Last night I saw a lot of cute costumes. Halloween as a secular holiday is about dressing up, getting and giving candy, and admiring people’s artistic skills in carving squash. Today the fun is over and it gets real. It’s November First, Day of the Dead. How do you remember the people you have lost? How do you prepare for your own death?
There’s a place in the Gnostic Mass, the Collects, where the Priest recites a series of statements. The last in the list is titled “The End”:
“Unto them from whose eyes the veil of life hath fallen may there be granted the accomplishment of their true Wills; whether they will absorption in the Infinite, or to be united with their chosen and preferred, or to be in contemplation, or to be at peace, or to achieve the labour and heroism of incarnation on this planet or another, or in any Star, or aught else, unto them may there be granted the accomplishment of their wills; yea, the accomplishment of their wills. AUMGN. AUMGN. AUMGN.”
The simple practice of quoting this collect is widespread and comforts those of us who have lost people we love. It is the final application of the law of freedom, “Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the Law.” The End Collect does not dictate a particular fate for the soul after death; it does not threaten punishment or promise reward; it does not even assume that we know what the soul will choose. It is an affirmation from one free person to another that the law of freedom holds true both in life and in death.
This collect addresses those who have already passed through the veil. The collect that precedes it, the “Death Collect”, addresses those of us who are still living:
“Term of all that liveth, whose name is inscrutable, be favourable unto us in thine hour.”
None of us know when, or how, we will die. We might have premonitions, intimations of what will happen, but we don’t actually know until the event plays out in reality. The death collect confronts us with the knowledge that whenever and however it happens, we will in fact die. Every mass I am reminded that my body is not immortal, even as I acknowledge the immortality of my soul.
Ordo Templi Orientis initiations are secret, but some things are publicly known. The I-III’ initiations follow a story arc. The U. S. Grand Lodge web site notes “The III° represents the Death of the individual.”
After my III’ initiation I faced the prospect of my own death. I reviewed my will, I audited my life insurance, I discussed age and dying with my family. Aside from the physical and emotional preparations, I made spiritual preparations of my own. I meditated on the moment of dying. What will that be like? I have seen a person die, and I know that the body’s constituent elements fail: the earthly ability to eat; the ability to drink, water; breathing stops, air; and finally the body chills, fire. The soul travels then on the road we have prepared for ourselves. I visualize that road and where it will go.
This meditation helps me appreciate every morsel of food, every sip of water, every breath, and the ongoing beating of my fiery heart. Remembering those who have passed before me reminds me to hug the people who are still around me. It reminds me of the second, and equally important, phrase of the law of freedom: “Love is the law, love under will.”
I’ve lost a number of sisters and brothers in Thelema over the years. Today in particular I remember Fran Culter, the woman who kept Vortex Oasis going in years when no one else would, and who supported it faithfully until the day she died. At our last conversation a few days before she died I asked if we would see her at mass and she said yes. We rang the bell at the death collect for her at that mass. She was a dear friend and I still think of her all the time. Unto Fran may there be granted the accomplishment of her will, and unto all of us.