Summerland - An Introduction
(excerpts from: http://www.angelfire.com/realm2/amethystbt/)
Belief in reincarnation or the spiral of life, death, and rebirth is a major part of the Wiccan religion. Every form of Wicca I have ever heard of believes in and accepts the concept of having multiple lives. I know there are a few Witches that aren't thrilled about having to keep coming back :), but they believe in it as just a common fact of existence. On this page, I will discuss common Wiccan beliefs about death and reincarnation as well as my personal beliefs. I will tell you what I was taught before you read any further... reincarnation is not something you must teach yourself to believe, it's something you must know in your heart and believe in without a doubt. Never force yourself to believe in anything, it's what you feel inside that is right for you, no matter what anyone else believes in.
General reincarnation and death beliefs
- All Wiccan believe in something different, that is one of the many things makes this religion and way of life so great. Most factors of Wicca include a basic book type description from which you can base your ideas on. The basic Wiccan belief of reincarnation is that you are energy, a shapeless, sexless form that moves from one body which is no longer needed to the next. You are placed on Earth to learn a lesson. Each incarnation you are born into, you must learn or relearn a different lesson through experiencing a variety of different lifestyles. When you have learned all you need to learn in your present life, you move on, die. Death is not seen as a punishment or a bad thing, but in a way, it's a good thing. It means you have completed one step on the incarnal ladder. After you die, you are brought to the Summerland which is kind of like the Wiccan equivalent of Heaven, but since we have no devil, we have no Hell. The Summerland is where the spirits that presently do not have an earthly body wait for the right time to return to Earth. It is known by many names and is often referred to as the Land of Eternal Summer and seen as a gorgeous, lush green field, with beauty and trees all around you, with a bright blue sky and a few puffy white clouds, cute little animals... *sigh* Anyway, moving on, when you enter the Summerland after death, you review your life and see what you did right and what you did wrong and need to change. This isn't judgment! You are not punished, but you are taught through karma what you need to learn. For example, if in this life you made fun of all overweight people, then in your next life, chances are you'll be an overweight person who is made fun of constantly. This wouldn't be to punish you, but to show you what the people you made fun of went through and how it hurt them. You may not know it in your earthly life why you are being made fun of and it will probably seem unfair, but when you die and review your life, that is where you will be shown, 'this is why that happened. So as you live and die and live again, your soul learns and grows and you become a better person until you achieve your final incarnation... Then, no one knows what happens. After you have reached enlightenment and no longer have to return to Earth, then what? Well, no one knows for sure. Many believe it's simply because what happens then is beyond the comprehension of the human mind. We only use ten percent of our brains, knowledge that advanced sure would be pushing our little brains! So everyone has their theory of what happens after the mysterious final incarnation. It's a very fun thing to think about and is a good start into customizing your religious experience. My personal beliefs about reincarnation are in the next section below, but they are just my beliefs, they didn't come from any book and I don't claim them to be in any way an accurate representation of any form of Wicca, other than my own. :) The final incarnation in my eyes... I believe in reincarnation in the same way as described above. I also have my own beliefs on what happens after your last incarnation. Reincarnation is something I have always believed in before I discovered I was Wiccan. My belief about how reincarnation works has never changed. Most Wiccan don't believe that humans start out as a rock or animal like some other religions, because we are all equal. In my opinion, all humans, animals, and plants reincarnate as their species. Each incarnation, you return to Earth as your own species, but in a different situation. You may be a Caucasian female one life, and an African American male next time, but you're always a human. After your final incarnation, you have a choice of what you want to do from there. The options you are given are to return to Earth to begin another round of human incarnations, to return as another species, to stay in the Summerland, or to become a spiritual benign such as a spirit guide, angel, or through time something such as an elemental. That's what spirit guides and angels are souls that have completed their incarnations and are qualified to assist those of us that are still on Earth learning and help us know what we need to learn.
