An Annotated & Illustrated Collection of Worldwide Links
to Mythologies, Fairy Tales & Folklore,
Sacred Arts & Sacred Traditions
by Kathleen Jenks, Ph.D.
Retired Core Faculty Member / Mythological Studies Department
Pacifica Graduate Institute
COMMON THEMES, EAST & WEST:
DEATH & DYING:
BELIEFS, & TRADITIONS
© David Chethlahe Paladin (1926-1984), who writes:
"Deep within the galaxy where Sirius reigns lies a crystal-laden asteroid.
It is the mythic source of all mathematical knowledge, the source of our dreams and visions,
the beacon that guides our fantasies."
From Painting the Dream: The Visionary Art of Navajo Painter, David Chethlahe Paladin.
(Park Street Press, Rochester, Vermont, 1992: pp.96-97);
used with the kind permission of Lynda Paladin.
For more on David Paladin's remarkable art,
including information on purchasing his art and writings, see http://davidpaladin.com/
http://archaeology.about.com/library/weekly/aa100498.htmAlmost exactly two years ago I wrote the following:
Thursday night, the first full day of spring, 21 March 2002:Today, Saturday, 25 March 2000, is Lady Day (see my current Springtide Greetings page for relevant links). I awoke from a dream a few hours ago in which I had suddenly decided, out of the blue, to create a new page called either "Rituals of Puberty" or else "Rituals of Puberty & Death." That second title would indicate how intrinsically both are intertwined in the larger weave of life, yet their ritual-modes are so different that I wasn't sure I wished to combine them on the same page. I remained undecided in the dream but knew upon awakening that I'd start simply with puberty, beginning with a lovely Apache link that I'd found a few days ago. At some time in the future, perhaps I'll do a page on rituals of death, but not today, not on Lady Day.....I never expected it would take so long to return to this series of ritual pages. However, two years later, this turns out to be the night when I continue with a page on rituals and traditions centered around death & dying, burial, and rebirth.
Death -- it is both feared and welcomed by the many cultures of earth. Freud contrasted death with Eros, the life-force, that sweet juicy urge to procreate and live. For Freud, death was frozen, it never changed, which made it the antithesis of life. Yet in many cultures, death opens new portals into an expanded experience of life. This page explores these and many other cross-cultural points of view............i hope that more people will get to know death, not through violence, but through peace and acceptance. after all, it is not going away and we have so much to learn from it.
-- Kathy Robles
ARCHAEOLOGY AND BONES
Iraq: Shanidar Cave IV
This is "The Archaeology of Death," a great introductory site with excellent cross-cultural (European-focused) links from about.com's Archaeology guide, K. Kris Hirst, on burial traditions.http://thunder.indstate.edu/~ramanank/ritual.htmlThere is, for all humans, no more fascinating subject than death. Understanding what happens when we die has formed the basis of all religion, most of culture, and major portions of science. And the way human skeletal remains are treated is often as politically controversial as human rights, ethnic divisions, and religious differences; in fact, I daresay that the treatment of human skeletal remains crosses all of those lines.
When faced with the recovery of human skeletal remains, archaeologists are interested in both the skeletal material itself and the accompanying grave goods, if any. From these we can discover the method of burial, the cause of death, the diet and general health of the individual, the genetic relationship of the individual to others, the rituals associated with the culture, the belief systems of the people that buried the individual, the diseases that preyed on the people, the prevalence of warfare, the climate of the community, the amount and type of work the individual did during his or her lifetime; in fact quite a bit of information useful to modern peoples is available....
...The earliest known deliberate burials were done by the Neanderthals about 80,000 years ago. Sites such as Shanidar Cave in Iraq, Teshiq-Tash in Iran, and La Ferassie and Grotte des Enfants in France have recovered individuals buried with stone tools, flowers, or jewelry, or decorated with red ocher....
This is "Burial, Ritual, Religion & Cannibalism," a careful, sometimes sobering, illustrated survey of what we know of Neanderthal practices (see illustration above).http://www.britarch.ac.uk/ba/ba50/ba50feat.html#baxter
From British Archaeology come a series of articles, starting with "Dancing with the dead in a mass grave," a December 1999 paper on Neolithic communities who "repeatedly handled the decaying bodies of their dead" as they shifted them to more permanent graves:...For at least 3,000 years in Europe, and perhaps longer, the norm has been to dispose of the dead by either cremation or inhumation in a single grave. In the Neolithic period, however, from around 6,500-4,000 years ago, a completely different practice took place - disposal of the body first in one place, followed by a `secondary burial' of the whole body, or part of it, somewhere else....Since no evidence is provided for any Neolithic "dancing with the dead," it should be noted that the title does not fit the article's context. Nevertheless, the data is quite useful.
The other two articles look at a 4th century Roman burial in London of an upper class woman of Basque origins; and at a tragic contemporary Kosovo scene of death and wanton destruction.
I took a community college sculpting class once and was disappointed one afternoon when we were asked to use a large portion of a cow's hipbone as our "model" for the day. To my surprise, however, I loved the work -- I responded with a deep sense of awe as I explored the curves, the flow, the beauty, the strangeness. That experience taught me how sacred our hidden bones are -- and I've never forgotten this.
Years later while researching the science sections of my doctoral dissertation, I discovered that after we die, our bones, seemingly so inert, are actually involved in a new process of reversing the spin of their amino acids -- it takes thousands of years, and the process is so precise that it can be used to date ancient bones as long as they have not been contaminated by ground water. Thus, even after death, an eons-old spinning-dance is unfolding deep in the cellular structures of our so-called "dead" bones.
In working on this page, I was fortunate to come across the work of an artist, Gendron Jensen, who has devoted his life to making intricate drawings of such bones. Here is an excerpt from his "Artist's Statement":...It is no surprise that our bones and those of our fellow creatures have held wonder since before human habits of naming. Classically, from ancient times, they have been held as representative of sterility, aridity and death. For me, beyond the physical fact of death, bones are portals, thresholden estuaries unto exaltation. The bones seem to verily sing, they hum with resonate mystery. Mostly hidden within while being used, when the garments of flesh falls away, there they are!....More Jensen links: from Smithsonian Magazine, February 1998, comes The Beauty of Bare Bones, an unillustrated article about Jensen, who is quoted as saying, "There is a majesty inherent in bones...a humbling geography that summons me to map its glories." For Jensen, bones represent the very foundation of being. "There is a vital resonance in every bone," he says; "the spirits of the animals are there. They speak of life and the creature they once were"....
To see a rich collection of his drawings (each is clickable for stunning enlargements), here is Jensen's own site: http://www.gendronjensen.com/. Especially poignant and exciting is his current project on Whales as a Research Collaborator of the Smithsonian.
FESTIVALS OF THE DEAD
"Gates of Light" Tapestry
© By Latvian artist, Inga Skujina
Again from about.com comes a fine cross-cultural page on "Festivals of the Dead." Each section offers links for a more in-depth exploration. Here are the sections:Myth*ing Links: Samhain/HalloweenSamhain (Halloween) -- ...The concept of such a holiday is not unique around the world - most cultures have at least some way of remembering death, whether through the spirits of relatives or the deaths of gods. From Mexico to, Egypt and ancient Rome, the sacred duty to remember those gone before was not just a formal occasion - it's a chance to visit, if only for a few days, our own concept of mortality.
Mexico - El Dia de los Muertos -- ...The Aztec people celebrated the month of August in honor of their dead, and the goddess of death, Mictecacihuatl. Death was seen as a continuation of life in another form, and the month-long celebration was a time when living relatives could spend time with their beloved dead. The celebration was moved to Nov. 1st when the indigenous peoples of Mexico converted to Christianity, but many of the customs of the older festival are still very much alive in the modern holiday....
