Day 4: Birth, Death, and Rebirth

Hm, since I haven’t read other people’s entries to this meme in a while, I’m not entirely sure what the underlying question is: beliefs (such as where we go when we die) or associations (such as the deities of birth and death, or funeral rites). I’m going to treat this as all of the above unless someone corrects me ahead of time.

Birth

“Nagy Boldog Asszony” Silk Painting by Somogyi Réka

I’m going to assume that we all know where babies come from (i.e. it ain’t the stork delivery service). So there really isn’t much in the personal-belief department regarding birth and pregnancy. Sperm meets egg, cells divide, and if all goes well those bundles of cells eventually form a being that’s ready to be pushed out (or surgically removed) into a world that’s drier and colder than Mommy’s uterus. Not much room for spiritual imagination. Now the concept of an embryo’s soul or personhood, that’s another thing entirely. I believe (no basis in anything cultural, historical, or scientific, just a personal belief) that the embryo starts developing into a person soon after the heart starts beating. Or, to put it another way, the formation of a soul puts the seed of life into the embryo’s body and makes the heart start beating. I say “formation” because I don’t really believe in reincarnation. I also say “start” because I don’t believe the “soul” is done developing (or becomes complete) until long after birth, if at all.

As you can see, I tend to connect soul development to physical development. This is primarily due to my view on the soul being intertwined with the physical body, so much so that they’re practically one and the same (this is based on the world-accepting nature of general heathenry and the pre-Christian/early Christian descriptions of the dead). I am not housed in my body, I AM my body.

As far as rituals go, if I ever do give birth there will probably be several. In the pre-Christian past there seems to be naming ceremonies which celebrate both the birth of the child and it’s acceptance into the community through giving the child an identity. This purpose has continued to this day in Catholicism under the guise of baptism. Because my family is Catholic, I probably will give my hypothetical child a baptism so as to reference that familial inclusion (plus, it’ll cover some bases in case anything happens to me and my family has to raise the child in my place, or if I have to put the kid into private school).

I’ll also probably do my own ritual introduction of my child to the world. I don’t have my books near me at this time, but I recall some Slavic cultures having a sort of “baptism” where you show the child to Earth and Sky, ask for protection and guidance from particular deities, and have a party afterwards. That’s basically how a Catholic baptism goes in my family, you do the ritual in Church a month or so after the baby is born, then you head over to Gramma’s house for a big dinner with all the extended relatives rolling into town. Gifts, primarily money-based ones like bonds, were given to the mother to cushion the child’s nest egg. We can see a similar theme in folklore, where a poor father goes out looking for a godparent to help with child-rearing finances. Stuff happens, and the father ends up with a wealthy godparent for the kid. By having the child be formally accepted into the family, the child gains access to familial support.

If I were a mother, then I would be able to include Dec. 26th in as a day of honor, since that’s a day linked to the deity Boldog Asszony and her associated motherhood trait. That day seems to have been reserved for families, particularly mothers with their children, so obviously at this point it’s not a part of my calendar. Otherwise, birth of life in general is reserved for the spring and early summer, like during the Easter season and May Day.

Death

From The Faraway, Nearby (1938) by Georgia O’Keefe

Death is a little less straightforward, and I’m not entirely sure what to think. I tend to keep to my non-romantic preferences in that once someone’s dead, that’s pretty much it. However, I also participate in ancestor worship, which entertains the idea of some stage of existence after death. I’m not certain either way, and I could care less. If I do end up simply six feet under, that’s fine. If I go to a land of the dead and rejoin my family, that’s fine too.

Aesthetically, however, I do find the stories and figures surrounding death to be fascinating. Death itself is a natural state of being rather than a wiht, but I do think there are wihts that are involved with the dead and dying. There are several, big and small, that are known: Ördög, Woden, Veles, Berchta (specifically dead children that were marginalized), and numerous others that I don’t know the names of at this time. The main roles seem to be land-based, where they head the land of the Dead, and/or psychopomp-based, where they collect the dead into a group and lead them somewhere (either on a journey or to the lands of the dead). The variations on these themes are common and numerous around Europe, and pretty much around the world. For years I was deeply interested in the psychopompic beings specifically, as I wanted to spiritually work in that “field” myself. Course, that was back in the confused days when I thought I could be a shaman. Nowadays my “psychopompic work” is limited to giving my respects to dead animals that I may find out in the field (no dead humans yet, though you never know what the future holds).

I keep the “land of the Dead” imagery alive in my personal cosmology because I don’t see that as being world-rejecting, like Christianity’s heaven/hell is. The lands of the Dead seem to be physical places on (or in) the same Earth that we live on when alive, just a different location. I prefer the imagery of a hollow mountain the most, probably because it’s ubiquitous in the folktales I read the most (and my ancestral homeland is riddled with mountains). My second favorite resting place is a wetland. I live by wetlands and they held so much symbolism for my pre-Christian ancestors that I feel compelled to keep wetlands in my personal cosmology. I just find them so mysterious and lovely at the same time, especially the ancient sphagnum (quaking) bogs with their visible history. Realistically though, the land of the recent dead would be the cemeteries. We don’t really have mountains in Chicago, given that it started out as a wetland prairie, and it’s probably a health hazard to dump bodies in a bog, so the imagery will have to be relegated to stories only.

I do not have much in the way of funeral rites that are related to paganism. If a family member dies they go through a Catholic funeral and get buried in the Church’s cemetery. When I die I’d like to be cremated or left to rot naturally and have my remains be put in a marsh. Nothing too fancy, though I certainly wouldn’t complain if a giant statue of me in a cool pose was built in the city square.

Rebirth

Simply put, I don’t believe in it. But if it does happen, then cool; I’d like to come back as a land wiht in that marsh my body gets dumped in. Or I’ll hang out in my giant statue and be a city wiht, conferring good luck on the residents while messing with the annoying tourists.

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