Well, that's my opinion. :) Summerland All religious systems have a place where the soul ascends (or descends) when the physical body can no longer function. In Craft belief, we call this place the Summerland. This is the resting place- the way station, if you will- for souls to recover, and categorize information and lessons we have learned. We have no Hell, or place of terror or damnation. Reincarnation- the logical process of living, dying, and living again on the earth plane. Some religions also believe in transmigration, where an individual's soul may enter not only the body of a human, but the body of a plant or animal. In most Witchcraft Traditions, reincarnation is the accepted theology for dealing with the subject of death and rebirth. We move with the seasons, the cycle of the Wheel, the turn of birth, death, and rebirth. That part of it usually isn't questioned because it is logical. What is questioned is the space between the living experiences, the number of lifetimes, and the reasoning for going through each one. Also intriguing is "who we were," with whom, and when. Reincarnation is one of Wicca's most valuable lessons. The knowledge that this life is but one of many, that when the physical body dies we do not cease to exist but are reborn in another body answers many questions, but raises a few more. Wicca teaches that reincarnation is the instrument through which our souls are perfected. one lifetime isn't sufficient to attain this goal; hence, the consciousness (soul) is reborn many times, each life encompassing a different set of lessons, until perfection is achieved. No one can say how many lives are required before this is accomplished. In Wicca, we seek to strengthen our bodies, minds and souls. We certainly live full, productive earthly lives, and we do so while harming none. The soul is ageless, sexless, non-physical, possessed of the divine spark of the Goddess and God. Each manifestation of the soul (i.e., each body it inhabits on Earth) is different. No two bodies or lives are the same. What happens after death? Only the body dies. The soul lives on. Some Wiccan say that it journeys to a realm variously known as the Summerlands, Land of the Faerie, the Shining
Land, and the Land of the Young.
This realm is neither in heaven nor the underworld. It simply is- a non- physical reality much less dense than ours. Some Wiccan traditions describe it as a land of eternal summer, with grassy fields and sweet flowing rivers, perhaps the Earth before the advent of humans. Others see it vaguely as a realm without forms, where energy swirls coexist with the greatest energies- the Goddess and God in their celestial identities. The soul is said to review the past life, perhaps through some mysterious way with the deities. This isn't a judgment, a weighing of one's soul, but an incarnation review. Lessons learned or ignored are brought to light. After the proper time, when the conditions on Earth are correct, the soul is reincarnated and life begins again. The final question- what happens after the last incarnation? Wiccan teachings have always been vague on this. Basically, the Wiccan say that after rising upon the spiral of life and death and rebirth, those souls who have attained perfection break away from the cycle forever and dwell with the Goddess and God. Nothing is ever lost. The energies resident in our souls return to the divine source from which they originally emanated. Because of the acceptance of reincarnation, the Wicca don't fear death as a final plunge into oblivion, the days of life on Earth forever behind them. It is seen as the door to birth. Thus our very lives are symbolically linked with the endless cycles of the seasons which shape our planet. Reincarnation is as real as a plant that buds, flowers, drops its seed, withers and creates a new plant in its image.
Wicca- A Guide For The Solitary Practitioner:
Summerland - The Beginning?
The following pages will offer several different ideas of the Summerland. I hope that this will offer some information to you.
"Because I could not stop for Death -- He kindly stopped for me -- The
carriage held but just ourselves, And immortality."
"For the Angel of Death spread his wings on the blast, And breathed in
the face of the foe as he passed; And the eyes of the sleepers wax'd deadly
and chill, And their hearts but once heaved, and for ever grew still!"
"Each New Beginning is born only from the death of an Old Beginning"
As William Shakespeare said, "whatever is lost can be found... if sought". What it is you "lose" by not remembering the past is the details - the story - of who you have been and what you have lived through.
Forgetting allows you to live always in the present moment. Forgetting allows you the freedom to make new choices. Forgetting helps you not to be overly burdened with old mistakes, habits, and prejudices.
Yet, you never lose the core of who you are: your character and gifts, your skills and abilities, your wisdom and awareness. All these things are the gems that you carry with you from past lives right into your present life. All are available to you right now.
All religious systems have a place where the soul ascends (or descends) when the physical body can no longer function. In Craft belief, we call this place the Summerland. This is the resting place- the way station, if you will- for souls to recover, and categorize information and lessons we have learned. We have no Hell, or place of terror or damnation.
Reincarnation- the logical process of living, dying, and living again on the earth plane.
Some religions also believe in transmigration, where an individual's soul may enter not only the body of a human, but the body of a plant or animal.
In most Witchcraft Traditions, reincarnation is the accepted theology for dealing with the subject of death and rebirth. We move with the seasons, the cycle of the Wheel, the turn of birth, death, and rebirth. That part of it usually isn't questioned because it is logical.