Germanic/Nordic - Winter Nights -- Despite the name, this holiday is usually celebrated around the 15th of October. It is a time to honor the Disr, female spirits and goddess who look after the family and their lands, and who help to guide the head of the family throughout his time of leadership. No one is certain about the origins of the Dis, however many scholars believe that they are the spirits of women from the family who have dedicated themselves to watching over their progeny after death. It is known that Freya has a strong connection to the Dis (she may, in fact, be seen as the Disr of the Gods) and she is often celebrated during the Winter Nights festival as well....
Egypt - Festival of Isis and Osiris -- Throughout ancient Egypt (and later the Greek and Roman Empires) the end of October and first of November were dedicated to the mysteries of Osiris and Isis. The festivities included one of the world's first passion plays, which enacted the life and death of the god Osiris at the hands of his brother Set. It also included the long search for the pieces of his dismembered body by his wife Isis, and his eventual resurrection at her hands....
Rome - the Parentalia and Lemuria -- The Parentalia, a festival in remembrance of ancestors, was held in February in ancient Rome. The Romans were very devoted to duty and the caring for one's family, a sentiment which was reflected in the care and diligence with which Romans fed the spirits of their deceased family and honored their memory.... The Lemuria, celebrated in mid-May, showed more clearly the fear of the dead present in Roman life. Romans believed that the spirits of the neglected, angry or improperly buried would rise and maim or kill the living. The Lemuria was a festival designed to bribe these spirits with food, in order to keep them from harming the living in a household....
For expanded data on the Festival of the Dead known as Halloween, or the Celtic Samhain, this is a Myth*ing Links page filled with annotated links.http://www.azcentral.com/rep/dead/history/
For more information on Mexico's Day of the Dead (see above), this is "Indigenous people wouldn't let 'Day of the Dead' die" by Carlos Miller for The Arizona Republic. Some excerpts:http://www.thetroth.org/resources/ourtroth/wntnht.htmlMore than 500 years ago, when the Spanish Conquistadors landed in what is now Mexico, they encountered natives practicing a ritual that seemed to mock death. It was a ritual the indigenous people had been practicing at least 3,000 years. A ritual the Spaniards would try unsuccessfully to eradicate....* Note: for expanded data on the Day of the Dead, see my: Myth*ing Links Mexico's Day of the Dead.
...Unlike the Spaniards, who viewed death as the end of life, the natives viewed it as the continuation of life. Instead of fearing death, they embraced it. To them, life was a dream and only in death did they become truly awake.
"The pre-Hispanic people honored duality as being dynamic," said Christina Gonzalez, senior lecturer on Hispanic issues at Arizona State University. "They didn't separate death from pain, wealth from poverty like they did in Western cultures."
However, the Spaniards considered the ritual to be sacrilegious. They perceived the indigenous people to be barbaric and pagan....
Again on Festivals of the Dead, if you'd like more information on October-November's Nordic/Teutonic "Winter's Night" feast (see above), this is a lengthy, well-researched page. Here's an excerpt:...Winter-Nights is the feast at which we give worship to our dead forebears, from which two of the Old Norse names for the festival, "álfablót" and "dísablót", stemmed. It can be thought of as the Germanic equivalent to the Celtic Samhain, the end of summer when the dead were remembered and food put out for them. In this respect, Winter-Nights is something like Yule; however, the emphasis at Winter-Nights is largely on the harvest (to which the alfs and idises have lent their aid). As the harvest celebration, Winternights is greeted with much joy; the meeting of the living and the dead, and the remembrance of our fore-gone kin is likewise not a sorrowful, but a joyful thing....The page ends with an elaborate Winternight's Rite.
Orpheus with his lyre, seeking Eurydice in the Underworld (1910)
Maurice Denis (1870-1943)
Minneapolis Institute of the Arts
From N. S. Gill, the Ancient/Classical History guide at about.com, comes this 3-page report on the "Odyssey Book XI: Nekuia." About the Nekuia, she writes: "Nekuia, a word used to describe Odyssey Book XI, is a rite used to summon and question ghosts." The following comes from her introduction:http://ancienthistory.about.com/library/weekly/aa092998.htmUsually, when heroes undertake the dangerous voyage to the Underworld, it's for the purpose of bringing back a person ([or] animal) of value. Hercules went to the Underworld to steal Cerberus and to rescue Alcestis; Orpheus went below to try to win back his beloved Eurydice; Theseus went to try to abduct Persephone; but Odysseus went for information.The rest of this engrossing series explores more of Odysseus and the Nekuia.
Although, obviously, it is frightening to visit the dead (referred to as the home of Hades and Persephone, aidao domous kai epaines persphoneies), to hear the wailing and weeping, and to know that at any moment Hades and Persephone could make sure he never sees the light of day again, there is remarkably little peril in Odysseus' voyage....
Again from N. S. Gill comes a 2-part series on Classical "Ghost Stories":http://ancienthistory.about.com/cs/deathafterlife/index.htmToday, when a writer wants to digress, provide background information or foretell events, he may resort to a dream sequence . In antiquity, where sometimes the afterlife seems more important than the pre-death experience, dreams were not the only vehicle of prophecy. Visits to and from the Underworld kept heroes from straying from their destiny....
This is a wonderful & extensive collection of annotated links involving beliefs of the classical world: "Death, Suicide, Underworld, Afterlife: Beliefs about the afterlife and death, mourning, lamentation, funeral arrangements, cremation and burial." These links have been collected by N.S. Gill (see above for more fine links from her).http://www.yoga.com/raw/readings/phaedo.html
This is "The Death of Socrates" excerpted from the Phaedo." Here's a brief opening summary:http://www.dccc.edu/academics/faculty/okontopo/adv/essay.htm...Plato recounts the last hours of Socrates' life in a moving dialogue. This is the end of his final speech, just after he had been condemned to death by the citizens of Athens, his home town. The method of execution was that the condemned should drink a cup of hemlock, a not uncommon mode of execution.I was in my teens when I first read Plato's Phaedo and I still remember how deeply I envied Socrates such a calm, fully conscious, aware, painless death. It seemed an ideal way for him (or anyone) to begin the next stage of his journey.
This is a lovely, photo-rich page, "Images of the Underworld: from the Eleusinian Mysteries to Neoplatonism" by Ourania Kontopoulos, MA, MLS, the reference librarian at the Delaware County Community College. The essay is sensitive, intelligent, very well-written. Here is how she frames her essay -- note especially what she does with "cult" & "culture":http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Charon's_obolThe transition from the earliest, semi-nomadic, "hunting and gathering" form of human societies to that of the first settled societies of cultivators brought also with it the creation or reformulation of various mythical and religious beliefs reflective of poignant experiences in the new agricultural context.Here's another excerpt that caught my eye -- and again "cult," "culture," and the feminine dynamic, play significant roles:
Throughout the Middle East and in the Balkans, from the 5th millennium BC to the Late Greco-Roman Antiquity, "fertility cults" and agrarian religious festivals precede the era of dominant male ("father-image") gods in the polytheistic pantheon, such as the classical Olympian one. Mother goddesses are prominent and they maintain an important role even in later times - although primarily within a cultic environment.
