Patheos’ new What Do I Really Believe? series is about what we feel is true in our heart and soul, which may conform to our faith tradition’s beliefs or not. Only so many Pagan responses made it to the homepage but we received some really fabulous ones. Instructions on how to respond to the next question are at the bottom of this post.
What really happens when we die?
Your best friend is crushed when his 10-year-old son dies of cancer. He tells you that he is comforted, at least, that one day he’ll get to see his child again in heaven.
Later that day, you begin to wonder… Is there life after death? Are heaven and hell real places? Do our souls continue to exist in some form?
What do you really believe?
I believe that beliefs about particular afterlives tell us far more about the views of the people involved about life as-we-know-it-now, rather than presenting any accurate description or depiction of what actually happens. Pagan views are no different, except that many of us are able to experience those states while still living through trance, journeying, and shamanic work. Who is to say, though, that it occurs in the same way for a person once they are dead?
The prerequisites for ideas known to us cannot exist outside of a material form that has senses, intelligence, emotions, and the like. When a person dies, whatever is in us whether soul or simply energy?o longer inhabits the body, and thus life after death is not really a good way to think about an afterlife, ironically enough.
Some people‘s beliefs in an afterlife are cemented by a near-death experience. I‘ve had about five of these. While I am qualified, therefore, to describe what an afterlife is like, I am in no way capable of doing so. As a result, I‘ve tried to live my life as well as I possibly know how. I do not fear death, as much as fearing that I won? get to accomplish everything I would like to before I die.
Time is short and precious, and should not be taken for granted. No matter how beautiful our beliefs are about afterlives, it is not up to us in the end. Therefore, my focus is on this life, now, and what I can do with it.
P. Sufenas Virius Lupus is a founding member of the Ekklesía Antínoou (a queer, Graeco-Roman-Egyptian syncretist reconstructionist polytheist religious group dedicated to Antinous, the deified lover of the Roman Emperor Hadrian and other related gods and divine figures), a contributing member of Neos Alexandria, and a Celtic Reconstructionist pagan.You can find Lupus’ blog, Aedicula Antinoi, at http://aediculaantinoi.wordpress.com/.
Do I really believe I will be reunited with the souls of loved ones when I die? I have many I‘d like to reunite with, that‘s for certain. My mother, because I miss her more than ever now that I? a mother myself. My sister, because when she was alive, she was mentally handicapped and I would love to meet her as a whole soul.
But I‘m not certain I will, at least not right away. Not because I don‘t believe we will be in the same place. I don‘t believe in a specific place of eternal life; not a heaven or a hell. I emphasize eternal because I believe we have choices. I believe in reincarnation, but I believe we have the choice to do so. We can choose to come back for whatever reason. Maybe we need to learn something or maybe we want the opportunity to live life as a completely different type of person. We can choose to rest for a period before coming back. Or we can choose to move on to a place of peace.
Yes, I believe I will see my loved ones again because some connections reach beyond mortal life. Maybe we won‘t be at that place of rest or peace at the same time. But I believe when we do meet again, we‘ll know each other not as human bodies with eyes and ears and noses and mouths. I will see my loved ones, and they will see me, not as I see with my physical senses, but as pure, spiritual beings, not limited by physical frailties.
Julie Maldonado is a member of the Covenant of the Spirit Wheel, a member of CUUPS and is on the planning committee for Front Range Pagan Pride Day ( www.frontrangepaganpride.org ).
I‘m going to Hell when I die.
Unlike the Christian concept of Hell that is associated with the devil and eternal suffering, the original meaning of Hell was far simpler: it simply meant place of the dead, or the place where something was concealed (which is an apt description of a grave). The term originally had no connotation of good or evil associated with it. Hell was simply the place where all the dead went, whether they were good or evil. The Goddess Hel as guardian of the graves would host the dead within her Hall, but we also see some scattered mentions that the dead in other circumstances may be hosted by other deities: warriors would either go to Odin or Freya, drowned persons to Ran, maidens to Gefjon, etc.
While Hell isn‘t a bad place to be there are two specific places in Hell you really don‘t want to visit. Nifolhel and Nastrond are areas reserved for the oathbreakers, those who spoke false oaths, those who seduced married women, and murderers were said to dwell in torment.
I‘m on a road to Hel, and when the day comes when my life here on Midgard (earth) comes to pass (whenever that will be) I will be glad to go to Hel, where I will go to the Halls of my Gods and the Halls of my ancestors where I know I shall find welcome.
K.C. Hulsman is a gythia of Urdabrunnr Kindred and an active member of her local Asatru community. Her combination of academic research and personal exploration provides interesting insights into modern day Heathenry. Ms. Hulsman has contributed content to several devotionals, and delights in bringing attention to seldom spoken of Gods and Goddesses in the Northern Tradition.
I believe our souls — the essence of who we are — survive death. Past-life memories, after-death communications, and thousands of years of human thought and experience strongly indicate that there is more to Life than the material world. I believe that after death we experience a time of peace and rest and reunion with our ancestors before returning to this world to resume learning and growing and helping others to learn and grow.
That is what I believe, what I think, what my heart tells me is true. The only certain answer is “we don’t know.”
But this I do know. I have looked up at the night sky and felt my connection to the most distant stars. I have walked barefoot in the grass and been warmed by the life-giving rays of the Sun. I have been refreshed by cool water on a hot summer day. I have seen scattered families come together to mourn a death, and I have watched the miracle of birth.
What I cannot know by fact, I believe by love. Whatever the Universe has in store for me after death, I am sure it will be good.
John Beckett is an engineer, Pagan, Druid, and Unitarian Universalist. Coordinating Officer of the Denton Covenant of Unitarian Universalist Pagans and a Druid in the Order of Bards, Ovates and Druids.
What happens after we die doesn’t matter. There’s no way of knowing and focusing on it doesn’t get us any closer to an answer. It frightens me, like I’m sure it does most people. I’m not frightened of my life ending, of no longer existing or being reborn, but the thought of an afterlife makes me sick to my stomach.
The idea that my soul gets caught up in some spirit world, even a pleasant one, makes me entirely uncomfortable. I’ve spent time in the spirit realm in my spiritual practice and always with the comfort of knowing I have a body to return to. The idea of an afterlife sounds like journeying to the Otherland and not being able to get back.
I’m much more comfortable with the thought of my soul dissipating or being immediately reborn. If death is the end, well there’s nothing I can do about it so why worry? Why not make the most of life? If I am reborn, which I think is likely since the Universe wastes nothing, then I return to the earth I adore. What could be more pleasant than that? Water fills many vessels and even turns into steam and cloud, suspended in the air, but it’s always water. Just the same, the soul is always the soul. It bumps about with other souls, and even leaves the body occasionally, but it is always the soul. I just hope the turnover rate on reincarnation is quick.
Star Foster, Wiccan, Pagan Portal Manager at Patheos.
To submit your response to our next question, and maybe end up on our homepage, send me (firstname.lastname@example.org) the following question with a one sentence bio and a picture. Responses need to be under 250 words.