Now on Rewriting Death: A Certain Kind of Death and Cemetery Law

Today there was a glitch that means there are TWO posts to read on Rewriting Death. Movie: A certain Kind of Death A Certain Kind of Death is a documentary from 2003 about the work of the LA Coroner’s office and legal processes that surround dead bodies. The movie tracks several bodies after their discovery through the process of trying to find next of kin, looking for any funeral plans they might have made, checking to see if they have the money to cover their own disposition or if the county will need to cover it, and more. It shows the process of cremation, including shrouding the body, putting it in a cardboard coffin, putting it into the crematorium, manually breaking up the bones and sweeping out the ashes. For those who are interested in the process, it’s a good, straightforward look at the work of the unsung members of the coroner’s office. It’s nothing very exciting cinematographically, being very simply shot, and there are some images of bodies that have been lying in place for days or weeks that are fairly gross. It’s certainly not a movie for everyone. Research: Cemetery Law by Tanya D. Marsha and Daniel Gibson, Funeral Law Blog, and Papers Tanya D. Marsh has rapidly become an invaluable resource for me, although very little of my reading of her work will actually make it into the book. Instead, her work informs how I talk to other polytheists about the practicalities of death....

Rewriting Death

I've started a new blog, Rewriting Death, about the process for writing the Starry Bull's death and funerary rituals. There's a Patreon to go with it, with the proceeds to go to books and other research. I'll be posting there on Wednesdays, and probably post a brief alert here when a new post goes up. I hope people will find it interesting....

La Catrina: A Revolutionary Death

La Calavera Catrina, the Elegant Skull, the Dandy Skeleton, is probably the best-known Mexican representation of Death. The lovely skeleton in the wide-brimmed woman's hat, and usually a fancy dress. You may know her as La Muerte from the gorgeous animated movie The Book of Life. (And if you don't, go watch the movie as soon as possible.) The above image is by Jose Posada, a late 19th and early 20th Century Mexican printmaker. Posada died in obscurity, but after his death, his calaveras, costumed skeletons that were often featured in his religious and/or satirical cartoons and images, because famous later and his work was revived. Today, they are associated with the Dias de los Muertos, and are famous as folk art and the inspiration for much more folk art. Among the things I was surprised to learn about La Catrina is that she's quite recent, though her antecedents go back to the pre-Columbian era and the death goddess Mictecacihuatl. Posada's is the first depiction of her, and one that satirizes wealthy and bourgeois Mexicans who spent a great deal of money on European fashions before and during the Mexican Revolution. Death makes all equal, she says. Posada's La Catrina zinc etching may be the first image of her, but the one that made her famous was Diego Rivera's 1946-1947 mural Sueño de una tarde dominical en la Alameda Central (Dream of a Sunday Afternoon in the Alameda Central). At the center of the image, a child Rivera stands with his wife Frida Kahlo, La Catrina, and, on the skeleton's other side, Posada himself. Like Posada's engraving, the mural is highly political, showing the middle-class aspirations and social complacency just before the Mexican Revolution in 1910 -- the year La Catrina was likely made. Both artworks are deeply associated with the Revolution and with revolutionary politics. The Elegant Skull herself is an image of those who aspire to the heights brought low, and a way of laughing at and celebrating Death. Truly, a revolutionary Death in many ways....

The Art of Dying

"It is the feast day of St Jareth, patron of the lost, the fabulous, and the peculiar; of the Labyrinths underground and the Starmen overhead. It would be a good life to live even half so beautifully and fiercely as well." -Ursula Vernon, The Hidden Almanac, January 13, 2016 They say that some things come in three. And now we have three deaths together. Lemmy from the band Motorhead, David Bowie the multi-faceted performer, and actor Alan Rickman of so many roles. All of the deaths came as a surprise, but Bowie's most of all. An extremely private person, even most of his closest friends had no idea he was struggling with cancer. And yet, he orchestrated his own death to be exactly what he wanted it to be. He created his farewell album, without telling us that's what it was, and let it stand as simply another in his long career -- until suddenly he was dead, and we all knew it for what it was. Few details about his actual death are known, but his family has said that he went in exactly the way he wanted to, a blessing many of us don't get. Because so few people knew he was dying, he was able to leave behind only the carefully-crafted masks of his life, rather than the wasting of his death. In general, I don't approve of the way our society hides death away, but in this case, his death became the final act of the art of his life, one more mask to leave behind. It was an act of great beauty and meaning, and I cannot dislike that. Death and dying are much on my mind lately, and will be for some time to come. I've taken up a new and very important project: to create the dying, funerary and mortuary rites of the Starry Bull tradition. So much of death, as I said, is hidden away in the modern world. It disconnects us from a natural and important part of life, and disrupts the process of grieving. We think now that grief is something that can be overcome by willpower and strength of character, rather than as a very real presence that is natural and normal, and should be fully experienced given the space to grow and change, not repressed of hurried through. The Starry Bull is a tradition that speaks much of the afterlife, but until now has spoken little of death itself. I hope to create a handbook for the dying, for the newly Dead, and for mourners of the Dead. Without such a handbook, people must scramble to find information and resources when someone dies. Mourners have yet another thing to deal with instead of being able to mourn in peace. I hope that such a guidebook will allow more people, Starry Bull or not, to make art of their deaths. I also hope to start a conversation in the broader polytheist community, because this is not the only tradition that lacks defined rituals of death. To that end, I won't be primarily talking about this project here, but will be starting another site, tentatively called Polytheist Death Guild, where people of many polytheist traditions can bring their resources and information. I will, of course, post about it here when the site goes live. We must integrate death and dying back into our lives, must learn to make art of our deaths and our mourning. We lose so much by not doing so....

Death and Dying resources

I'm starting a new project, which I'll start talking about at some point, but in the mean time, I'm going to start posting links to some resources and research. Maybe they'll help some of you. ETA: I'm sort of throwing more links in as I find them today. After today, I'll collect them in new posts. If you're looking for something in particular and don't see it here, email me at hexdotink at gmail, and I'll see if I can help you out. Get Your Shit Together helps you prepare for the possibility of unexpected death. Get advice on and help with advance directives (living wills), wills, executors, guardians for children and pers, and more. Having your affairs in order all the time -- these documents should be updated periodically -- is a huge help to family and friends if you do die suddenly. GYST doesn't have advice for other things you might want to have in order, like funeral and body disposition instructions, but some of that is part of my new work. The Order of the Good Death is a group of death professionals, thinkers, and artists who work to normalize death in our society. We've become so alienated from the processes of death and dying in our culture that it's become unreal to us. The Order seeks to reverse that trend. This is a group I'm hoping to become involved with myself. Death Salons are put on by members of the Order, and are events to facilitate conversations about death. These are largely professional presentation events. Death Cafe is a more informal setting for discussions of death over food and coffee or tea. There's one here in Seattle every month, and I'm looking forward to attending one on Monday. The Green Burial Council is a US professional organization of, well, green burial and cremation providers. They maintain a listing of all the cemeteries, crematoria, funeral directors, etc, who practice ecologically conscious body disposition that they certify to help you find one near you. Natural Burial Providers is a similar UK site. Natural Burial Association in Canada. Elemental Cremation and Burial is one such provider, here in Seattle. Their services are not only green, but highly affordable, and their founder is a member of the Order of the Good Death. Nourishing Death is a blog about the foodways of death and funerary food customs. Fascinating stuff, good recipes. Beyond Hospice offers training for death midwives and home funeral guides. Earth Traditions offers death midwife training in the context of paganism. The Home Funeral Alliance offers information and support for home funerals. Thresholds for Life is the site of a Seattle death midwife....