Note the linguistic connection between "cult" (a type of secretive, "mystery" religious beliefs and rituals), "cultivation" of the land, of cereals, and also "culture" as spiritual and intellectual cultivation. They all derive from that early agrarian context at the dawn of history.......Cycles of existence, such as life and death, soul and body, earth and underworld, were all interwoven with the cycles of the seasons. The Babylonian Myth of Innana's descent into the underworld and its Akkadian version of the descent of Ishtar are nearly similar models - with a big difference: Innana's husband Dumuzi takes the role played by Persephone, while in the Egyptian version the suffering Osiris is the son and consort of Isis.For a decade or more, I've been reading papers from my graduate students on Demeter and her abducted daughter, Persephone. Many students identify with the grieving mother; just as many with the raped daughter. I have read, graded, and commented on this mother-daughter dynamic so many times that I've become numb to its themes. But tonight as I read Ourania Kontopoulos' words, I suddenly heard the familiar themes in a different way:
In the case of Eleusis alone we find the Mother-Daughter relationship, in its most primitive matriarchal sense. The feminine does not "civilize" but "cultivates." "Culture" (and "cult") are prior to "Civilization" (and the "city") with its masculine, engineering and warlike qualities. The woman that lives, first, as the mother and, later on, as the daughter, stretches herself over time and creates the first feeling of immortality. This is the world of the woman disturbed by the man [Hades as Pluto/Ploutos, "wealth"] but conscious of the required compromise (between "animus" and "anima").......Moreover, still angry against the rest of the gods for not supporting her in getting back her daughter, being the goddess of the fertility of nature and of cultivation she condemned the land to drought and frost. Realizing the dangerous repercussions, the Olympian gods mediated and made a pact with Hades who agreed to share Persephone with her mother for half of the year (return her to Demeter in the Spring and Summer). When Demeter is with her daughter, she is happy and the earth blooms. When Persephone is in the underworld, the earth does not produce fruit and is covered with frost. It is Winter, a time of grief for a mother without her daughter....What was suddenly constellated for me in those words was an entirely new and larger dimension -- the blindingly appropriate metaphoric dimension of Demeter's rage today. This is a Demeter who does indeed condemn "the land to drought and frost" -- and she isn't limited to time! -- she's an eternal witness to the outrages against her earth. The news recently has been full of reports about droughts covering large areas of the United States, Central Asia, China. Demeter indeed has the power to do this -- to withhold the waters of life, planet-wide. Corrupt politicians, scientists, war-mongers, arms-merchants, and oil-barons, have stolen and raped her "Persephone." They try to contain the damage with spin-doctor phrases, but theirs is a bankrupt strategy. Deep down, even the worst of them must know this. Demeter is striking back: "still angry against the rest of the gods for not supporting her in getting back her daughter ... she condemned the land ...."
"Charon and Psyche" (1883)
Detail: Charon removing an obol-coin from Psyche's mouth,
but she still holds other coins for a return trip:
John Roddam Spencer Stanhope
Wikipeda: "Charon's Obol"
[Added 14 December 2009]:This is a piece on "Charon's Obol," intriguing, scholarly, thorough, well illustrated, and with comprehensive footnotes [also see my new page on Charon]. When I first found the link in October 2009, I wanted it for my new Money, Wealth & Treasure page, but in selecting excerpts for that page today, I found that many passages belong here, not there (and vice versa). Thus, I have decided to double-list on both pages, generally using different excerpts for each. First, on Charon himself as well as his boat and shades (ghosts):...Christiane Sourvinou-Inwood has shown that in 5th-century BC depictions of Charon, as on funerary lekythoi, he is a non-threatening, even reassuring presence who guides women, adolescents, and children to the afterlife.....
...Although Charon is usually a lone figure in depictions from both antiquity and the modern era, there is some slight evidence that his ship might be furnished with oarsmen. A fragment of 6th century B.C. pottery has been interpreted as Charon sitting in the stern as steersman of a boat fitted with ten pairs of oars and rowed by eidola, shades of the dead. A reference in Lucian seems also to imply that the shades might row the boat.....
Ships often appear in Greek and Roman funerary art representing a voyage to the Isles of the Blessed, and a 2nd-century sarcophagus found in Velletri, near Rome, included Charon’s boat among its subject matter. In modern-era Greek folkloric survivals of Charon (as Charos the death demon), sea voyage and river crossing are conflated, and in one later tale, the soul is held hostage by pirates, perhaps representing the oarsmen, who require a ransom for release. The mytheme of the passage to the afterlife as a voyage or crossing is not unique to Greco-Roman belief nor to Indo-European culture as a whole, as it occurs also in ancient Egyptian religion and other belief systems that are culturally unrelated. The boatman of the dead himself appears in diverse cultures with no special relation to Greece or to each other. A Sumerian model for Charon has been proposed,  and the figure has possible antecedents among the Eygptians; scholars are divided as to whether these influenced the tradition of Charon, but the 1st-century B.C. historian Diodorus Siculus thought so and mentions the fee.....
[12/15/09, 1:45am: Get connecting psg on Psyche from link as I xxd it from other page. Reminder: access page thru 4.7. It'll crash on 7.2]
...The two coins serve the plot by providing Psyche with fare for the return; allegorically, this return trip suggests the soul’s rebirth, perhaps a Platonic reincarnation or the divine form implied by the so-called Orphic gold tablets. The myth of Charon has rarely been interpreted in light of mystery religions, despite the association in Apuleius and archaeological evidence of burials that incorporate both Charon’s obol and cultic paraphernalia. And yet “the image of the ferry,” Helen King notes, “hints that death is not final, but can be reversed, because the ferryman could carry his passengers either way.”  A funeral rite is itself a kind of initiation, or the transition of the soul into another stage of "life."....
The hunt is also associated with the administering of a herbal viaticum in the medieval chansons de geste, in which traditional heroic culture and Christian values interpenetrate. The chansons offer multiple examples of grass or foliage substituted as a viaticum when a warrior or knight meets his violent end outside the Christian community. Sarah Kay views this substitute rite as communion with the Girardian “primitive sacred,” speculating that “pagan” beliefs lurk beneath a Christian veneer. In the Raoul de Cambrai, the dying Bernier receives three blades of grass in place of the corpus Domini. Two other chansons place this desire for communion within the mytheme of the sacrificial boar hunt. In Daurel et Beton, Bove is murdered next to the boar he just killed; he asks his own killer to grant him communion “with a leaf,” and when he is denied, he then asks that his enemy eat his heart instead. This request is granted; the killer partakes of the victim’s body as an alternative sacrament. In Garin le Loheren, Begon is similarly assassinated next to the corpse of a boar, and takes communion with three blades of
grass.Kay’s conjecture that a pre-Christian tradition accounts for the use of leaves as the viaticum is supported by evidence from Hellenistic magico-religious practice, the continuance of which is documented in Gaul and among Germanic peoples. Spells from the Greek Magical Papyri often require the insertion of a leaf — an actual leaf, a papyrus scrap, the representation of aleaf in metal foil, or an inscribed rectangular lamella (as described above) — into the mouth of a corpse or skull, as a means of conveying messages to and from the realms of the living and the dead. In one spell attributed to Pitys the Thessalian, the practitioner is instructed to inscribe a flax leaf with magic words and to insert it into the mouth of a dead person. The insertion of herbs into the mouth of the dead, with a promise of resurrection, occurs also in the Irish tale "The Kern in the Narrow Stripes," the earliest written version of which dates to the 1800s but is thought to preserve an oral tradition of early Irish myth. The kern of the title is an otherworldly trickster figure who performs a series of miracles; after inducing twenty armed men to kill each other, he produces herbs from his bag and instructs his host's gatekeeper to place them within the jaws of each dead man to bring him back to life. At the end of the tale, the mysterious visitor is revealed as Manannán mac Lir, the Irish god known in other stories for his herd of pigs that offer eternal feasting from their self-renewing flesh.Scholars have frequently suggested that the use of a viaticum in the Christian rite for the dying reflected preexisting religious practice, with Charon’s obol replaced by a more acceptably Christian sacrament. In one miraculous story, recounted by Pope Innocent III in a letter dated 1213, the coins in a moneybox were said literally to have been transformed into communion wafers. Because of the viaticum’s presumed pre-Christian origin, an anti-Catholic historian of religion at the turn of the 18th–19th centuries propagandized the practice, sneering that “it was from the heathens [that] the papists borrowed it.” Contemporary scholars are more likely to explain the borrowing in light of the deep-seated conservatism of burial practices or as a form of religious syncretism motivated by a psychological need for continuity.....
