things have memory — stones, metals, wood. But for each thing there is a different language — a different key to unlock its secrets. I gave runes to all the kindreds, but they were not entirely the same runes.

Consciousness defines the way in which you perceive reality. When the spirit is freed from the systems of flesh and from manifest Midgard, it inhabits, as we do, a state of being that is the raw stuff of reality. It can be molded by thought. Those who have not trained their will and imagination, who believe there is nothing, will see nothing, and with nothing to cling to, be lost, lose themselves. Those who see the heaven or hell of the Christians will find themselves there, stuck in whichever perception their self-judgement condemns them to.

And if you choose to come to me, then you will feast in my hall. They say it is the valkyries who Choose, but what is the valkyrie but the bride of the soul? She is that part of you that will show you the way, if you have the courage to take it. All your life is a choosing, which determines what you are able to see. If you are still bound by the ties of Midgard, of your family, of humanity, then you will remain connected and attach yourself to a body once more. If your soul’s desire is to transcend the circles of the world, that is what you shall do — but only if your spirit is able to comprehend what that transcendence means.

Does this answer your question? There are other ways to see and say this. You make your fate by choosing how you will experience the world. Open one eye without and one within; see simultaneously in both worlds. See the truth, and choose which truth you will see. This is not as chaotic and haphazard as it sounds. Past and Present are one, and both of them together are the future.

Ravens fly, black bobbing specks in the grey sky. They fly from battlefield to battlefield, seeking their food. From age to age it is the same. In these times there is often nothing left even for the ravens. But the spirit that consumes the destruction, lives on. What do they eat, these consumers of carrion? The bodies of heroes and cowards they eat, and the bodies of men who never did anything, either very good or very bad, at all. I gather the heroes, and today there are many who flee heroism, or deny it, or outlive their strength and so are denied the blessing of a conscious ending. In the old days men did not live so long; it was not a problem. At times there are those who remember. A good friend can help, whatever the diagnosis. but in your day, too many are afraid. But I can come with tenderness as well as in strife, as you have seen. This I promise, that my children will have the gift of a conscious ending, even if the decision is to accept my kiss and sleep.

Wagner began to understand the conflicts between choice and change, between freedom and free will. Most humans continue to communicate them. Your lives are a series of choices, your deaths the outcome. It is death, like the last chapter, that gives focus to the time before.

Wagner suspected also the other motivation behind my love, that by sharing its vulnerability, I learn. I can be argued with — sometimes even out-argued, because in the process, both you and I learn something. And once I have learned it, I am not the same, and am therefore not entirely bound to previous pronouncements. The Mormons are right in this at least — God does change the rules. From time to time.

But these changes are all at the surface level, where most of you live. So for most of you, that is sufficient. But it does not change the deeper patterns, and it is these that will one day trap you. Brunhild’s Choice determined her destiny. My choice was only how to work within those parameters. Very often, luck, or victory, come from understanding how the strands of fate have intertwined. When you see clearly the currents of the universe, you see as the Norns do. When you understand clearly, it will become very simple, for at every juncture there will be only one thing you have to do. Wyrd carries its own internal necessity. I do not make those rules.

So be careful what you choose. Do not drift through life, but do not glue yourself to your five year plan. Continually be aware of the tides, and be prepared for change.

Those whom I have chosen are wise if they also choose me. That is choosing to paddle in the direction the flow is going. Do not brave the current to try to swim upstream. On the other hand, sometimes you may find quiet backwaters.

Egil Skallagrimson railed against me when his grown sons were drowned, and came in the end to understand that my gift did not negate, but balanced his grief. This is the word I give you — Grief cannot be denied. Accept it, embrace it, move through it. This is what I have done. I ask nothing that I have not myself experienced. I too have lost a son and seen him engulfed by flames. The fire transforms.

My son will not come again in this age of the world. Those who die now in the world may return, but to the parent, it is all the same. The children for which you dreamed of a future will have no future. The future you imagined living through them will never be. You must seek elsewhere for your immortality. Grieve, rail, sorrow, but know that in the end all things will die. Your sorrow is a temporary thing, for your life is temporary, and it is only in your own time that men believe that death is an end. Some die sooner, that is all. Accept the universal while grieving for the particular. Your own grief is important, and yet it does not matter. The world continues to turn. Life goes on.

If you want to talk to dead people, you will learn to do it. I have learned a lot from them over the centuries. But they don’t know everything. You do not need to talk to them to know that the spirit goes on. I am here to tell you so. But by talking to the ancestors, you may learn how to develop the missing part of your spiritual practice. You understand the gods as well as any human can understand us! (laughter) You have some concept of what the landwights and older powers are, insofar as humans can comprehend them at all. But the invisible community, the “cloud of witnesses” that the Christians (who understood this after their own fashion, at least in the Middle Ages), goes on.

You Americans move around from place to place, so it is hard for you to build a deep relationship with your wights, but though you do not link to the land through the bones of your dead, you carry them with you. The geography of the spirit world intersects yours, and the physical location of mortal remains is less important than the spiritual connection. Your ghosts are immigrants and migrants too, but you carry your ancestors with you in your genes and in your culture. Spirit guides are not always of the same family or even tribe for instance, the medium and his Indian Chief. His comments on the symbolic language are worth consideration the spirits speak in galdor, a symbolic language. In a sense, they speak runes, mysteries, symbols chosen to activate the understanding of those to whom they come.

To comfort the family and community after the death of a friend from Lou Gehrig’s disease:

A star has fallen into shadow. You no longer see its lovely glow. But is it gone? The stars are still there when daylight prevents you from seeing them. Now, it is the light of physical life that prevents you from seeing the star that you have lost. But it is still there, still shining with the same radiant glow.

You are blinded by the brightness of physical reality. You see the things you can touch and taste. You see the body but you do not see the spirit — not, at least, when you are seeing with mortal eyes.

This world around you is real. The worn out body she has left is real. But they are not all that is real. You learned, in those months in which her body was betraying her, to see beyond the weakness and uncoordination. You learned in those months to hear beyond the stuttering speech. To communicate, to care for her, you had to learn how to see past those things and focus on the spirit within.

Is it so difficult, then, to look beyond your loss of that physical envelope and see the spirit that smiles on you now?

Her star has not set, it is rising, on that other side of the world — in that Other World, which is the complement to your own.

The breath of life that once I gave I have received back once more. She needs the winds of this world no longer. Now it is a rarer atmosphere that she does not inhale, but experiences, for in the world of the spirit, the senses are not separate. Form and spirit are not distinct. To be, to know existence, is to have instant awareness, access, to all that she needs. It is timeless, yet has no time. All is known, and all is being learned anew.

You must release her now, to set forth on this new adventure. But she has taken vows in this life that connect her to your community still. Let her learn this new world, this new state of being, and when a year has passed she will return to watch over you.

Call upon her then as one of the disir, and she will shine for you among the stars.