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Hearing about others' experiences can be helpful when dealing with death and bereavement. Do you have a personal experience that you'd feel comfortable sharing with the campaign? If so, let us know...
The only certainties in life are death and taxes, according to Benjamin Franklin. So you’d think that, given the 100% inevitability of our demise, we'd make pretty damn sure that we knew a heck of a lot about it. But no. We have every kind of instruction, information, advice and guidance on how to live — but none on how to die.
We have to study and pass exams to do jobs, and even to drive a car. But nobody teaches us anything about dying, or expects us to be proficient in what we do when we shake off the mortal coil. Particularly today in the West, we live in denial about death. We hide our dead bodies away and if anyone talks about death, they're accused of being morbid.
It wasn’t always so.
Going back into prehistory, the shaman of the tribe would act as the psychopomp, and guide or carry the souls of the dead into the next dimension. The shaman psychopomp appears in the mythology of just about every ancient civilisation. This is because shamanic practises were once worldwide and so people were once taught how to die.
Perhaps the most recent literary psychopomp is Virgil, who conducted Dante through the nine circles of hell in Dante’s Inferno. But that work is political more than spiritual and is very much filtered through a Christian lens with Hell in the place of the Underworld where the Ancestors live.
However, going back before Dante and the post-Plato Greeks, these mythological stories were in fact used to teach the death journey ... the journey the soul would take at death. And the practice was carried on in the Neolithic and onwards by the Tibetans, the Indians and the Egyptians at least ... and possibly others that we don’t yet know about.
Sadly, in the past two thousand years, the historicisation of myth — making metaphor literal — has destroyed this body of knowledge. We are taught nothing about the death journey because nobody seems to know anything about it apart, that is, from those who return from having a Near Death Experience (NDE).
But it’s still not much help. If a person "returns from the dead", it means that they never got any further than the first gate out ~ the so-called 'tunnel' ~ which is the passage that takes us into the next dimension.
The reason there are no teachers now on how to die is because empirical science has debunked literal Judaeo-Christianity. We know there’s no heaven with angels and harps, or a Hell with a horned Devil that roasts sinners all moaning and gnashing their teeth. So we’ve rejected the whole lot.
In the Journey of Coming Forth by Day (otherwise known as the Egyptian Book of the Dead) the death journey was taken at night, and the deceased followed the arc of the sun from sunset, down into the Underworld and the back up again to its eventual dawning in the Land of Manu (the East or India). That is why this night journey of the soul of the deceased is known to the Egyptians as Journey of Coming Forth Into Day. It is a story of death and rebirth, as the soul is reborn with the rising Sun at dawn.
Today, shamans are beginning to work with the dying again; helping to guide them through the death journey. I've personally had the honour of helping many souls in this way and I certainly regard it as privilege when I do so. There's nothing more satisfying and rewarding than in showing that death, as we've been taught about it, is an illusion, and that their first destination is such a beautiful place, almost like a Paradise, where they will rest and recuperate until it's time to come into incarnation again, wherever that is.
I wish more people knew about this.
But because it's not known about, and the practice of psychopomping has been, at best, kept underground for the past two thousand years at least, there are many souls still waiting to be crossed over.
The Dying Matters Coalition is led by the National Council for Palliative Care,
the umbrella charity for end of life care in England, Wales and Northern Ireland.
Freephone 08000 21 44 66