LIVING HARBINGERS OF DEATH
From Suzetta Tucker comes "Omen of Death and Divine Providence," a very interesting page on cross-cultural lore connected to ravens, crows, and blackbirds. Here's just one brief sample -- but there's much, much more on the site from many lands:http://www.indigogroup.co.uk/edge/bdogfl.htm...To European Christians, this creature is the antithesis of the innocent white dove. But in some African and Native American traditions, he is a beneficent guide whose keen sight allows him to issue warnings to the living and to lead the dead on their final journey....
From the British e-zine, At the Edge, comes "Black Dogs in Folklore" by Bob Trubshaw, an intriguing look at a long collection of examples (mostly from the British Isles) of black dogs as harbingers of death:http://www.indigogroup.co.uk/edge/bdogs.htm...Such packs of spectral hounds - with or without hunters - have been seen all over Europe, and are generally known as the Gabriel Hounds or Gabble Retchets in Britain, and as the Wild Hunt in Germany and Woden's Hunt in Scandinavia. They are similar to the Seven Whistlers in that they were a portent of death or disaster. Perhaps the association with Gabriel and an old word for 'corpse'. Clearly, these wild hunts also like with the Welsh tales of Cwm Annwn, the spectral hunt, and even with the Wandering Jew folklore which is known throughout Europe. To what extent all these sky-traversing hounds are the last vestiges of a complex and ancient cosmological mythology is a matter for academic debate....
"Black Dogs: Guardians of the Corpse Ways" is another carefully referenced essay by Bob Trubshaw for the British e-zine, At the Edge(see directly above). I found this one quite fascinating -- it is satisfyingly long and ranges widely across Europe and parts of the Near East and Asia. Here is a foundational excerpt explaining the possible connection between dogs and their role as guardians of the paths to the Otherworld:...During the bronze age few of the population were buried. We can only speculate on the funerary rituals - did they involve funeral fires by the side of major rivers, as with hindus today in India? Or did they involve excarnation, such as the infamous 'Towers of Silence' of the Parsis in India, that slowly-dying race who hark back to before all the major religions of that continent? If excarnation was part of the bronze age death rites, then it may have been part of everyday life to see dogs and other scavengers gnawing on human corpses, reducing most of the bones to small fragments in the process. Such a grisly sight would reinforce the dog as the species most suited to act as psychopomp.
Bear in mind also that most pre-technological cultures believe that the 'essence' of the food is absorbed by the person eating it. So a dog eating a corpse would be considered to be taking in not only the flesh but also the 'soul'. As a slight digression, pigs and boars are also notable consumers of carrion - could this be why the boar is the sacred animal of Freya, who also has strong associations with the battle-slain dead?....
HOW DEATH CAME INTO THE WORLD
"Kahdam, Kahti, and Bahti"
© David Chethlahe Paladin (1926-1984), who writes:
"The altarboard of African legend portrays the first man between his first companions, the Life-Giving Spirit, and the Death-Granting Spirit. The giver of life is seen as irrational and illogical, symbolizing the nature of life itself. The giver of death walks on padded feet, quietly offering the gift of escape from the harsh reality of physical existence."
From Painting the Dream: The Visionary Art of Navajo Painter, David Chethlahe Paladin.
Park Street Press, Rochester, Vermont, 1992: pp.80-81;
used with the kind permission of Lynda Paladin.
NOTE: for more on David Paladin's remarkable art, see http://davidpaladin.com/
The African myth (see directly above) of the kindly "Death-Granting Spirit" who gives death as a "gift of escape" has many counterparts in world mythology. Hopi traditions offer another such example; here, Death is originally the sole inhabitant and ruler of the world. "How the Hopi Indians Reached their World," from Glenn Welker's extensive collection of Native American literature, looks at a sequence of ancient Hopi ascents from filthy lower caves to upper caves, which in turn become filthy and slimed. Finally the people reach the fourth level:http://www.sacred-texts.com/afr/sbf/sbf07.htm... They climbed to the fourth world, which was this world. But it too was in darkness, for the earth was closed in by the sky, just as the cave worlds had been closed in by their roofs. Men went from their lodges and worked by the light of torches and fires. They found the tracks of only one being, the single ruler of the unpeopled world, the tracks of Corpse Demon or Death. The people tried to follow these tracks, which led eastward. But the world was damp and dark, and people did not know what to do in the darkness. The waters seemed to surround them, and the tracks seemed to lead out into the waters....They were in urgent need of a source of light so that they could follow Death. They discussed the problem with the five beings ("Spider, Vulture, Swallow, Coyote, and Locust") who had accompanied them on their ascents up through the lower cave-worlds:...Spider was asked to try first. She spun a mantle of pure white cotton. It gave some light but not enough. Spider therefore became our grandmother....From a gleaming white deerskin they made a round shield case, decorated it with turquoise, and discovered that it "shed forth such brilliant light that it lighted the whole world.... So the people sent the shield-light to the east, where it became the moon."
The various creatures then helped release stars, channel the flood waters, and raise up dry land, mountains, and other geological features:...Now that there was light, the people easily followed the tracks of Death eastward over the new land that was appearing. Hence Death is our greatest father and master. We followed his tracks when we left the cave worlds, and he was the only being that awaited us on the great world of waters where this world is now....A homely, jealous little girl-child then, seeking Death's aid, caused the first death. The great priest was enraged and cast a spell so that he would know "the one whose magic and evil art have brought my tragedy upon me." When the jealous child was identified, she was tried and found guilty. She accepted the verdict but begged that the others would first come with her to the cave-hole out of which they had emerged.
...When people had followed in the tracks of Corpse Demon but a short distance, they overtook him. Among them were two little girls. One was the beautiful daughter of a great priest. The other was the child of somebody-or-other. She was not beautiful, and she was jealous of the little beauty. With the aid of Corpse Demon the jealous girl caused the death of the other child. This was the first death......."If you still wish to destroy me, after you have looked into the hole," she said, "I will die willingly."Mysteriously, since the people's departure, the abandoned, filthy, slimy lower cave-worlds had been transformed into a place of primal beauty and wonder:So the people were persuaded to return to the hole leading from the cave world. When they looked down, they saw plains of beautiful flowers in a land of everlasting summer and fruitfulness. And they saw the beautiful little girl, the priest's daughter, wandering among the flowers. She was so happy that she paid no attention to the people. She seemed to have no desire to return to this world.
"Look!" said the girl who had caused her death. "Thus it shall be with all the children of men."
"When we die," the people said to each other, "we will return to the world we have come from. There we shall be happy. Why should we fear to die? Why should we resent death?"
So they did not kill the little girl. Her children became the powerful wizards and witches of the world, who increased in numbers as people increased. Her children still live and still have wonderful and dreadful powers....