What is questioned is the space between the living experiences, the number of lifetimes, and the reasoning for going through each one. Also intriguing is "who we were," with whom, and when.
Reincarnation is one of Wicca's most valuable lessons. The knowledge that this life is but one of many, that when the physical body dies we do not cease to exist but are reborn in another body answers many questions, but raises a few more.
Wicca teaches that reincarnation is the instrument through which our souls are perfected. one lifetime isn't sufficient to attain this goal; hence, the consciousness (soul) is reborn many times, each life encompassing a different set of lessons, until perfection is achieved. No one can say how many lives are required before this is accomplished.
In Wicca, we seek to strengthen our bodies, minds and souls. We certainly live full, productive earthly lives, and we do so while harming none. The soul is ageless, sexless, non-physical, possessed of the divine spark of the Goddess and God. Each manifestation of the soul (i.e., each body it inhabits on Earth) is different. No two bodies or lives are the same.
What happens after death? Only the body dies. The soul lives on. Some Wiccan say that it journeys to a realm variously known as the Summerlands, Land of the Faerie, the Shining Land, and the Land of the Young. This realm is neither in heaven nor the underworld. It simply is- a non- physical reality much less dense than ours. Some Wiccan traditions describe it as a land of eternal summer, with grassy fields and sweet flowing rivers, perhaps the Earth before the advent of humans. Others see it vaguely as a realm without forms, where energy swirls coexist with the greatest energies- the Goddess and God in their celestial identities.
The soul is said to review the past life, perhaps through some mysterious way with the deities. This isn't a judgment, a weighing of one's soul, but an incarnation review. Lessons learned or ignored are brought to light.
After the proper time, when the conditions on Earth are correct, the soul is reincarnated and life begins again.
The final question- what happens after the last incarnation? Wiccan teachings have always been vague on this. Basically, the Wiccan say that after rising upon the spiral of life and death and rebirth, those souls who have attained perfection break away from the cycle forever and dwell with the Goddess and God. Nothing is ever lost. The energies resident in our souls return to the divine source from which they originally emanated.
Because of the acceptance of reincarnation, the Wicca don't fear death as a final plunge into oblivion, the days of life on Earth forever behind them. It is seen as the door to birth. Thus our very lives are symbolically linked with the endless cycles of the seasons which shape our planet.
Reincarnation is as real as a plant that buds, flowers, drops its seed, withers and creates a new plant in its image.
Summerland and Reincarnation
Many Wiccan believe in reincarnation. Some tell stories of a place called 'Summerland'. They think of it as a place of welcome rest after life on Earth. In Summerland, the deceased will be rejoined with friends and loved ones, who passed away before him/her. Here s/he will have time to reflect on and understand the lessons learned during life on Earth. From there, the person will return to life on Earth after a time, to learn and experience some more, and to teach understanding of this cycle of existence - in order to achieve perfect knowledge. For some Wiccan this as a literal description of what happens to people when they die.
For others, it is a symbolic model that helps them deal with the cycles and changes within this life.
AS ABOVE, SO BELOW
The concept is the physical dimension as an image of the higher non-physical self. In Egyptian mysteries, "that which is below, is like that which is above and that which is above, is like that which is below". (Creation is the nature of the creator). The laws of physics/the laws of nature. Nature is viewed as the great teacher & why Wicca focuses on the reverence & preservation of nature.
Merry meet, so sad to part...but merry meet again...in the Summerland, Valhalla, the Blessed Isles...and perhaps back here among the living.
There be three great mysteries in life, and magic controls them all. To fulfill love, you must return again at the same time and at the same place as the loved ones; and you must meet, and know, and remember, and love them again. (Gerald Gardner, founder of Wicca.)
Pagans believe (or hope) we will meet in the next lifetime those we have walked the path with in this life, so that we may continue to support each other in community and love.
Summerland & Time
Pagan Beliefs about the Afterlife
Every spiritual path has it's own belief in what happens once you pass on from this world. One thing all of these beliefs have in common is that the soul leaves the body and moves on into some type of divine spiritual realm or through a divine realm into a new incarnation.
The concepts of life after death are clearly laid out in many cultures and religions through books. Such as the Egyptian or Tibetan Books of the Dead, the Torah, The Holy Bible and so on. The Celtics however, did not have books in the same fashion, but rather a rich and colorful oral tradition. These stories were kept alive by poets, story-tellers and druids who recited traditional lore within a collection of verses or legends.
