Mortem Obire – Facing Death in the Wake of the Queen’s Passing

Mortem Obire – Facing Death in the Wake of the Queen’s Passing September 10, 2022

 

Photo by Payton Tuttle, via Unsplash

The death of the Queen of the United Kingdom and Commonwealth realms on Thursday 8th September marked an historical occasion and a seismic shift in the lives of many – most particularly, those of us who reside in the ancient bounds of Britain. There has been a great deal said since the news was announced and following the Proclamation of King Charles III on the morning of Saturday 10th September, and much is yet to be said. There remains little that one solitary witch has the need or desire to add to the prolific outpourings, or the commentary that will continue unabated for several days and weeks to come. What space there is, then, is that of the most piercing of questions concerning what this event signifies from the perspective of the modern, and traditional witch. 

For a number of sodalities under the umbrella term Traditional Witchcraft, the myth of the sacred king has strong resonance – perhaps decoupled from the pomp and ceremony of institutionalised and temporal monarchy, perhaps not. However, for many of us, something else is happening that it seems pertinent to discuss. We must, therefore, in this season of harvest and fall, of declining light when the divine twins’ sovereignty is within the court of the Lord of the Waxing Year, the Lord of the Realms of the Dead, discuss that solemn cloud which overhangs this period and yet goes unsaid, even forbidden – that of Death.

And so, it is not the intention of this author to attempt to add or remove any of the broad discourse and remarks that have already been sufficiently made regarding the demise of the last Queen of the United Kingdom and the accession of the new. The reader is advised, therefore, that the sole remit of this discourse is to explore the singular theme that appears to be affecting the national spirit, as well as the collective psyche of those abroad who held the Queen, Elizabeth II, in esteem. I am speaking of Death, the sole leveller that we must all face as inevitable and unceasing, endless and demanding. 

That which remains unsaid is often apophatically the most present, demanding that we face its inexorability. The greater, collective society is unavoidably moved, in one way or another, and to differing degrees, but moved nevertheless by the death of an elderly lady whose continued presence has been a persistent part of our cultural lives and, for many, identity. Even those of us who are not royalists, for whom the monarch is a moribund remnant of colonialism and feudalism, the death of an icon has some primordial ability to evoke something deep within us. What I think is the unspoken truth that is the invisible chain, reaching all of us who have been exposed to the regular presence of the individual personage of Elizabeth Windsor, is that this constant has concluded with finality. 

Together with a seventy year reign, the longest of any monarch, has come regular Christmas Day message, state openings of Parliament, duties and ceremony, seals and insignia, reminders and symbols that are baked into the British identity and its long and bloody history. Put simply, the echo that each of us is likely experiencing in the pit of our being – royalist or republican – is that the death of such a powerful and constant icon signifies the inevitability of our own ultimate mortality. Nothing reminds us of our own imminent death quite so much as the public and overt death of a symbolic, and long-lived, personality. Mortality is suddenly, and outwardly, brought starkly into view! 

This, then, is quite probably the root of much of the outpouring of sadness that accompanies the death of the Queen. That is not to diminish the love and devotion that many are evidently experiencing, but to recognise that the shadow of this display is that which accompanies us all – king and beggar alike. This is a reminder that death does not discriminate, and so we are all at liberty to project our grief, collectively amassed, in an open and acceptable societal rite of passage – a singular event in most of our lifetimes. Singular not because the passing of a monarch is so unique (history attests), and the ripe age of the new King (at 73 the oldest new monarch) predicts a second in many of our futures. No, it is remarkable simply because of the persevering nature of the Elizabethan reign, which adds gravity to this Queen’s death. 

As the national psyche conjointly goes through ‘something’, expressing mourning – whether for the Queen, or a projected ghost of family members not fully exorcised – something of our clumsy cultural ritual and language around death is brought into view. While many different cultures around the world approach death in manners that might be more psychologically healthy, we remain (especially in Britain) staunchly stoic with a steadfast refusal to soften that stiff upper lip one iota. The harm of this cultural approach is, perhaps, seen in the visage of the new King Charles III as he evidently attempts to suppress his strongly held emotion in order to maintain the decorum considered appropriate by longstanding tradition – and enforced by the weight of officialdom about him. The tension that ran across the face of Charles III during his Proclamation at the convening of the Accession Council (10th September, 2022), and the tears that welled in his eyes, was stifled by propriety imposed by centuries of institution and tradition of concealing and repressing any and all emotional displays. Our modern and progressive world has come suddenly up against archaic and regressive tradition that itself has resulted in repressed and unbalanced psychological conditioning – and it was written across the face of the new King as he swallowed down the sadness of his mother’s passing as the weight of history and society demanded he ‘put on a brave face’, and ‘keep calm and carry on’. 