From a 1911 work by W. H. I. Bleek and L. C. Lloyd, Specimens of Bushman Folklore (click on link for a huge collection of lore from the Bushman people of South Africa), comes a page on the origin of death. The narrative is one of many versions on the African theme of the "Moon and the Hare."
This version is a fascinating, psychologically rich story about a young man whose mother dies. The moon tells him that his mother isn't really dead, just sleeping, and will awaken again, just as the moon does when he seems to have died. But the young human disputes this, arguing with the moon, insisting that he knows better and that his mother is "altogether dead." The Moon finally grows very angry at the man's stubbornness, hits him, changes him into a lowly hare, and decrees that all humankind will henceforth "altogether die" because of this stubborn man/hare. Here's a passage:...For, we should, when we died, we should have again living returned; the hare was the one who did not assent to the Moon, when the Moon was willing to talk to him about it; he contradicted the Moon.In Genesis, Eve's "sin" was curiosity and disobedience, for she ate of the fruit of good and evil and thereby brought death to all humankind. Here, death comes through a man so overbalanced by grief that he has blocked all access to deeper "knowings." It's a strange tale, filled with intriguing implications and insights. Interestingly, by the way, and contradicting the finality of the moon's decree, the page begins with a touching prayer to the "Young Moon," reminding him of his earlier promise to let all humans return alive again, and asking him to do that again:
Therefore, the Moon spoke, he said: "Ye who are people, ye shall, when ye die, altogether dying vanish away. For, I said, that, ye should, when ye died, ye should again arise, ye should not altogether die. For, I, when I am dead, I again living return. I had intended, that, ye who are men, ye should also resemble me (and) do the things that I do; that I do not altogether dying go away. Ye, who are men, are those who did this deed; therefore, I had thought that I (would) give you joy. The hare, when I intended to tell him about it,--while I felt that I knew that the hare's mother had not really died, for, she slept,--the hare was the one who said to me, that his mother did not sleep; for, his mother had altogether died. These were the things that I became angry about; while I had thought that the hare would say: 'Yes; my mother is asleep.'"
For, on account of these things, he (the Moon) became angry with the hare; that the hare should have spoken in this manner, while the hare did not say: "Yes, my mother lies sleeping; she will presently arise." If the hare had assented to the Moon, then, we who are people, we should have resembled the Moon; for, the Moon had formerly said, that we should not altogether die....... and, when we look thither, we perceive the Moon, and when we perceive it, we shut our eyes with our hands, we exclaim: "!kabbi-a yonder! Take my face yonder! Thou shalt give me thy face yonder! Thou shalt take my face yonder! That which does not feel pleasant. Thou shalt give me thy face,--(with) which thou, when thou hast died, thou dost again, living return, when we did not perceive thee, thou dost again lying down come,--that I may also resemble thee. For, the joy yonder, thou dost always possess it yonder....Note: at times, the formatting is somewhat awkward because groups of footnotes intrude within single sentences. Be patient -- it's because the e-text was taken directly from a 1911 printed text.
Funeral Procession /// © Ellis Wilson
Courtesy of Black Heritage Gallery
"The History of African American Death: Superstitions, Traditions, and Procedures" is an interesting little page by a student-researcher for a larger project, North by South, which traces African American traditions as they moved from Africa to America, north to south:http://www.northbysouth.org/1998/death/folklore.htm...It has been stated amongst the black community that death is not a time of sadness but a time to rejoice for the deceased no longer has to endure the trials and tribulations of this earthly world. The deceased are indeed mourned and missed, however, death is also a time of celebration....
...An old belief is that the dead can not be buried on a rainy day. The sun is-a sign that the heavens are open and welcoming for the deceased one. If it rains while a man is dying, or if lighting strikes near his house, the devil has come for the soul. Thus, the family members often attempt to bury the dead on a sunny day....
This is "Death and the Moon," a very brief tale from Africa's Senegal. When you read it, you'll know why --...the moon, after dying, reappears every night, but a dead man never returns.
Photo 5: Detail of a doll image from a grave [tinted].
The Ovgort village, the Shuryshkary region, the Tyumen province.
Photo by Edgar Saar, 1979 [see directly below].
This paper from Haldjas, a respected Baltic folklore journal, is "On the Funeral Customs of the Northern Khants in the last Quarter of the 20th Century" by Edgar Saar:http://www.cyberbohemia.com/Pages/russianbaniahistory.htm#Anchor#5The Khants live in West Siberia, on the banks of the Ob River and its tributaries....The paper has good references and links to photos. I was especially intrigued by "photo 5" of the doll (see photo above plus rosy-highlighted text above). This "photo 5" resonates powerfully with the doll who plays such a crucial role in the Russian fairytale of Vasilisa (whose dead mother leaves her with a doll as a spiritual advisor; the doll saves Vasilisas life when the girl encounters the dangerous Baba Yaga). In light of the above data, Vasilisa's "doll" could be much more significant than folklorists have heretofore suspected. (Note: art is courtesy of Sunbirds.com)
...After the funeral the Khants come to the graveyard to remember the deceased. If the deceased is a female, it is done after four days, if it is a male, it is done five days after the funeral. The next ceremony takes place in 40 or 50 days, respectively. When the Khants come to the graveyard to remember the deceased, they all knock on the gravehouse three times to greet the deceased. The shutter is removed from the soul's opening. A fire is made in the graveyard, and tea is made and meat and fish are cooked. The food is put on a small table. First of all a glass of vodka or wine and some food is put in front of the gravehouse to treat the deceased. Later on they are taken away and put on the dining table among the other drinks and food. All the Khants who have come to remember the deceased, drink and eat at the table. Before leaving, the soul's opening is again covered with the shutter and everyone knocks three times on the gravehouse to say good-bye.
I have repeatedly mentioned that there is a soul's opening in the front side of the gravehouse. The Khants believe that a human being has several souls. According to V. Chernetsov, the Khants maintain that a woman has four souls and a man has five. What exactly do they think they are? The first one is a shadow-soul, is-hor, which is described as a visible shadow. After death this soul goes to the grave together with the body. The second soul, urt, is described as man- or bird-shaped. After death it goes to the realm of the dead. The third one is wood grouse-shaped. It is inside a human being only when he is asleep, that is why it is called the sleep soul - ulem-is. This is the one that dies together with the human being. The fourth one, lil, is a breath soul. It is a renascent, reincarnating soul, which, after the person's death, goes into a doll image specially made for it - ittyrma - (* Photo 5), and later on into a newborn baby of the same kin. The doll image for a dead person's soul is still made today. If the deceased is a female, the doll is dressed in women's clothes, and if it is a male, in men's clothes. I saw one of the male dolls at Synya Khants in 1979. It was kept in a box in the holy corner. And now what is the fifth soul of a Khant man? Some Khants believe that it is the energy of a man but others think that a man has two reincarnating souls....
This site looks at many interesting traditions connected with the Russian bania, or "bathhouse" (a magical place filled with spirits, akin to the Finnish sauna). The specific section you'll find if you click on the link is "The Death Bania" -- i.e., the role of the bania in death. For example:http://haldjas.folklore.ee/folklore/vol8/mds.htm...By bathing together after the funeral, mourners were assured that the beloved soul would be warmed for its long journey. The communal bath also affirmed their own lives and helped them overcome their grief....If you scroll to the top of the page, you'll find a great deal more on the bania in communal settings, in birthing rituals, marriage rituals, and much more.
FYI: for those who want more, I highly recommend W. F. Ryan's The Bathhouse at Midnight: An Historical Survey of Magic and Divination in Russia (Penn State UP, 1999).
