Remember now thy Creator in the days of thy youth, while the evil days come not, nor the years draw nigh, when thou shalt say, I have no pleasure in them;
While the sun, or the light, or the moon, or the stars, be not darkened, nor the clouds return after the rain:
In the day when the keepers of the house shall tremble, and the strong men shall bow themselves, and the grinders cease because they are few, and those that look out of the windows be darkened,
And the doors shall be shut in the streets, when the sound of the grinding is low, and he shall rise up at the voice of the bird, and all the daughters of musick shall be brought low;
Also when they shall be afraid of that which is high, and fears shall be in the way, and the almond tree shall flourish, and the grasshopper shall be a burden, and desire shall fail: because man goeth to his long home, and the mourners go about the streets:
Or ever the silver cord be loosed, or the golden bowl be broken, or the pitcher be broken at the fountain, or the wheel broken at the cistern.
Then shall the dust return to the earth as it was: and the spirit shall return unto God who gave it.
A spiritually mature appreciation of the importance of Death and Dying is a vital part of our training, and many initiatory movements within the Western Mystery Tradition make a specific point of directing the candidate for advancement’s attention to this very point. The most immediate example which springs to mind is Freemasonry, which continually emphasises the fact one should prefer death over dishonour; and in the ultimate case one should actively contemplate ones own mortality, and attempt to meet it with bravery, a knowledge of having led a good life and stayed true to ones principles, and as much dignity as circumstances will allow. The point being that contemplation of death is said to lead to that most serious of subjects – contemplation of oneself.
This concept is not exclusive to the Western Mystery Tradition: certain Buddhist teachings advise meditating on death as the key to attaining enlightenment.
Moreover, it seems quite clear that the funerary traditions of the various cultures – from the burial rites of the Christian Church to the Tibetan Book of the Dead – are as much to comfort the living as they are to assist the deceased themselves. These rites aspire to teach the mourners the true nature of the immortal spiritual principle residing in each of us, and what we ourselves expect at the closing hour of our existence. Indeed, the priests and ministers of those traditions – who are the equivalent of the Adepts to the exoteric world – are specifically trained to minister to the dead and dying. E.g. just as Christian priests administer the Sacrament of the Last Rites, so in Tibet there are initiates whose specific dharma is to go visit the dying to read them the Great Liberation by Hearing.
Now, the question arises: what can any one realistically do for someone who is terminally ill, for whom there is no hope of a cure?
Anyone whose compassion has ever been remotely stirred by a dying relative – or indeed, anyone who works in the medical profession – will immediately say: “If you cannot give them Hospital care, you can still give them Hospice care.” I.e. if their condition cannot be Healed, it can still be Palliated. And this is a perfectly worthy and responsible use of medical resources. It is the medical counterpart to the religious rites mentioned above, which serve to palliate the individual’s spiritual suffering.
The idea of begrudging a man dying of cancer even palliative care could only occur to someone not grounded in such a spiritual tradition, or to one entirely lacking in ordinary compassion. I presume these would be the same sort of people who, if they were living in a country without socialised healthcare, would begrudge any type of free medical treatment to anybody.
The problem arises when someone who does not have a grounding in such a spiritual tradition tries to get a handle on this whole Death and Dying thing. The danger is that because they are in denial about the nature of death, they end up doing themselves and the dying person a disservice. I remember once seeing a particularly stupid remark by a neo-pagan of the egregiously fluffy variety who said she liked worshipping in the woods, as she didn’t like Christian churches with graveyards surrounding them, as they were places of Death. I had to point out that the reason old churches have graveyards attached is two-fold: (a) from the deceased’s point of view, it is a privilege to be buried in hallowed ground; and (b) to make sure that the Living pay their respects to their Ancestors at least once a week, when they go to Church.
Ancestor-reverence is of course a part of many cultures – including traditional pagan ones – however this fluffy-bunny had chosen a path which deliberately avoided this, just because she could not stand to see reminders of mortality – i.e. her mortality – instead keeping it hidden, out of the way. (Needless to say, my observations did not go down particularly well).
Then there are the practitioners of the Left Hand Path who obsess over immortality because they care not to admit that Death terrifies them, and bring Alchemy into disrepute by their neurotic ravings! Believe it or not, the so-called Solar Body is not a Hermetic teaching at all, but an exoteric Christian one – only it is called the “Resurrection Body.” The difference between the Christian and the Left-Hand practitioner is that the former simply relies on the Grace of God to attain the Resurrection Body, whilst the latter convinces himself that he must undergo all manner of unnatural practices.
Finally of course there are those who are well-intentioned, but end up doing something crass instead. Consider the following case which happened recently. The statement –
Let’s heal D_____ M______ K____ of his stage 4 cancer, because a world with him in it is better than one without
Is obviously born from the purest of intentions, but in every other respect is probably one of most badly worded spell intentions I have ever seen. One must assume that the author was in a rush and let his emotions rule his head on this point, which is no more than human. Nevertheless it is objectionable for three reasons:
- It ignores the fact that to deal magically with that particular condition would require defying every known law of Nature – it therefore sets the magician up for disappointment if the recipient does succumb to the disease;
- It assumes that “healing” is necessarily the best thing to do in this case, as opposed to any other form of spiritual assistance, e.g. palliation, making comfortable, facilitating the transition to the next stage of existence, etc; and
- It includes a “because” clause, which betrays the selfishness of the person framing the intent – i.e. it may be better for the world in general and us in particular, but did anyone stop to consider whether it was better for the said person – to condemn him to live with the shadow of a terrible illness hanging over him, and what is worse, to have to put up with us?
A far better-worded intention would have been:
Let’s send positive energy to D_____ M______ K____ with no obligation whatsoever, to enable him to do as he judges best.
Finally, let us remember that in the continuing battle between Death and Life, the latter has yet to win. Furthermore, if Death happens to both good and bad people, the idea of Death being some kind of punishment must surely be a fallacy. Therefore, the best way to bring spiritual healing to the terminally ill is to oneself come to a mature understanding of the end of days – and do it soon, because “the time shall come and the wisest of us knows not when.”