The Pokey Finger of God

meditations on religion and culture

The Pokey Finger of God header image 2

The Quick & the Dead

May 29th, 2006 · No Comments · metaphysics, ritual

The nature of death is tied to the structure of life: two concepts with which modern science continues to struggle. While we know ourselves to be alive and know that those who are dead are lost to us, we also know our knowledge is incomplete, if not suspect.

I have had the opportunity on a number of occasions to communicate with quite a variety of beings and intelligences, among them, the dead were the most common, early experience. Some were highly verbose and glad to talk about their experiences, others were not. Much as one could learn quite a bit, and yet fail to gain a true understanding, of a distant city by asking recent tourists of their experiences, I don’t feel that what I know is the sum of what could be known. Others may find this information comforting, or at least relevant.

Small children, the very old, and those with feeble minds rarely leave much more than a trace of themselves behind when they die. When anything at all is left, it is typically in the form of a primitive emotion. Those whose lives are spent in dreary monotony without experiencing the emotional peaks or valleys of a life fully lived can die without leaving behind a single trace.

Death is not the moment when the body begins to disintegrate, as all living bodies are continuously disintegrating all the time. What is novel at death is that the body stops regenerating. With the exception of modern medical puppetry, it is the soul that keeps the body alive and it is the detachment of the soul that ends the regenerative process.

When someone dies and leaves behind family and friends, there is usually a well-organized remnant of that person that stays behind and mostly observes. While it is the soul that powers and drives us, it is the spirit that people remember, and it’s the spirit that stays behind. Spirit has no shape or force other than what is given to it throughout the living of life. A full life of love and friends, joy and satisfaction goes a long way towards creating a spirit strong enough to withstand the brutal dissolution of the bond between body and soul.

After death, spirit energies tend to settle in places and with folks who had been kind in life to the departed. The better organized remnants often have some connection to the originating soul, and thus can be conscious and somewhat interactive long after their physical presence has departed.

Spirits without such a rooting connection need some external means to reinforce their organization, and will thus settle on familiar locations, or the place of some recent emotional peak late in life. Occasionally, they’ll melt into objects like jewelry, furniture, or a favorite book. Some will temporarily occupy an animal, like an old pet or local fauna. Others will settle onto their families and friends. Without these handholds, disconnected spirits such as these will dissipate within weeks of the demise of their mortal carrier.

The transition from ego to ghost is jarring for most, and the process typically serves to elevate the soul somewhat. The result is that the consciousness of the best connected spirit is still going to be distinct from that of their living counterpart: a lot of realization usually happens right at or after death that provides a great deal of finality and completion in life. Sometimes a spirit will dissolve once that moment of realization happens. Usually, folks stick around to see how things turn out, at least until the ones that remembered them die.

Please note that things are not all sweetness and light. If a person has a mental illness in life, their spirit will have problems. Any kind of bipolar or psychopathic disorder can completely upend any remaining spirit after death, leaving behind an angry knot of emotions and pain that settles blindly on anyone it encounters. Teenagers can have such serious integration problems just growing up that parts of their own spirits often shed away as part of their growth process, sometimes resulting in similarly stunted, angry spirit residues. Needless to say, their deaths in such a state rarely result in a well-defined ghost.

We encounter ghosts daily: inhabitants of very dense urban areas encounter the dead so frequently as to become numb to several kinds of psychic contact. Ghosts exist as an arrangement of quantum order on a plane we can’t measure, and there just happens to be a bunch of equipment built in to each of us that ties to that very same plane. (And that’s as pseudo-scientific as I’m going to get.) With a little bit of attention and care, anyone can learn to feel, hear, and even see ghosts. The fact is that few of us want to, and prefer to save those precious brain chemicals and neural activity for Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

There are times when the dead get to missing being alive. They miss the taste of a good meal, flavors, aromas; they miss the experience of friendship, companionship, even sex. More frequently than you’d care to believe, the dead will watch the living to do things they do, simply to experience (however vicariously) the flavor of life.

The dead typically discover that they have some limited control over the living, especially those with a weak sense of self. The less scrupulous or the more deranged of the dead will do all in their power to get the living to outrageous things. Mostly, the dead either provide a slight encouragement to direct the living to specific activities, or they sometimes act to thwart danger. There can also be visible and audible manifestations, like seeing the image or hearing the voice of the dead.

My advice to anyone who encounters the dead is to treat them with respect, speak to them firmly, and be clear about what you will and will not tolerate in your presence. The very great majority of the time, the dead are either completely disinterested in you or are generally benign. When you feel that your guest has overstayed their welcome, there are a number of methods useful towards encouraging them to move on (or at least to stand out of the way).

The tacky joke about getting back at the blind by rearranging the furniture goes double for the dead. The best way to dissipate the presence of a spirit in a place is to redecorate, rearrange, and repurpose. Anything associated to the dead by purchase, use, or creation should be sold, given away, or destroyed. Use paint and paper to recover the walls, lay down or rip up carpet. An extreme step would be to move doorways to change the flow of chi in the house — it would be generally better to simply move to another house before that point, though.

An altar for the dead is always a good idea, as we are all descended from long lines of now very dead people. Just a small, otherwise bare, table with a glass of water on it, set fresh daily with the intention of honoring one’s ancestors is all that’s needed. One could always add photos or drawings of the dead, favorite items or memorabilia, extra cups and different foods and beverages — but the place and the intention are the key components.

Memorial locations such as these are natural congregation points for spirits, and will draw the dead from all over a house. A good way to keep most of the dead out of the kitchen, bedroom, office, or wherever is to give them a good place to be in the front room of the house. It’s also good for silencing particularly noisy or offensive ghosts, as the others tend to keep them in line.

In the unfortunate situation where the dead are angry or destructive, perverse or overbearing, they can possess a person’s consciousness and cause them to do all manner of horrible things, even while actively regretting them. For those lucky enough to clue into the fact of their possession, there is hope that such foreign spirits could be banished, but spirits like that latch onto one’s natural propensity towards depression and make it very difficult to gain release.

Hypnosis and energy work can be very useful in relieving the symptoms, and sometimes even the possession, but modern psychiatric medicine and catholic exorcisms especially serve to only enbolden the spirits. Any effort towards building personal discipline, physical stamina, and mental balance is the most effective way to remove and prevent random possession (and depression and heart disease and a whole host of other problems — go figure).

Another means to avoid this kind of trouble is to assiduously develop a of identifying and honoring your ancestors. As you make connections to them, they will do the same for you, and the random malevolent spirit will have to work a lot harder to get at you. You may be surprised what other benefits you get from such a practice.