Again from the Baltic online journal, Haldjas, comes "Death & Afterwards," a paper on death-omens and superstitions among the Votes ("a Greek Catholic Baltic Finnic people on the verge of their extinction"). The essay describes:... the signs by which the other world has manifested to the Voties in their everyday life, and their relations with the other world, as well as their ideas about life after death. Accordingly, the essay will focus on beliefs rather than customs....There are a large number of death-omens and burial/funeral superstitions discussed in this essay. About ravens, for example:...According to a single report, the croaking of a raven is not merely a sign of getting news of someone's death (as was shown above), but represents actually the speech of the deceased. In this case, it would be the soul of the dead speaking from the other world, a concept which comes close to the shaman conceptions. A bird as a messenger from the other world is present in songs as well as narratives....In addition to harbingers of death, you will also find sections on beliefs connected to Heaven and Hell versus "eternal sleep," and on the Other World:...The fact that religion is the concern of heart rather than that of mind (which is probably the most crucial difference with Protestantism) expresses itself first of all in a certain need for mysticism and is not very particular about the sources where it gets food for imagination.Note: at the end, you'll fine good references (including a URL for a useful site on the Votes' history, culture, etc). If you click on the camera at the top of the page on the right, you'll go to a page of photos connected with some of the people and places mentioned in the essay.
It seems that in questions about what will happen after death the popular mind has avoided the Christian dualism; this is evident when people speak about the other world rather than Paradise or Hell. Perhaps this serves to neutralize the psychological tension created by such an important question or give the impression that everything will continue there in the same way it used to here. So blood enemies forgave each other on the death-bed so they would not have to quarrel in the other world....
The Death of the Norse god, Balder
[Artist & source unknown -- from Gods, Heros, and Myth]
The most famous journey to the Underworld in search of a beloved is that of the Greek musician, Orpheus, who failed to rescue his bride, Eurydice. But Norse mythology also has a famous journey made to the world of the dead -- this time by Hermod when his much-loved brother Balder, god of light and joy, was killed. This link from Professor D. L. Ashliman's extensive collection of folklore includes portions of "The Death of Balder" from The Prose Edda of Snorri Sturluson. The story opens with Balder's nightmares:http://www.pitt.edu/~dash/aging.htmlBalder the Good had some terrible dreams that threatened his life. When he told the Æsir [a group of gods] these dreams, they decided to seek protection for Balder from every kind of peril. Frigg [Balder's mother] exacted an oath from fire and water, iron and all kinds of metals, stones, earth, trees, ailments, beasts, birds, poison, and serpents, that they would not harm Balder.The trickster god Loki grows irritated when nothing can harm Balder. He disguises himself as a woman and goes to Frigg, worming his way into her confidence:
And when this had been done and put to the test, Balder and the Æsir used to amuse themselves by making him stand up at their assemblies for some of them to throw darts at, others to strike and the rest to throw stones at....... Frigg remarked: "Neither weapons nor trees will injure Balder; I have taken an oath from them all."The assumption that mistletoe was too young to be involved in oath-taking will have dire consequences for all concerned. It's an engrossing story, filled with drama and emotion, and ending with a horrific punishment meted out to Loki.
The woman asked: "Has everything sworn you an oath to spare Balder?"
Frigg replied: "West of Valhalla grows a little bush called mistletoe, I did not exact an oath from it; I thought it too young." Thereupon the woman [i.e., Loki] disappeared....
Again from D.L. Ashliman comes "Aging and Death in Folklore," a lengthy, sobering collection of proverbs and tales primarily from Western Europe. Ashliman writes:http://www.red4.co.uk/Folklore/trevelyan/welshfolklore/chapt20.htm...These ... reflect a chapter of life that most of us would prefer to ignore. We do not like to be reminded of our own mortality, and in today's world, institutions such as hospitals, hospices, retirement centers, and funeral homes (euphemisms abound in the language of death!) shield us from the worst of the Grim Reaper's ravages. We cope, or so it might seem, by pretending that death does not exist....
...Our ancestors coped, from the evidence of mythology and folklore, by directly confronting the debilitation of age and the inevitability of death.....
This is a fine, lengthy collection on Welsh death-lore and harbingers of death: "Death: Its Omens and Personifications." It ranges from animate omens, or harbingers (e.g., ravens and other birds as well as a wide range of animals) to inanimate omens (e.g., rappings in beams, walls, coffins, and the like); it also includes some rather charming tales about mortals who cheated Death. There's something here to interest everyone.
[Courtesy of Tradestone International]
Reincarnation Portal Page
[Added 11/5/06]: This is a Myth*ing Links series of essays and FAQ's (Frequently Asked Questions) on my own approach to reincarnation after more than thirty years as a regression facilitator, both before and after my academic career. Currently, I am still very much involved in this work.http://www.williamjames.com/Folklore/SURVIVAL.htm
This is "Life Within Death -- Death Within Life: Survival of Consciousness After Death," a chapter from a published book (now online as well), The Roots of Consciousness, by Jeffrey Mishlove, Ph.D. The page includes material on ancient Egypt, Tibet, visions, mediums, spiritualism, Jung, reincarnation, and much more. I had the pleasure of meeting Jeffrey Mishlove several years ago at an international conference on the Grail and I think highly of him. If you follow the link at the bottom of the page to his book, you'll find much more of his fascinating work to explore. Meanwhile, here's his opening to the above page:Oracles of Earth -- The Deep BelowI have no final conclusions to offer about ghosts, spirits, reincarnation, or any other manifestation suggestive of survival after death. As in most areas of consciousness exploration, a final opinion is of less value than an appreciation of and tolerance for ambiguity; as well as a willingness to carefully explore the evidence and claims, cultures and contexts. For the great by-product of the search for the life beyond is an extraordinary enrichment of our understanding of the life within....
This is a Myth*ing Links excerpt on necromancy and the after-death survival of consciousness from When Oracles Speak by my dear friend and colleague, Dr. Dianne Skafte. Dianne has a gift for approaching the most difficult of subjects with gentle kindness. Here are several passages from her site:http://www.childpastlives.org/stevenson.htm...All that lives rises from the body of Earth, and to that body all shall return. Our ancestors never lost sight of this truth. They constantly paid honor to the Fruitful Provider, often imagined as the Great Mother. Grain from the first harvest of every season was offered back to her, and nourishing gifts of milk, wine, or blood were poured directly into the ground as an expression of gratitude. Remnants of these traditions still survive, even in modernized countries. Lithuanian scholar Marija Gimbutas noted that her father arose each morning and poured a libation of wine into the soil as a thank-offering to the earth.
Earth is also home to the dead. Agricultural peoples all over the world planted their dead into the ground like seeds, expecting them to be born again from another woman's womb, to spring up new in the body of an animal, or to linger in the underworld. Spirits who joined with earth became wise. They acquired power to see the future and provide beneficial guidance. If a living person contacted them, he or she could gain knowledge of many hidden things. This is why the biblical King Saul (review his story at the end of this excerpt) violated his own law and sought out a wise-woman in the town of Endor who knew the art of necromancy.The word "necromancy" (with its somber root in necro, dead body) evokes so many unpleasant associations that few people wish to dwell on the subject. But we should remember that traditional peoples do not share our modern horror of death....The illustrated page covers rich cross-cultural data, including Dianne's own stunning experiences in Nepal. Her work is graceful and provocative.
...Necromancy holds a place of honor among ancient oracular arts. Shamanic practitioners have always received training in the art of summoning departed spirits. The dead were thought to be skillful at diagnosing illness and prescribing cures....