What happens to us after we die? Although no-one really knows, all of us, Pagan or non-Pagan have wondered what happens to our spirit, our soul or essential being, when our body gives up the ghost.
Pagans, almost without exception, believe in reincarnation, but the form that it might take varies widely. Our earliest ancestors seem to have understood this concept, since many ancient bones have been found that are smeared in ochre, a red earth, symbolizing re-birth, and the simple existence of grave goods indicates a belief in either the actual or spiritual continuation of life after death, requiring earthly marks of rank and/or tools to help the dead in the afterlife. Perhaps the most sophisticated of these graves belong to the Pharos.
The oldest long barrow, or tomb, in Britain, built at the same time as the earliest Egyptian pyramids, is a long, narrow shape, a shape associated with death but inside, the tomb itself is divided into 5 rounded chambers, uncannily resembling the shape of a woman: birth within death.
A unifying factor in Pagan philosophy is a disbelief in a tortuous hell-like environment. Whilst many of us understand the need for judgment, it is seen as a time to learn from our mistakes and successes rather than something to anticipate with dread.
Historically, Odinists believed that the souls of women who die in labor and warriors who die in battle are cared for by the Valkery, a band of warrior women, who accompany them to Valhalla, or a land of contentment. Recognizing that the life of a modern Odinist may not have as much to do with war and childbirth ending in death that the tribes of Northmen had to deal with, Odinists now share much in their beliefs about the afterlife with other Pagans; that death is not an end, but simply another beginning.
Dianics, women who worship the Goddess alone, as well as many Pagans of all faiths, hope for a return to the source, to the Ultimate Mother. "Mother" may be a representation of a Goddess, Diana, Kali, Brigde, but it is more likely to be The Goddess Herself, an all-embracing feminine creative and destructive power to which we all return to become a part, part of the power. This is very close to the Native American traditions, which explain that everything is simply an expression of a Holy energy; buffalo and grass and human are blobs of divineness from the same source to which we return at death to replenish, which will, in turn, create us again.
Some Pagans trust in the Summerlands, a peaceful and enjoyable place of rest where they can recover from their past life, be helped to assess it and prepare to be reborn.
Amenti, the ancient Egyptian land of the Gods, would be the preferred destination of Pagans following the Egyptian Mysteries. To get there, they are accompanied by Anubis, the jackal-headed God of the death, to a place of judgment. Their heart is weighed against a feather and they are asked 42 challenging questions about the way they behaved in life, another way of assessing it. If they really were very bad and just about to give up hope of Amenti, the final question by the 42nd Assessor is "Is there one upon the earth who is glad that you lived?" Of course, there is almost always one, a stranger perhaps, who benefited from this person's existence, and this will allow the dead person, having learned something about how to live, to move on to the next life, to be with the Gods.
Most Pagans believe in a reincarnation of their physical body too, through decomposition or a returning of ashes to the land. Our decay feeds the land and we become part of it. The land feeds plants, the plants are eaten by animals and so, we are reborn by helping to sustain new life.
Samhain, the Celtic New Year on the 31st October, is the time of year when Pagans celebrate our ancestors and our dead. The mortal and other worlds are very close, and we can ask for advice, talk with our dead to tell them how their descendents are getting on, and appreciate our long personal heritage and wider community. Samhain is also the season when the first stirrings of Winter approach. Winter still means death for many elderly and infirm people, and the land appears to die too along with the weakening of the sun itself, appearing feeble and bleak for a good part of winter. But again, we trust the seasons to move round, for the Sun to begin its ascent in the sky again around the winter solstice, or Yule on December 21st.
Pagans do not particularly relish the thought that they must die. It is still a painful and difficult reality to come to terms with, but the knowledge that we are not going to suffer hellish torment and that death is simply another life helps us bow gracefully to the inevitable.
Wiccan, as normal human beings, do not always wish to discuss death on a daily basis. We have our promise of eternal life, and we hope that there exists in the universe a place of eternal reward and a place of eternal punishment depending on the person and what we feel they deserve. As a religion that does not claim to have all the answers, the specific details of what happens when you die is not as ironed out as most other religions have it. Perhaps it's due to the number of psychics that practice Wicca - many have on some level witnessed that the details are not, by any means, ironed out and vary by the mesh of souls and what they need and desire.