This societal commentary is not what was intended when I sat down to pen these thoughts. Rather, I wished to discuss the role of death as the hidden god, the unspoken lord who is the dark face of the God of the Witches – the Janus-like face that is turned to oblivion and nothing-ness. This shadow fills most of us with dread, an innate fear which will not be assuaged with time and consideration. The impenetrable umbra of Death is a force that will not be reckoned with, cannot be held back with logic, emotion, philosophy or politics. The Devil is, in witchcraft, both the Light Bringer and the Guardian of the Gates, the keeper of the watch who presides over the underworld. 

“Despite all the suppressive nonsense which has been spouted about the ‘Devil’, many areas of traditional lore retained the original character of the Guardian. If the regenerative nature of magical images holds true, and is allowed to work, they will always reveal their secret nature to those who ask in the correct manner…” [1]

A function of the God of Witches is to be found in the role of Opposer, embodying all those principles that encompass transgression and opposition, turning back. As such, the antithesis demands the thesis, the silence that demands in its Unsaying Truth, the emergence of the Word, manifesting in the emptiness, or absence. 

“It is thus the visible and invisible extrusion of one’s own death, the ‘veiled master’ in the guise of the Hidden Initiator.” [2]

As such, the shadow of the ‘veiled master’ is cast wide across the nations of the United Kingdom and its crown Dominions, and further abroad, as the collective psyche struggles with the presence of death whose reach is unassailable. He walks amongst us even today, as the new Monarch is Proclaimed with much fanfare and ceremony. 

Photo by Roman Kaiuk, via Unsplash

Some traditions of Old Craft would foresee the monarch, in death, as transcending the mortal realm to assure and secure the kingdom in the hereafter for their peoples. This is one tradition that has found a place in older forms of Traditional Witchcraft, and occultism, from the middle of the last century. In this sense, we might be minded to mark the transition of the Queen from the sensible to the intelligible kingdoms as a celebration, a heralding of our own potentiality to the higher realms. But this leaves little succour in the hearts of many in society at large as we collectively struggle, culturally, within our post-enlightenment world of empiricism and rationalism – a reality built upon experiential and/or a priori knowledge – and the dichotomous position into which we are thrust of a more numinous character, bedecked with custom and ceremony that is bathed in superstition, lore and sentimentality.

The ultimate mystery, which lies at the heart of all mystery traditions, concerns that of death and the question of all that follows in the hereafter. Many hold to beliefs, ideas, realms perceived as possessing some paradisal existence outside of the temporal. The truth that this illusion veils, which we wrestle deep within our souls, is that none of us can be certain as to what lies beyond the river of time and the living. This earthly realm is a plane of death, for all life is born to die and life feeds on death, is sustained, nourished by it as the very soil and bones. The eternal must be outside of this, in some sense. When the apparent eternity of a long-lived icon, a monarch that has outlived so many of her subjects, that idea of long-lasting, eternal presence and the finality of death is the cloud that hangs over all the ceremony and emotional outpouring. We wear black, we speak in solemn tones, we talk of respect, devotion, admiration, duty, but we none of us address the Opposer, Death, who heralds our own individual, lone initiation into the darkest of mysteries.

1. R. J. Stewart, The UnderWorld Initiation: A Journey Towards Psychic Transformation (Lake Toxoway, NC: Mercury Publishing, 1998)

2. Daniel Schulke, Robert Fitzgerald, Via Toruosa: An Exposition of Crooked Path Sorcery, (Hercules: Xenon, 2018), 35.

 

The Witch Compass by Ian Chambers

The Witch Compass: Working with the Winds in Traditional Witchcraft, by Ian Chambers,  is  published through Llewellyn Worldwide and is available now!

For information, articles, podcast interviews, and more from Ian Chambers, please visit his website at Surrey Cunning.

“With this invaluable book, the aspirant unto traditional Craft and the seasoned practitioner alike are carefully guided through the workings of the compass as the map, via which the Crafter may traverse magical realities, encounter spiritual presences, and commune with ultimate Truth.”—Gemma Gary, author of Traditional Witchcraft

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About Ian Chambers
Ian Chambers is a long-time practitioner of modern Traditional Witchcraft and folk sorcery. Ian has received inductions in several Traditional Craft sodalities and maintains working relations through the Ced and Y Plant Brân lines of witchcraft. A selection of Ian's writings has appeared in various magazines, including The Cauldron, White Dragon, and The Hedgewytch, and current works may be found at By The Pale Moonlight at Patheos Pagan. You can read more about the author here.
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