...Necromancy was well developed among the Egyptians, Assyro-Babylonians, and Etruscans of the ancient world. Citizens in classical times revered their necromaneia, oracles of the dead, and often made pilgrimages to them. A famous oracle of this type was located at Epiris in a hillside cave. The legendary hero Odysseus summoned the dead at Epiris and obtained valuable guidance for his perilous journey home. This site was associated with the worship of Persephone, goddess of the underworld, and later with Hades, god of the dead....
This link goes to Dr. Ian Stevenson's Children's Past Lives Research Center, a non-profit organization. Here is the page's impressive opening:http://www.pinenet.com/~rooster/bta-faq1.htmlBy collecting thousands of cases of children who spontaneously (without hypnosis) remember a past life, Dr. Ian Stevenson offers convincing scientific evidence, if not proof, for reincarnation.
In each case of children’s past life memory, Dr. Stevenson methodically documents the child's statements. Then he identifies the deceased person the child remembers being, and verifies the facts of the deceased person's life that match the child's memory. He even matches birthmarks and birth defects to wounds and scars on the deceased, verified by medical records. His strict methods systematically rule out all possible "normal" explanations for the child’s memories.
Dr. Stevenson has devoted the last forty years to the scientific documentation of past life memories of children from all over the world. He has over 3000 cases in his files. Many people, including skeptics and scholars, agree that these cases offer the best evidence yet for reincarnation.
Dr. Stevenson's credentials are impeccable. He is a medical doctor and had many scholarly papers to his credit before he began paranormal research. He is the former head of the Department of Psychiatry at the University of Virginia, and now is Director of the Division of Personality Studies at the University of Virginia....
This is "Reincarnation and the Holocaust FAQ (Part 1 of 3)" by Hasidic Rabbi Yonassan Gershom. It is a careful, intelligent, wise approach to a controversial subject. Here are several excerpts from Part 1:http://healing.about.com/health/healing/library/bl_memory.htm...The bottom line is, that Judaism is not dogmatic about afterlife beliefs because they cannot be clearly proven. So there is a lot of freedom about what individuals can believe while still remaining true to Jewish theology. Ironically, it is the more modernized groups such as Reform and Reconstructionism which are the most skeptical about the afterlife! On the other hand, many Orthodox and Hasidic Jews have no problems with believing in reincarnation (called gilgul ha-neshamot in Hebrew)....
... Question-5: Are you a New Ager?
Answer-5: No, not in the neo-pagan sense, although I do believe in some of the same concepts as the New Age such as different levels of the soul, spiritual healing, out-of-body experiences, angels, meditation and reincarnation. In the media and in book reviews, I have frequently been called a "New Age rabbi" because of these beliefs, but it is not a term I would apply to myself. As a Hasidic Jew, these are not new ideas at all -- they are traditional Jewish theology! ....
... Question-13: Doesn't your work trivialize the Holocaust and minimize the responsibility of the Nazis for their crimes?
Answer-12: Exactly the opposite! My work holds the Nazis responsible not only for the death of the body, but also for the anguish of the soul. The Nazis did not seek to kill the body only -- they also sought to destroy the Jewish identity and spirit forever. Many of those Jewish souls who came back as gentiles did so because they were so horribly treated by the Nazis, that they could no longer bear the shame and pain that was put on them for being Jews. They came back as gentiles because they wanted to be loved and to be safe from persecution.
So these stories do NOT minimize the Holocaust. They demonstrate how very deeply the Jewish people were wounded by the tortures in the camps, and how this pain carried down from one incarnation to the next, and how it will take many lifetimes to set it right again. Such a deep, deep tragedy! It adds yet another layer to the enormity of the Holocaust, because it means that this was not just a historical event in one century only, but also an event that is engraved on the souls of the Jewish people for many incarnations to come. So from these stories, we can all learn something about how destructive prejudice and abuse are on the human soul and psyche....
From the Holistic Healing guide at about.com comes an honest and very personal page on reincarnation: "I Remember Who I Was In A Past Life: Memory Index." The page is well-organized:This is a past memory index arranged by nationality, race, personality, historical significance, and time periods.The large number of categories include personal reports from people who have past life memories situated in those categories. For those who are familiar with past life data, none of this will be strange. For those who are not, hopefully, it'll be thought-provoking.
"The Cup of Death" (1885)
By Elihu Vedder (American artist, 1836-1923)
An illustration for the Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyám, stanza XLIII:
'So when the Angel of the darker Drink
At last shall find you by the river-brink
And, offering his Cup, invite your Soul
Forth to your Lips to quaff - you shall not shrink.'
This is a chapter-by-chapter review by Christopher Braider (University of Colorado at Boulder) of Karl S. Guthke's The Gender of Death: A Cultural History in Art and Literature (Cambridge University Press, 1999).http://www.gold.ac.uk/deathcon/...Karl Guthke's The Gender of Death surveys portrayals of death in European art and literature since the Middle Ages. As the title indicates, the organizing theme is gender....So are there definite rules, codes, or regularities governing which gender death takes? More specifically, to cite the theoretical question that opens the book, "is Death a woman?" And if death is not always a woman—and Guthke's survey amply documents that it is not—what determines which gender is chosen in any given instance? Is it, for example, a function of grammatical gender—the fact that death is a "feminine" noun in some languages and "masculine" in others?....While critical of important post-Kantian omissions, the reviewer has written a balanced, engrossing review.
In chapter 2, on the Middle Ages, Guthke notes that a tendency to assert death's irresistible power over human life (King Death) privileges masculine over feminine incarnations in that medieval culture projects power as a broadly male prerogative.... And as in the late-medieval genre of the Triumph of Death (68–81), death may emerge as a noble Lady or Queen (Petrarch's "Donna La Morte") riding her classical chariot over mangled mortal remains: a female embodiment associated, during the fifteenth-century revival of classical learning, with Harpies, the Furies, and the Fates....
This is the website for a September 2000 "Death, Dying and Disposal Conference" held at the University of London. The interdisciplinary range is impressive. There is no mention of a collection of papers from this conference, but there is a contact for those who wish further information. This next link offers two abstracts, one from the same conference, the second from a related one a few days later: http://www.vuw.ac.nz/classics/abst1.htmlhttp://www.ling.helsinki.fi/~kkpitkan/gradu.ps/gradu.index.html
The first is "Public Memorials, Private Virtues: Women on classical Athenian grave monuments" (author unnamed):In classical Athens, the graves of the dead, and their accompanying memorials, were sited upon either side of the main roads into the city, where all passers-by must see them....The second abstract, which I found especially intriguing after reading the review of Guthke's work (see above), is for "The Gender of Death" by Diana Burton (Victoria University of Wellington):Most ancient personifications are female. The Greek brothers Thanatos and Hypnos, and the Roman Somnus, however, are exceptions to this rule, although other death-related figures such as Mors, the Keres, Erinyes and Fates are female. Although a personification’s gender is determined (usually) by its abstract noun, its gender can nonetheless affect the characteristics and behaviour ascribed to it by the ancient sources, as traits considered to be typical of the male or female gender are integrated into the personification’s identity. The various ramifications of a single abstraction, therefore, may be worked out through a range of personifications.....