Most religions have a promise of either eternal reward or attaining union with the universe - through the process of being the best person you can possibly be, and/or through the process of reincarnation, eventually a human being will no longer return to earth. Wicca differs, and I've yet to see the details laid before me explicitly. As I have it, Wiccan are the hidden children - the children that were never meant to "leave home", home being the Earth. We reincarnate. We have past life memories that never go near Cleopatra. A few of us do have nasty visions of executions as witches in past lives (not restricted, necessarily, to Wiccan, but statistically a higher instance among us). Our experiences are undeniable, and our development continues forward, seeking an ever stronger relationship with the God and Goddess.
But we don't necessarily seek to join the God and Goddess in their universal consciousness. As one sister put it, "We don't want to get off!" It's as though the entire cycle of our souls is to make sure that that two or three percent of activists come back to make sure that someone takes care of the Earth. Perhaps in part Wiccan rarely emphasize human perfection as a goal is because we each experience cosmic moments where we *are* the Goddess, when she chooses to share her consciousness with us and we see the existence from her perspective, or the moments, when facing the tragedies that must occur so that life can continue, or the injustices that happen just because some people just suck, we feel as the God feels and understand that we live a paradox of insignificance and absolute importance.
We live the circular life with the round Earth. I should hope that with each reincarnation, we learn more, we grow more - and we seek to make the world and safer and more loving place where
free will collides less and less. We do reincarnate, and we actually see the Sabbath cycles as an expression of our belief in reincarnation - to know all, we must experience all, and then take what we have learned back to our home and use it for the good of our people.
The Summerland Scott Cunningham - Wicca: A Guide For The Solitary Practitioner - (p71)
"This is where the soul prepares for the next incarnation. "... a non-physical reality much less dense than ours. Some Wiccan traditions describe it as a land of eternal summer, with grassy fields and sweet flowing rivers, perhaps the Earth before the advent of humans. Others see it vaguely as a realm without forms. Where energy swirls coexist with the greatest energies - the Goddess and God in their celestial identities."
The Spiral Of Rebirth Scott Cunningham - Wicca: A Guide For The Solitary Practitioner - (p69)
"The knowledge that this life is but one of many, that when the physical body dies we do not cease to exist but are reborn into another body answers many questions, but raises a few more. Why? In common with many other religions, Wicca teaches that reincarnation is the instrument through which our souls are perfected. One lifetime isn't sufficient to attain this goal; hence the consciousness (soul) is reborn many times, each life encompassing a different set of lessons, until perfection is achieved."
Questions and Answers
Q: What is Wicca's take on death and beyond? I'm interested in retaining myself after death, not becoming part of some homogenous mass.
A: Wicca does not have a particular "take" on death and the beyond. In general Wiccan believe in reincarnation. Beyond that, the process is very much a matter of personal belief.
The vast majority of Wiccan believe in reincarnation as the means to evolve as a soul and attain enlightenment. For every Wiccan practitioner there is a slightly different view on the meaning of the soul and of its growth. Some believe we live our lives in chronological order, the repetition of them being the tool by which we perfect our human experience. And that we reincarnate as the same entity, retaining individuality. Some believe we share a greater soul with a group of souls where experience is shared upon our passing over. Reincarnation from that soul group is sometimes seen as a "remixing" of personalities and sometimes as souls retaining their individuality while gaining from the experiences of their soul family. Others believe that every time we pass over our soul becomes part of the great spirit of all life and that when we are reborn we are some combination of those souls, not a consistent reincarnation.
In my personal experiences with American Wicca, we most generally believe in chronological reincarnation where a unique soul evolves through many lives until achieving enlightenment. Most Wiccan do see enlightenment as a time when the "individual" is no longer differentiated and becomes part of the Divine whole. In fact, many traditions teach that enlightenment is when an old soul realizes it is no longer an individual and in that discovery returns to the Godhead.
