Death, the Creator

Classic depictions of Death personified include skeletons carrying an hourglass or a scythe, mummified persons extending leathery hands, armies of skeletal warriors mowing down the living, or Pale Horsemen laying waste to kings, priests and children, as in the Coleman-Waite “Rider” Tarot deck.

It makes complete sense that we view death with fear and revulsion. We are, after all, hardwired to wish to survive, hardwired to want to pass our genes on, however we may. Certainly, our deaths scare us. We die, and by and large, we don’t want to.

But if we step back, we can see the value of death. The importance it plays in the perpetuation and evolution of Life on Earth.

We are assemblies of molecules, intricate biological machines that start self-assembling according to genetic instructions as soon as THIS sperm cell hits THAT egg. We are assembled by Life to perpetuate Life. And when we have fulfilled our natural spans, we die, and our components are disassembled and reassembled into new Life.

This is not a dark, horrible thing! It is the only way we could have existed in the first place.

And for those who seize onto terror of death—or fetishize its power—well: both are missing the point.

This is the time of year that we Atheopagans acknowledge our mortality, honor it, recognize the driving force it has in our lives. We decorate our homes with skulls and bones and frightening jack o’ lanterns; we scare ourselves with spooky films and stories about frightening beings that break the fundamental rule of death, like mummies, ghosts, vampires and Frankenstein’s monster; we remember those whose deaths we have lived through. We make death as real to ourselves as we can, short of the actual, final experience.

And this is apt. Because the next, magical, phenomenally important phase after death is the one we will never live, never experience: the composting. The rotting into rich, fertile soil, the recomposition of our component molecules into bacteria, badgers, bluebirds or bears.

We Atheopagans acknowledge this essential time in the weeks between Hallows and Yule: the period of Resting. Of decomposition and recomposition.

Death is the Creator.

Yes: that very thing we fear is what makes all we love about Nature, about Life on Earth. Death creates; it is the process of gathering of resources for assembly of new creatures, plants and animals and microbes.

And we are exponents of it: we eat what is living, and disassemble it, create flesh and bone and thoughts and actions, and excrete food filled with nutrients for other creatures. It is the essential nature of what we are.

So as we scare ourselves with our spooks and skulls and dead bodies–as we feel the very real loss when we grieve–let us remember the tremendous kindness of Death. We would not be here without it. We are death-makers and death-beneficiaries, like all life on Earth. Our precious lives were assembled for us out of the dead, and we in turn will go forward for disassembly and reassembly in our time.

Death is the means to Life: the only gateway to living this magnificent voyage we enjoy as humans. The price of the ticket, in fact.

Let us not hate it so much.

In Memoriam: James Randi

The Amazing Randi has left us following a remarkable 92-year life of stage magic, skeptical debunkings, and quotable quips. A beloved figure in the stage magic scene, he was an inspiration to acts like Penn and Teller and to skeptics everywhere as he unmasked deceivers like Uri Geller and Peter Popoff as showmen and frauds rather than psychics, telekinetics or faith healers.

For a more exhaustive history of this remarkable man, please click here.

Randi’s amazing life and remarkable late discovery that he was gay are chronicled in the film An Honest Liar, which is well worth seeking out. He was an atheist and a progressive. We Atheopagans have him to credit for the term “woo-woo” for unscientific claims of occult and psychic abilities.

His Million-Dollar Paranormal Challenge remains uncollected after decades on offer.

Thank you, Amazing Randi, for being a voice for skepticism as well as a presenter of wonders. May you be long remembered.