This is a 1994 Master's Thesis by Kari K. Pitkänen, "How to Avoid Death: Euphemisms and Circumlocutions for the Final Journey," written for the Department of General Linguistics, University of Helsinki. Unfortunately, since most of the work is in something called "PostScript files," which my computer doesn't understand, I haven't read any of this material. The topic, however, is appealing and for those with more sophisticated computers, you might wish to explore this one. Sections include: Tiivistelmä, Introduction, Euphemisms of Death, Methodology, Euphemisms as idioms, Structural means for creating variation in euphemisms of death, Imagery, Textual means for avoiding death, Conclusion, and References. (Note: the author is currently working on his Ph.D.)http://www.westgatenecromantic.com/historical.htm
This is an essay on the "Historical Personifications of Death" by Leilah Wendell, a writer, artist, and devotee. For non-specialists who are just seeking general lore on death, the lengthy work is "good enough." For students, however, especially considering the wide-range of this site, it unfortunate that the author chose not to include her sources. Here are several excerpts (Note: her Stone Age data doesn't fit any data with which I'm familiar -- to my knowledge, no one has identified "Death" in Stone Age art and I can think of no paintings depicting what the author describes; her Egyptian data in other passages is also weak -- I haven't had time to verify her claims for other cultures so use a "grain of salt" and just enjoy -- bottom-line: the work is an odd mixture of what feels genuine and what is clearly garbled):...One of the earliest known depictions of a personified Death was found at Catal Huyuk, a Neolithic settlement in Anatolia dating from the 7th Millennium B.C... Death takes the form represented by gigantic black birds of vulture-like appearance menacing headless human corpses. Many Stone Age cave paintings depict Death as a winged being, tall and extremely thin and pale in complexion. In these earliest renditions, Death was not given a name, simply an image, that to the people of that day, was representative of a major force or "deity". Something much larger than life that could never be appeased, no matter how many "sacrifices" were given unto It. The assignation of names and titles, and even personality, came much later as the world grew "larger" and more diverse in the eyes of man. When humankind literally separated himself from the animal kingdom and began to think about the meaning of life, [it was nevertheless faced with] always having [to] recognize the inevitability of Death....Note: for those who prefer the reading-ease of a plain text version, click here for Mystica.com.
...Death is, in principal, the personification of a particular divine aspect of will, developed from a functional expression of the Godsoul that has evolved into a relatively independent personality with a distinct character of Its own. Dion Fortune stated an excellent observation on modern mans view of Death in her 1942 book, Through the Gates of Death; "We must get out of the way of thinking that death is the ultimate tragedy...It is only the man sunk in matter who calls the Angel of Death the great enemy. His esoteric name is the Opener of the gates of Life...."
"All Souls Day"
Lacquer box by Karpova (afterBourgereau)
Courtesy of Tradestone International
http://mdmd.essortment.com/childdeathcopi_rexb.htm : [gentle, practical essay]The handful of minimally annotated sites below are all focused on helping children cope with death and dying. I hadn't intended to do a section on this, but when I came across these compassionate, sensible links, I decided to include them for those who might be looking for such resources.
African Detail from "Kahdam, Kahti, and Bahti"
© David Chethlahe Paladin (1926-1984) -- see above.
This is a large, terrific collection of minimally annotated links concerning worldwide "Death & Funeral Customs." Three or four links are already on my own site -- the rest are virgin territory. Enjoy!http://library.thinkquest.org/16665/burialframe.htm
"Death: An Inquiry into Man's Mortal Weakness" is a student-researched project at Thinkquest. This link will take you to a website (click where it tells you to) that won third prize in the overall project. The page offers a map of the world -- move your mouse over whatever region interests you and the righthand frame will give you brief but useful information on death and burial customs in that region (with hypertext for many terms).http://www.funeralsinfo.com/memorials.htm
After looking through all the entries, I then tried to get back to the opening page but couldn't. I just kept getting more repeats of the entries. Finally I peeled back the opening URL to its previous term, clicked, and managed to get to a home page. This is an unnecessarily difficult site to navigate! (or maybe it's that my old browser, Netscape 4.79, isn't set up for something this high tech). For those who want to explore further, here's that elusive home page: http://library.thinkquest.org/16665/cgi-bin/index.cgi
In addition to commercial links connected to practical information on funerals, grieving, etc., this site also looks at burial and funeral customs around the world. Unfortunately, when I did a quick check of the minimally annotated links, I found that many links were broken. However, many more are still working & definitely worth your exploration. If you're patient, this is a good place for browsing.
Myth*ing Links' General Reference Pages:
MythingLinks Search Engine
Cross-cultural, Multi-regional, Interdisciplinary Collections
General Reference Page (online libraries, reference help, literary texts, world languages, word-lover sites, help on writing research papers, copyright information, film plots, themes, and/or films representing various historical periods)
Special Interest Sites for Pacifica Faculty, Students & Colleagues(includes Jung, Campbell, Freud, Eliade, Otto, Hillman, other depth psychologists, mysticism, anthropology, religious studies, archetypal perspectives, foundations for mythology & psychology, relevant journals, books, videos, etc.)
Teachers' Reference Page for Primary & Secondary School Education
Related Myth*ing Links pages:
Dianne Skafte's ORACLES OF EARTH - THE DEEP BELOW
Mexico's Day of the Dead
Egyptian Mummies & Related Beliefs
Menu of Common Themes, East & West:
Animal Deaths in Europe: Of Cows & Madness
Artists & Muses: The Creative Impulse
Creation Myths I
Creation Myths II
Crones & Sages
Dragons & Serpents
Food: Sacrality & Lore
THE FOUR ELEMENTS
Land: Sacrality & Lore (mountains, caves, labyrinths, spiral mounds, crop & stone circles, FengShui)
Earth Day & Environmental Issues
Earth Goddesses & Gods
Air: Sacrality & Lore (air, wind, sky, storms, clouds, weather lore)
Sky Goddesses & Gods
Fire: Sacrality & Lore (fire, northern lights, green-flashes, Elmo's Fire)
Fire Goddesses & Gods
Water: Sacrality & Lore(water, wells, springs, pools, lakes)
Floods & Rainbows: Mythologies & Science
Water Goddesses & Gods
Nature Spirits of the World
Rituals of Birthing [forthcoming]
Rituals of Marrying [forthcoming]
Rituals of Death & Dying
Rituals of Puberty
Rituals of Weather-Working: An experimental, on-going ritual in cyberspace
Sacred Theatre & Dance
Star Lore & Astrology
Symbols, Signs, & Runes
Time(Calendars, Clocks, Natural Temporal Cycles, Attitudes toward Time, & Millennium Issues)
Trees & Plant Lore
Tricksters, Clowns, Magicians, Jesters & Fools
Wars, Weapns & Lies: The Dehumanizing Impulse
Weaving Arts & Lore (Cosmic Webs, Spinning, Spindles, Clothing)
Down to Geographical Regions: Africa
This page created with Netscape Gold 3.01
Technical assistance: William Weeks
Text and Design:
© 2002-2009 by Kathleen Jenks, Ph.D.
All rights reserved
First full day of spring, 21 March 2002, the 10th year anniversary of my Ph.D. --
page designed & published unofficially.
Updates: 23-24 March 2002 (new links & art);
24 March 2002, 4pm (Nedstated); 5pm-ish: officially launched;
27-28 March 2002 (annotated more links; added "How Death Came..." & other new sections;
28-29 March 2002: stil more links --
since yesterday, page has now doubled in size: re-launched!
31 March 2002, 1:30am: added Kathy Robles' perfect epigraph.
5 November 2006: minor formatting changes and added Google Analytics program.
17 September 2009: updated Nedstat/Motigo.
14-15 December 2009: double-listed different excerpts from "Charon's Obol" on Money, Wealth & Treasure page.
1:30am, 12/16-17/09: launching although I still need a few transitions in the Charon/Obol section.