Death and Dying - Shamanic Thanatology
And as long as you do not have that,
This: Die and become!
You are only a dull guest
On dark earth.
(Goethe, Ges. W. Bd. 1, S.221)
An important area of the shamanic mindset is set around death and dying. It is a very complex topic and not contained in few words. The subjectivity of experiences and plain lack of knowledge concerning this matter causes trouble in our european culture: Everyone experiences death in a different way and rarely comes back to tell us about his experiences. I will nevertheless try to offer a shamanic approach.
Death is omnipresent. Every day people, animals and plants die in our vicinity. We cannot survive without killing - plants are alive, too. In our body millions of cells die every day to be substituted by fresh ones. A seemless flow of becoming and fading. But in the end the bell tolls for everyone and death claims our short existence inevitably. Sometimes even unexpectedly. In Germany this topic is displaced very successfully from common awareness. Ill and mortally ill people are shunted into hospitals and nursing homes where they die or sometimes even croak - often far away from their family and left alone without proper terminal care. Only in recent years this grievance starts to get better slowly. Hospices and palliative sections supposed to enable humane dying were and are established. Dying at home has not faded completely from awareness, and over the last years I could accompany many people at their homes during their terminal hours - as male nurse and as a psychopomp in some cases.
One of the biggest problems we living-ones have with death is ignorance of time and manner of our death, and what comes thereafter. Of course established religions offer comfortable options of afterlife activities: In christian context heaven and hell exist, in which people are sorted in dependency of their conduct of life. Islam and judaism know similar facilities in the twilight. Some indian forms of religion, among them buddhism, preach of reincarnation and the appropriate mindset on how to act optimally this life to be best prepared for salvation from the wheel of reincarantions in the next incarnation. Logically this will consequently never happen, if you give this some thought. Priests at a deathbed nowadays shrive the dying and give the last unction. Nothing more. Knowledge about the process of dying was lost and is in the overwhelming majority of cases not imparted. But the dying person is in need of such information to accomplish a smooth transition and to know what awaits them on the other side. Of course in a case of an acute emergency this information can not be imparted anymore but established religions have no proper or practicable answers concerning this.
In context of the newly emerging thanatho-therapy this slowly changes. The only religion describing the process of dying and the procedures afterwards approximately correct is tibetan buddhism. The tibetian "Book of the Dead" contains extremely valuable information for the living to to shape their afterlife.
Shamans throughout the world know the shamanic crisis of initiation in which the Shaman dies and gains information about himself, his abilities and his helping-spirits in the twilight. Every time the shaman embarks on an ecstatic soulflight he dies again. From my own experience I see shamanic travelling as preparation for death. While on shamanic travel you move through parts of the world beyond and learn and observe the different laws of that world.
There is no linear time in the twilight. This timelessness or simultaneity can present quite some knots of thought in the mind of someone who only knows the linear time of everyday-life as possibility of perception. A minute in deep twilight can be an hour in the common world, as well as an hour in the twilight may be not even a second in the common universe. This can be very confusing for a traveller, but very informative as well. This way past occurences can be revisited or future possibilities explored. Most journey are aimed at the past, though, to find sources for present troubles and bring back parts of the clients' soul. Here the respective chain of ancestors can be traced back very far before finding something. Past occurences from the clients' life can become very prominent in these journeys, and it is not uncommon to recover awareness of displaced events in the report of what was seen.
Without the boundaries of the space-time-illusion, in indian schools of thought called maya, time is not existent. A life as you know is perceived there as a room of experience enclosed in itself with a boundary. These boundaries are within the life experienced as birth and death. Both processes describe the true boundaries of physical life. The boundary is the same, although it is experienced once as beginning and once as end. Within space-time all physical laws apply, thermodynamics, for example.
Spatial continuity may not be given in the twilight, as well. It is possible to jump (teleport) from one location to another. Some spirits do not want you to materialize before them. That is the reason why it is better not to use this property of the twilight in an exhaustive manner. The flexibiltiy of appearances within the twilight is a problem for many travellers. Experiences are therefore quickly disregarded as fabricated or plain fantasy and as such not taken seriously. Within the twilight consciousness is a greater factor to determine appearances then in material reality. Many things appear in the traveller's field of vision just in the moment when he is thinking of it. A law enabling to find ones' own personal heaven or hell after ones' own death - just as the death candidate projects his expectations. In shamanic journeys, though, it is elementary to use this flexibility correctly and to interprete it for oneself and the community correctly.
