January 18, 2016

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.