Q. Can you please tell me what does it mean when a Wiccan is wearing an inverted pentagram?
A. The inverted pentagram is a symbol of the Second Degree of initiation in Gardnerian Wicca. The pentagram represents the four quarters and the four functions of the Self. Its fifth aspect is that of Akasha. Which is transcendence. Akasha can be explained as the unknown life force. The Spirit or the All. That which we strive to understand in our training. The other four points of the pentagram are associated with the immanent Divine. The part of us and of all that is Divine and shared. Tangible. The fifth point, representing transcendence, is the symbol of moving beyond the immanent to that which is the separate and distinct Divine. Whether one sees that fifth aspect as God, Goddess, the Life Force, or the All, it is the Spirit which creates. The Creator/Creatrix.
In Gardnerian training, by focusing on the first four elements we connect to the immanent Divine and seek to understand the transcendent Divine by understanding the natural world and studying our selves and our human and Divine potential. A pentagram worn inverted, with the fifth point facing downwards, indicates that one is on a path to comprehending transcendence. By the third degree, the pentagram is worn with the point upwards, indicating a degree of knowledge which encompasses the Transcendent Divine.
All of this talk of imminent and transcendent can confuse a poor witch, I know. In its simplest terms, a novice in pagan studies comprehends the God/dess they can see in the world around them. At the more advanced level of training, the student begins to comprehend the Spirit which is beyond the tangible world and which exists as a separate Life Source. When one begins the shift in mindset from seeing God/dess imminently to seeing the Divine as both imminent and transcendent, it is the time the inverted pentagram will be righted. It is a symbol of attainment of a certain degree of understanding, while acknowledging, as the five points always do, that there is eternally that which is just beyond understanding. That is often symbolized by a circle drawn around a pentagram. The circle represents Mystery.
Q. An older witch friend of mine recently visited as I was decorating my house for the holidays. She was very concerned when she saw me hanging a wreath on my door after I had decorated the inside. Do you know why this might be?
A. One of the delightful superstitions which has come down to us through the years is the hanging of a wreath on the door of our homes. The wreath is a powerful symbol at this time of year, representing the wheel or circle of life. Made of greenery which may include the sacred holy or mistletoe. There are many wonderful myths and stories told about the power of the circular wreath. Wreaths were often created as a way of bringing Winter's greenery into homes. They were used extensively when the Catholic Church outlawed the use of evergreens in the house as a pagan tradition. A small wreath was often a way to adhere quietly and unobtrusively to one's ancient traditions in a way that would not call notice from the Church.
One tale regarding wreaths would explain your friend's discomfort with your decorating technique. The tradition is that one must begin decorating one's house with a wreath on the front door. No decorating to have been done before that. Then you proceed to decorate your house, working in from the front door. The wreath you placed there at the start will guarantee nothing but good energy enters the house, and the energy will follow the decorations within, leading into the heart of your home. The reverse is true; you should always take down the wreath as your very last task when you are removing your holiday decorations.
Summerland - Thoughts & Traditions
Wiccan and Pagans do not believe in the existence of the Christian "Hell", as either a tangible place (one of fire and brimstone, of eternal torture and torment) or as a spiritual plane (out of "Godís sight" and being forsaken by and separated from God), where the damned or evil languish and suffer. I canít even comprehend such a terrible idea of this sort, let alone imagine that a creative force that is supposed to be all-knowing, all-seeing, all-forgiving and all-loving could separate Itself from, and turn Its back on, Its creations. Essentially all Wiccan, myself included, assert that the existence of Hell is completely incompatible with their concept of a loving and forgiving Deity.
While weíre on the subject of the loving Deity and the inexistence of Hell, I must state that Wiccan and Pagans do not believe in the existence of the Christian-concept of an entity called "Satan". The idea that Witches worship this "Satan" is one of the most common misconceptions about us. This erroneous idea probably developed hundreds of years ago because some Christian leaders encouraged their followers to view non-Christians as anti-Christian. If you werenít a believer in Christ, the embodiment of the good, you MUST be a believer in his evil oppositeóSatan or the Devil. The all-evil Satan is a Christian concept that plays NO part in the Wiccan religion. Wiccan do not recognize the existence of the Christian quasi-deity, Satan; their pantheons of deities do not include an all-evil supernatural being. Wiccan do not believe that negativity or evil is an organized force.
Wiccan believe in the morals that are common to most faiths, but Wiccan donít believe in the idea of "original sin". We donít believe we are "born sinners", and no one can prove to us otherwise. Wiccan donít need a "savior", we donít have anything to be "saved" from to begin with. Personally, as an intelligent, sentient being, I find the ideas of original sin, being born a sinner and having to be "saved" not only completely ridiculous, but downright insulting. While Wiccan do not believe there is a hell to punish sinners, Wiccan do believe there is a universal law, called karma, that puts our behavior on display so that we can learn from it.