Concerning teleportation, it is indeed rather rude to just teleport away without notice or to disapparate as it is called in "Harry Potter". In a lucid dream I experienced exactly that - I walked along a road and had a very interesting conversation with a fellow traveller. I talked with him further and suddenly he disappeared. A few minutes later I found him standing at the railway track. I was not very considerate to just disappear. I had, noticing his absence, difficulties to stay lucid. The situation was cleared, and we both resumed our business.
In contrast to astral projection which is tied strongly to the physical plane, shamanic travel goes a step further. The abovementioned laws of timelessness and extreme flexibility allow the conclusion of an plane "farther away" from the physical plane then the one encountered during astral-projections. To die the astral body first must sever from the physical body - without umbilical cord. After that transition into this "higher" plane takes place.
Many deceased exist, though, who decided stay near the physical plane. They can appear as ghosts or can be contacted in spiritistic sessions, provided a real medium takes part. To my knowledge there are four possibilities presenting themselves after death. The first possibility is a new incarantion in a physical body. Timelessness beyond adds confusion here, as the incarnation can take place in the past as well as in the future. In the latter case the reincarnated core of the soul can also be found in an already matured body sometimes. The second possibility is to stay in the realm of the dead or the twilight. This possibility is used more often than you probably think. The third possibility is closely related to the second and concerns lingering in the astral realm next to the physical. The three selves stay in close contact here. A division of the selves leads to spook phenomena and incarnating obsessions - partial souls repeating some quirk indefinitely, like walking in a circle, rocking in a rocking chair or similar things. Psychopomp-work can be benefitient for these fragments. The last possibility is the core of the soul apparently dissolves and ceases to exist.
Perceptions as a bodyless-one of physical reality are different from what we are accustomed to. Bodyless-ones can not see our familar colours as such: If any they see false colours. Cathode ray screens are not suitable for bodyless perception as it is much faster than physical perception. The cathode ray practically traces its path along the screen in slow motion. With liquid crystal displays the situation is only better within limits, as crystallized structures will be noticed, but no colours. Bodyless ones can "borrow" the senses of beings living in physical reality, though, and sense the colours and dimensional aspects as we are used to them. Objects of importance to us can be "copied" to be used there - this only works with still existing objects, though. An object which is destroyed can not be copied in the past when it was intact, even though bodyless-ones are not tied to the passage of time as the living.
It is for bodyless-ones in certain circumstances difficult to experience our passage of time as you can hear with recorded voices on tape: Either they are way to fast or very slow. Apart from that bodyless-ones - as long as figuratively speaking "being on the same wavelength" - sense the presence of each other. Both visible and invisible reality of the bodyless-ones are sensed by them. Although many bodyless-ones are found (for whatever reasons) near their former bodies on graveyards a number of free moving bodyless-ones exist who can be contacted by mediums or who can be found during shamanic travel. Often bodyless-ones are responsible for raports - spontaneous materialization of physical objects - or failures of electronic circuitery.
On Shamanic journeys the "Realm of the Dead" can be be visited. These travels are often very long and quite exhausting. Shamanically unexperienced people should keep their hands off this for a time, as long as the dead do not demand otherwise. When I started shamanizing one day after my first shamanic journey my deceased father appeared and asked me to bring the soulparts beyond that still lingered in his death-room. He confirmed to me the correctness of the tibetian book of the dead, although he pointed out an inaccuracy concerning the described fantasies there. He is no tibetan, so his reaction is of course understandable. I had to learn as quickly as possible what and where the realm of the dead was and how I could bring soul-parts there. On the borders to the realm of the dead diverse guards can be found. In different mythologies different guards are described, for example in greece mythology the river Styx with Charon the ferryman and Cerberus the hellhound. If rejected at the border this order is to be followed under any circumstances. Then the admittance to this place is not given yet. Deceased-ones can be of course visited while on shamanic travel.
Sometimes there are laws to be followed or taboos to be avoided, as described for example in diverse legends like that of Orpheus and Euridice. The experience of the own realm of the dead can be so overwhelming that the motivation for return is weak. Because of this an assistant should monitor the progress of the journey and when needed remind the traveller of his existence here. A promise to return should be mandatory. Helpful here is to tell the assistant of mundane things you would miss in the twilight. In case of emergency the asssistant can remind you of these things to make you come back.
Deathwork with the dead is a bit different. The shaman acts as psychopompos and guides the soul who is not familiar with the new state to the border of their respective realm of the dead - I myself let me guided to "the entrance of the realm of the dead of client N.N." to deliver the client's soul there to the realm of the dead. Many souls have to be guided after accidents. People who interested themselves in such things during their lifetime seldom need the help of a shaman. Sudden accidental death of a person who never thought about death, or who were simply surprised, can well be seen by a shaman and be led away by him. Dealing with these souls as well as the entrances to the realm of the dead can always differ. Natural events can accompany the travel synchronous, as well. For me once sunrays broke through clouds once in the moment the entrance opened.
