WHAT HAPPENS TO PAGANS AFTER DEATH ?
There are basically four major paths within modern Paganism.
Withing each there are many denomination, much the same as Protestantism. Virtually all of the various Pagan spiritual traditions have some place of rest, comfort and reward to which we expect we will go, even if only for a brief time before reincarnation, growing younger and younger until, eventually, we are again young enough to be reborn. We accept death as a necessary step in the cycles of life; Birth, death and rebirth. Most Pagan belief systems include the concept that it is our lives that are our most important purpose here and that we can make this life into a reward or a punishment by how we live and how we relate to those around us. We believe that our own sense of personal responsibility and morality is what controls our punishment or reward in this lifetime.
For Wiccans and Pagans, this place is known as the “Summerland”. It is a place of eternal rest and comfort, or if we have not learned enough in this lifetime and are to be reincarnated, a restful and pleasant stop over between lives.
To the Northern European or Nordic Traditions, for warriors it is known as Valhalla. For other, it is called Noatun, where the sun meets the water, Asgaard and several others. There are at least 12 abodes for the dead, allowing each some choice in where they will meet and abide in eternal feasting with Odin. Oaht-breakers and others who dishonored their community or themselves, were sent to Nastrond, more to keep them away from the good golks in the other places than as punishment.
To the Druids, it is known as the Western Islands, AValon or the Isle of Apples.
None of the Pagan traditions contain a place of damnation and suffering such as the Judeo-Christian Hell. We do not believe that this life is some kind of a dress rehearsal for something that comes only after death. Most believe that upon death, each of us must honestly and justly evaluate and judge ourselves before rest in the Summerland or our reincarnation can be possible. How I bereavement care a part of your community?
The belief that death is simply a change to another plane of existence for Pagans does not often make the passage of a loved one any less emotional or difficult, even though we generally do not fear our own death as much as most westerners do today. Grief comes more often from a sense of personal loss rahter than a fear for the fate of the deceasted, as we have no place of eternal punishment to be afraid of. In the Pagan community, the same support during the grieving process is provided for the survivors, although often through novel means, such as a guided meditation for the grief stricken. With the subject or subjects in a relaxed position with eyes closed, preferably sitting comfortably and not reclining, the leader of the meditation will guide them through a mind-picture- story in the mind, very often a journey through familiar and pleasing surroundings to meet with the departed loved one. They are presented witht the opportunity to converse in their minds with the deceased, to say things not said in life, to make their peace if necessary, to see that the departed is happy and well, and to say their good-byes to them. The meditation leader will then talk them back along the path previously taken, returning them to their present consciousness. This process, this meditative mind journey, if you will, is very effective and amazingly cathartic in releasing unreconciled grief. Some find the grieving process shortened by lovingly preparing the body by washing it themselves prior to removal for interment or cremation. Some other methods include the building of a shrine or an altar to the deceased in one’s home, gathering for a community memorial to mark and honor the life of the deceased rather than focusing on their death and Chanting for the Dead, similar to the Tibetan Buddhist rites or the Jewish custom of say Kaddish. How do you support the dying person?
When it is possible, often someone (or several people, taking turns) will sit a vigil with the dying person during the days leading up to their death. There are several meditations for this circumstance, including the Salt Water Meditation and a Grounding Meditation to help center the mind. One of the greatest gifts we can offer a loved one is to simply be present through their dying, grounded, caring, and witnessing and experiencing with them without interferring with the process. We know that even an unconscious person can often still hear, and we try not to create an unsettling atmosphere for them by callously talking as though they were already gone. Once dead, the body must not be left alone, if possible, until cremation or interment. Given the modern operations of hospitals and nursing homes, this may prove difficult, but we must try. How do you support their family?
Just as with the dead, the surviving should not be left alone but offered companionship - even just the silent presence of a friend sleeping in the next room is comforting. Many Pagans believe that the bereaved family needs nine days without the burdens of daily work routines, though few are able to afford this. Three days for the dead, three days for the living, and another three days for gentle transition back to ordinary life. Offering practical help, such as making phone calls, arranging transporation, dealing with the authorities and paperwork are all concrete acts of love. Newly bereaved need nurturing and food and companionship are needed in spite of feelings of wanting to be alone or not being hungry. Companionship should never be burdensome - it isn’t necessary to entertain or comfort or make wise remarks - we just need to be there. What are the riutals with the body after death?
The preparation and dressing of the body were already touched on. The body should generally not be embalmed or preserved in any way, and so cremation or burial should take place in three days or less, sooner in hot climates. Memorial services should be held for those unable to make the funeral. To allow it to return to the natural cycles of the earth, the physical body should be wrapped in simple cloth shroud and placed directly in the earth if the law allows, or in a simple softwood box, without any concrete or metal burial vault. Many cemeteries insist on a vault to minimize their workload in refilling depressions caused by settling graves, so this should be discussed in advance. The return of the physical body to the earth in a natural, unrestricted process is a central and important tenet of Paganism. In cremation, much of the physcial body is released back into the biosphere, and remaining ashes should also be allowed to return to the earth.