I’ve begun to read a book on the cadaver in German sorcery (more on that later). In the introduction it states that the remains of the dead, animal or human, still contain an essence that goes beyond death and which can be utilised in magic.
I was reminded of the day that I found a dead pigeon on the streets of my town. People passed it, ignoring it as the usual urban detritus. I was riveted and unable to pass by. I picked up the pigeon and walked a mile out into the countryside where I laid it to rest under a hazel bush next to an oak tree. More recently I found a dead juvenile rat on the concrete in front of my house. Luckily the house owner’s gardener was in that day, so I went through to him and asked him to dig a hole so that I could bury her. He is used to my madness and didn’t blink twice at my request.
Somehow the concrete of the town was life/death-denying in the way that it forced the cadavers to lie betwixt and between, unable to fester and rot away, to become part of the earth again. At worst, they would have been kicked around, at best swept up to be thrown onto some soul-less landfill. If we cannot rot and be re-consumed into the earth, do we ever really die?
Then my thoughts must turn to the ancient Egyptians who mummified their animals and fellow humans to perpetuate them for the afterlife. The Egyptians believed that as long as the Ren, or name, was spoken, they would live on. I cannot help but think of the future-denying mystes of Klagesian philosophy (of which I am still woozy but making brave efforts to understand) who tap into the eternal past through images … A name is after all but a way of conjuring up an image. Mythology has made much ado about the power of names – of angels and gods, but even Adam and Eve naming the plants and animals before their ejection from Eden. Only those dead re-membered live on, not just “in our hearts” as the Christians would have it, but in reality, beyond the illusory bluster of a world that has us not only deny life but death too.
How do we deny life when we celebrate birth and, now more than ever, we (in the Western World) can indulge our leisure time with so many “life-fulfilling” activities? Bucket list ticks are surely a testament to how much we LIVE LIFE?! But without death there is no life. Our eyes have become dulled by the litany of soul-less images from conflict zones around the world, and ever more so in our own backyards. We remember the dead in statistics. Grief counselling is A Thing, because we no longer know what to do when a person we love dies; how should we continue to relate to the dead? Of course, in the main, we don’t because the dead are just that … dead. What role do they play in life?
One can’t help but look back to past cultures, and the remnants of such, in ancestral cults, where there was no cessation of relationship with the person who died.
I am minded of the ever-growing number of Facebook profiles online of those who have passed on. Family and friends unable to, or unwilling to delete them … In many cases, people still post to the profiles randomly or on some anniversary, as if still in conversation with the dead. A cyber-necromancy. The need in us is there. It will out, in new and weirder ways.
I have no conclusions. These are just my initial mulling thoughts. I may expand on them and/or change them … but that’s just par for the course for my blog 🙂 Right from the initial post, this has been a place for me to explore, share and develop. I appreciate your company in this.
[DEDICATED TO THE DEATH DAY OF ANDI D.]
Do birds sing at night in the cities
While darkness reigns on the land?
Lights imbue the air with iridescent glow
That tarnishes midnight creating
A subterfuge of sleep.
I lay awake three nights in a row
Listening to a lone blackbird sing
Even though dawn was a dream away,
Fantasy in the mind of Nut;
The morning star still hidden in her belly.
My world upturned while he sang a song
Of dawn, pressed into night’s breast;
His throat trilled vibrations of the sun
Into the bosom of Night, pricking her skin
So she bled into my mouth: I could not breathe.
Nature was inverted during those nights;
The spirit of day had invaded the Du’at,
The bark of Ra dragged screaming
Through the underworld where the dead
Heard the song of the thrice-black bird.
Cadavers quaked at the sound with longing
Remembering dawns when the blood
Pulsed, throbbed and rose in their veins –
A bloody dawn inside their own bodies
That now rotted in the earth.
I heard the dead groan at the agony
Of Beauty – Cosmic Shivers – that ululated
From that bird. As I lay listening,
Breath stilled under the Midnight Sun
I pondered my own death that surely must come.