Dying people are surrounded by an aura of death. Sensing this aura can be trained. I myself personify these auras as Death as usually imagined: Often a skeleton with robe and scythe, but now and then he appears as adorably beautiful angel also. On the other hand Death can be a beautiful girl. This aura is also sensed by the dying. Thanatos and Eros are brothers.
To such people techniques of transition can be explained in short sessions - given they are open to such things. It is not important to describe many details. As medium of transition mandalas or spirals can be used that the dying person traces along in his imagination until he is in the twilight. It is not important to make shamans out of these people, but just to show them means of unhampered transition. Dying during shamanic travel to the realm of the dead is the best and fastest way for the dying to achieve transition. If there is enough time the client can learn about the poweranimal and the shamanic teacher, maybe in company or on a guided travel.
If there is not enough time because the client is about to die because of an accident everything can be shortened significantly and fitted to the circumstances: By describing in short sentences the transition with the help of a taken along mandala and guiding. It is difficult to act in such a situation adequately. Everyone who has witnessed an accident involving dead an severely injured can confirm this statement.
In the moment of death the part of the soul transitioning into the beyond exits via the crown chakra. Directly before the chakras open and a current towards the crown chakra can be observed sometimes. Psychopompos-work can be done right then also. If you are trained changing between the planes of perception you can ease the transition of the dying that way. This can also be done in silence. As a rule it has to be done that way as the tolerances of most relatives (as of yet) still is not sufficiently developed and the situation as such can be difficult. Since I never have witnessed this I can only tell that the sould can exit also via the solarplexus. An aquainted hospice-asstistant working shamanically herself has witnessed this in rare cases.
There is a common proverb that everyone builds his own heaven and his own hell during their physical lifes. The biggest and strongest attractor is the illusion of space-time. To part from this attractor is a completely different situation. Even nirvana from buddhist in indian teachings is in the end just an illusion. This becomes obvious in the statement of dzogchen-buddhism that samsara and nirvana are identical. The common everyday-existence is equalled with nirvana, the state of loving awareness, which means nothing else that both are ideas coming out of our mind in the end. To rise above these kinds of ideas means to become aware of the nonlocality of immediate existence and to part from any kind of imagination - including nirvana. In hinduism an worthwhile train of thought was followed: The void "sunyata" is the plane of projection of experiencable existence. So it is correct to infer the identity of atman and brahman as is suggested in old vedic texts. I only brush these things here to bring across that worthwhile and fundamental great thoughts can manifest themselves in other ways of thinking, which slowly finds its way via quantum physics, latest developments in physics and parapsychology more and more into western minds. Parapsychology is a lot closer to physics than to psychology. The term is chosen extremely unfavourable as it implies a connection to psychology and not to physics.
Modern physical theories in fact approach more and more the old statements of great philosophers and currents of belief that are in tradition for millenia. Nonlocality of being for example is remarkable well demonstrated in the phenomenon of coupling in quantum physics, which is made clear in one old statement: "Everything is connected to everything else." In Heimian extended quantum field theory Burkhard Heim follows that beyond must exist as a logical corollary of his theory. He also elaborates the consequences: Physics and natural science robbing mankind of their last hope now bring it back. Away from pure materialism towards a more holistic understanding of nature, as also was also approached by the neurologist John C. Eccles and Rupert Sheldrakes morphic resonance.
Today it takes on ridiculuos traits when stubborn partisans of a mechanistic view defend their perspective. Especially in the department of the soul now unchallengable evidence exists for existance after death. People in controlled environment in a hospital certified clinically dead for a while report of remarkable experiences after their return, often including OOBE. People with such near-death-experiences are called delog ('das log) in tibetan. Attempts at rationalizing these accounts as neurobiological or psychological artifacts fail in the moment that one of these patients was recorded braindead for several minutes and that patient nevertheless made significant observations in this time. To me the discussion of these mechanists is merely a sign of fear of the unknown. Remarkably, skeptic people also will die. We meet over there in the twilight to discuss your points of view, okay?
I want to stress at this point that working with the dying needs sense of responsibility. Much personal strength is required to help the dying in this way. As in common life confrontation with these things is rare except in accidents usually experience in these matters is missing. The shamanic active working in hospitals and hospices this article can give a small hint how to better care for the dying. Priests and other members of the clergy who already have developed an interest in thanatology and shamanic experience (They do exist!) will find suggestions in this short article.