Welcome to the latest in our on-going column, ev0king the Question. Here, we invite regular ev0ke contributors and guests to share their thoughts on a particular question. Sometimes, it will be silly. Sometimes, it will be serious. Sometimes, a little bit of both.
Below, find this month’s question, and answers from Pagans and polytheists from a variety of backgrounds and traditions. Do you have thoughts of your own? If so, please feel free to share them below.
The Question: What do you believe happens to you after death? Is it specific to your practice?
[Rebecca Buchanan is a regular contributor to ev0ke.]
I wish that I had a thoughtful and articulate response to this question. I do not. All I have are more questions.
Is there an afterlife? Is there more than one? Is there only one, but it’s divided up depending on personal morality or the whims of a deity? If there is more than one, is our destination determined by personal morality and the ethics of a particular tradition? Is there nothing after, but more “here”? If there is more here, do we reincarnate as the same soul, or as bits of mixtures of different souls? Or does our personal energy just rejoin the cycle of creation and destruction?
Or is it something we can’t even imagine or comprehend?
A friend of mine recently commented that she had a dream that, when she died, she reincarnated in the world of one of her favorite novels. Several people responded that this was the premise of the isekai genre of Japanese literature. (She was unfamiliar with the genre, and immediately went looking for examples.)
My response was slightly different.
Maybe every story really is true. Maybe every myth, every fable, every folktale, every novel, every tale of fantasy and science fiction and horror and more is true, is real, somewhere. Maybe there are layers to reality, and what’s real one place bleeds through as fiction in another. Maybe when we die, we just … go to another story.
That sounds nice. My story here has been pretty good, but I know that’s not the case for other people. It would be cool if we all got a choice, however unconsciously, and we could move on, as it were, and live in our favorite stories. Forever.
[Ashley Nicole Hunter is the founder of ev0ke, and a regular contributor of short fiction, reviews, and articles.]
If we trust in “as above, so below”, I feel it means that we acknowledge that large patterns play out on a small scale that mirrors the large, and by extension, small patterns are mirrored by larger patterns. When I think of this, I try to picture some of the smallest examples of life, cells. Specifically, I think of cells coming together and dividing to create life. Each cell has its own job and, while it is important, an individual cell is not the most important thing in the overall makeup of a creature. Cells die and change, but nothing goes to waste and we regard each individual cell as being part of the overall whole. I think, then, that we are cells in the creation of something large, something important, and that the birthing of this thing does not stop with us. I believe that when we die, we are reincorporated back into the creation of this new thing, as part of it as the stars that made us are part of us.
[Irisanya Moon (she/they) is an author, witch, and initiate in the Reclaiming tradition. She has written books and blogs on magick, resilience, and dancing with grief. Irisanya cultivates spaces of self-care/devotion, divine relationship (whatever that means to you), and community service as part of their heart magick, activism, and devotion to the godds. She is devoted to Aphrodite, Iris, Hecate, and the Norns. www.irisanyamoon.com ]
October: The Afterlife
Ev0king the Question: What do you believe happens to you after death? Is it specific to your practice?
In 2021, I decided to take some deathcare classes. I was at home, and I wanted to work through the grief of a pandemic, a dissolving marriage, a new home, and all of the uncertainty of the year. I wanted to do anything, anything, to connect back to myself and to the person who knew how to face difficult things.
Truth be told, I hadn’t gotten over the death of my mentor, my mother, my previous life, and my cats. I was holding onto so much grief that it felt possible I would drown. I talked about it. I even got a reputation for being someone who ‘always’ talked about grief. I was open about it, wide open about it. I was raw. I was often messy and honest, but I felt none of it. I could tell you what it felt like, but I didn’t feel it.
Enter: deathwork. This was a way to get busier with death, to look the part of someone who faces death and grief head-on. I could do this. But the truth was that I just wanted a distraction. The universe delivered something else.
It delivered ongoing conversations about what happens with the dying, how they see the world, and I could support them in the transition to whatever came next. I could support someone else and let their experience be the focus. I could step away from anything I didn’t want to question or know.
But, of course, the universe had other plans, including my dad dying quickly after a slow descent post-COVID. I was in my second deathcare class when I realized I would be racing back to the Midwest to be with him as he died. I hoped to make it. (I did.)
I’m not sure what happens after death, nor do I have a set belief based on my practice. I focus on being alive and being as present as I can right now. I focus on returning to feelings, even the sticky ones and the complicated emotions.
My best guess, based on listening to the dying, is that we transition to somewhere else. Our ancestors are there, our beloveds are there. Our bodies are rebuilt or unnecessary. We become a part of a greater energy or consciousness or web. We return to where we came from, and that origin point is indescribable.
We return from where we came. We reconnect and restore and renew ourselves. We release the binds of the world around us. We get to let go, but also to grab onto something more steady than we have ever experienced when breathing.
One dying person told me she was returning to the spiral of stars.
Another looked right at me and through me, and I could see they were returning to the person who I still look like.
A beloved kept their eyes closed the whole time, hanging on as long as they could, clearly ready to move on, but wanting to be the go-to person for a bit longer.
In every moment, death is the thing that re-collects us. It carries us in its arms, reminding us that we can rest. We have done what we have done. We are welcome to a place where being is a blessing. Where being is the vocation and call to return home.
At Samhain, Reclaiming Witches often trance to the Isle of Apples, where the ancestors are. We go to this place to remember them and to dance with them for just a bit longer. This is where apple blossoms are buds, blooming, and withering all at the same time. This place is surrounded by water, where a boat takes the living, and the rudder scrapes the shore before I take that first step.
The visit to the isle is quick, brief, and joyous. We stay, dance with the dead in the spiral dance, and then return to the land of the living. We return with the reminder that we should double-check to ensure we haven’t brought any spirits back that might be children in the new year.
We come back as ourselves, renewed by the love of our Beloved Dead, their stories, and their memories.
And we say their names. For what is remembered, lives.
And we feel the grief that comes from love and daring to love. We feel the grief in community with each other, hand in hand. I started to feel again when I held the hand of someone whose skin felt like paper and plastic at the same time. Dehydrated and smooth, stretched and unbothered. I felt the presence of what life is: the experience of being shaped by what leaves and what we hold onto.
I let myself feel what it means to leave behind and to remember their names. To say them aloud. To recognize the way apple blossoms return each year. To know that my name too will be spoken one day.
Until then, I feel it all.