The world is a place of polarities, each factoring in to create the singularities that underlie everything. The polarity to death is life. In shamanism the two dance together, with animism as the leader of the motions. Dictionary.com has precise meaning for animism - the belief that natural objects, natural phenomena, and the universe itself possess souls. The universe itself! If the soul is the very definition of life, than all of the universe is alive. The soul, an eternal thing relative to the natural bodies and phenomenon that house it, exists even as life and death cycle through their paces. The soul, the center of the polarity of life and death, is the center of their singularity.
Why speak of death? The life of the universe demands it. The souls of the shamanist’s brothers and sisters are honored as death is respected for what it is, the great equalizer of all. The shamanist, a companion to all, walks with a hand ready to serve the souls in their charge. An understanding of death is the gateway for the shamanist.
2.0 What is Death?
I find dictionary.com is a wonderful source for delving into the breadth of a word. So, to see what death can mean, Webster says…
deathI would add to this list a number eight - death is the only sure thing after sex and taxes for the common person. In fact, if you had to bet on something, death is the ONLY sure thing. We will all die. Death will embrace our physical bodies. To pursue another agenda is a fool’s quest. Immortality is a function of the soul, not the body. The body will expire even as the soul continues on. This is the sure bet.
1. The act of dying; termination of life.
2. The state of being dead.
3. The cause of dying: Drugs were the death of him.
4. A manner of dying: a heroine's death.
5. often Death A personification of the destroyer of life, usually represented as a skeleton holding a scythe.
a. Bloodshed; murder.
6. Law. Civil death.
7. The termination or extinction of something: the death of imperialism
Mankind’s general reaction to this physical mortality is one of uncertainty and fear. These doubts, and the contrasting need to resolve them, drive those “big questions” that the major religions attempt to answer. Why do we die? What are we to do until then? What waits for us after death? The answers to these questions are diverse between religious traditions. Some use death as a leverage for their dogmas. A paradox of interpretation occurs. The adherents say that rewards for good living occur in death. Life is seen as a struggle. The result is not a religion of life. Instead, death is secretly feared even as it is embraced as a release from the perceived torments of life. Why is death feared? In death there await great torments for the unbelievers. The fear of mankind is revealed by a belief in the potential torment of death.
The fear expressed is unfounded, or perhaps just better understood, when the duality of life and death is realized. The following is an excerpt from “The Alchemy of Opposites” by Rodolfo Scarfalloto:
“Birth is a beginning, death is a completion, and visa versa. To allow a thing to be complete is to make room for something new. Fear of birth is fear of the new and unknown. Fear of death is the same thing. To regard one as better is to be ruled by the other. To reject the cycle of birth and death altogether, to be blind to its beauty, is to close the door that which is beyond birth and death. To simultaneously experience the majesty of both is to move beyond both, and therefore, beyond time. “This excellent analysis explores the duality of birth (life), death, and their connecting element, fear. The fear of death recedes at the same time the fear of life is removed. The interplay of the two polarities, life and death, transcends both.
What of life and its power? A fuller examination will come later. For now I will say that life is continuance in the face of the renewal of death. People pursue life for different reasons. Some see life as a path for reconnection to a thing greater than human physicality. Other people see life as a hedonist opportunity. The vast majority of people live life somewhere in between. But always, over their shoulder, is the specter of renewal in the guise of death.
The ultimate illusion of death is the apparent singularity of death transitions. This singularity presents death as a one-way, one-time event. The shamanist knows there is more, embracing the fullness of death for themselves and their charges. Death becomes an entity that is both known and respected, the same as any force in the shamanist's world. The singularity of death is recognized, serviced, and surpassed as both a tool and gateway.