I keep pet rats and have done for over 15 years. To my friends I am known as “the Rat Witch”. Rats are a wonderful pet; they answer to their names, give and love to receive affection, respond to commands and have enormous personalities that seem to far outweigh the size of their corporeal selves. The down side about pet rats is that they only live for 2 to 2.5 years (the latter if you are lucky). Wild rats barely survive for a year. Fancy rats (including Dumbo, Siamese, Rex and standard breeds) have been bred to survive much longer but consequently they die frequently of cancers and tumours due to their excessively unnatural life span.
In the past, I had a “friend” who got angry with me for keeping rats. She had issues with death and was furious that I exposed myself to the death of my beloved companions every 2 years or so. It’s true. It is a lot of grief. A lot of death-mongering – I have always had to decide when it’s their time to pass, when the suffering is too much. Just as it’s my responsibility to ensure they have a good life, it’s my responsibility to ensure they have a good death. Without exception I have held every rat in my arms until they have passed on. Because rats are so small, the fatal injection cannot be given into the heart as with cats and dogs; instead, it is injected into their stomachs and then we have to wait until the substance has worked its way around their system and they die. This can take anywhere between 10 and 50 minutes. The latter death was traumatic for me due to the way she fought in spirit to hold onto life. Trust me, it was her time to go, but a rat’s tenacity to life is indomitable.
So for me, death is a large part of my relationship to rats. Death is in the room with me right now. Tomorrow I will be taking my oldest girl to be put down. Her spirit is still lively and she is bright as a kitten, but her body is ridden with tumours and she can barely walk due to a massive tumour that has deformed both her back legs. She is the oldest surviving rat I have ever had. She is my “eternal girl”. I will miss her very much when she passes.
I am preparing myself to be a Death Doula tomorrow evening. I have felt this decision weighing on me since before Christmas. Sometimes I have wanted to look away from Death’s face, to ignore this part of our life. I wish I could be callous and leave her to die on her own, have the responsibility taken away from me. But part of my role as Death Doula is that *I* take on the pain of death. It is not for me to leave her till her tumours rupture and she dies in agony, or till she can no longer eat and drink and she starves slowly to death. As a Rat Witch, my role is to give them joy in life, and to smoothe the transition to Death as best I can by lethal injection and having them fall asleep in my arms as my heart breaks.
I once had a boyfriend who refused to accompany me to the final appointment with the vet, because he found it “too hard”. To this day I am astounded and annoyed because the implication was that it was easy for me. It’s not. It is the hardest thing ever and I admit that at times I have thrown myself into a bottle of alcohol or a pile of pills afterwards because the pain is so excruciating. But when I welcome a rat into my life, I welcome their death too – I take all parts of them into my hands. However difficult it is, I have no choice … or maybe I do, I choose to hold them as Death takes their soul. I choose to cradle their bodies as their muscles spasm releasing their spirit and their final death rattle is squeaked from their lungs … their final word.
It’s a big responsibility to choose the time of another creature’s death. I am not talking about animal sacrifice, which I abhor and reject unreservedly. I am talking about compassion which is truly a Merciless Path; to live with compassion means to take on the pain. In some circles they speak of taking on the Passion of Christ, being killed on the cross with him. I know some of you will be rolling your eyes at such a comparison with the death of a “mere rat”. Vermin, right? To you maybe. But to me they are massive souls in tiny bodies. They are companions, and they have literally saved my life on several occasions.
As much as I enjoy the life of my rats, I must also honour their death and be Death Doula helping them to die into Death as much as we are born into life. Tomorrow I will hold my old girl in my arms and stroke her, calling her all my affectionate names and singing to her until she passes.
To my Beautiful Girl with a smoky nose and eyes like pomegranate seeds: I shall miss you. Let me take on the pain of your death, so that you may no longer suffer. So mote it be.