WHAT HAPPENS TO PAGANS AFTER DEATH
There are basically four major paths within modern Paganism. These are: Wicca Druidism Asatru Eclectic Paganism. With in each there are many denomination, much the same as Protestantism. Virtually all of the various Pagan spiritual traditions have some place of rest, comfort and reward to which we expect we will go, even if only for a brief time before reincarnation, growing younger and younger until, eventually, we are again young enough to be reborn. We accept death as a necessary step in the cycles of life; Birth, death and rebirth. Most Pagan belief systems include the concept that it is our lives that are our most important purpose here and that we can make this life into a reward or a punishment by how we live and how we relate to those around us. We believe that our own sense of personal responsibility and morality is what controls our punishment or reward in this lifetime.
For Wiccan and Pagans, this place is known as the "Summerland". It is a place of eternal rest and comfort, or if we have not learned enough in this lifetime and are to be reincarnated, a restful and pleasant stop over between lives.
To the Northern European or Nordic Traditions, for warriors it is known as Valhalla. For other, it is called Noatun, where the sun meets the water, Asgaard and several others. There are at least 12 abodes for the dead, allowing each some choice in where they will meet and abide in eternal feasting with Odin. Oath-breakers and others who dishonored their community or themselves, were sent to Nastrond, more to keep them away from the good folks in the other places than as punishment.
To the Druids, it is known as the Western Islands, Avalon or the Isle of Apples.
None of the Pagan traditions contain a place of damnation and suffering such as the Judeo-Christian Hell. We do not believe that this life is some kind of a dress rehearsal for something that comes only after death. Most believe that upon death, each of us must honestly and justly evaluate and judge ourselves before rest in the Summerland or our reincarnation can be possible. How I bereavement care a part of your community?
The belief that death is simply a change to another plane of existence for Pagans does not often make the passage of a loved one any less emotional or difficult, even though we generally do not fear our own death as much as most westerners do today. Grief comes more often from a sense of personal loss rather than a fear for the fate of the deceased, as we have no place of eternal punishment to be afraid of. In the Pagan community, the same support during the grieving process is provided for the survivors, although often through novel means, such as a guided meditation for the grief stricken. With the subject or subjects in a relaxed position with eyes closed, preferably sitting comfortably and not reclining, the leader of the meditation will guide them through a mind-picture-story in the mind, very often a journey through familiar and pleasing surroundings to meet with the departed loved one. They are presented with the opportunity to converse in their minds with the deceased, to say things not said in life, to make their peace if necessary, to see that the departed is happy and well, and to say their good-byes to them. The meditation leader will then talk them back along the path previously taken, returning them to their present consciousness. This process, this meditative mind journey, if you will, is very effective and amazingly cathartic in releasing unreconciled grief. Some find the grieving process shortened by lovingly preparing the body by washing it themselves prior to removal for interment or cremation. Some other methods include the building of a shrine or an altar to the deceased in one's home, gathering for a community memorial to mark and honor the life of the deceased rather than focusing on their death and Chanting for the Dead, similar to the Tibetan Buddhist rites or the Jewish custom of say Kaddish. How do you support the dying person?
When it is possible, often someone (or several people, taking turns) will sit a vigil with the dying person during the days leading up to their death. There are several meditations for this circumstance, including the Salt Water Meditation and a Grounding Meditation to help center the mind. One of the greatest gifts we can offer a loved one is to simply be present through their dying, grounded, caring, and witnessing and experiencing with them without interfering with the process. We know that even an unconscious person can often still hear, and we try not to create an unsettling atmosphere for them by callously talking as though they were already gone. Once dead, the body must not be left alone, if possible, until cremation or interment. Given the modern operations of hospitals and nursing homes, this may prove difficult, but we must try. How do you support their family?
Just as with the dead, the surviving should not be left alone but offered companionship - even just the silent presence of a friend sleeping in the next room is comforting. Many Pagans believe that the bereaved family needs nine days without the burdens of daily work routines, though few are able to afford this. Three days for the dead, three days for the living, and another three days for gentle transition back to ordinary life. Offering practical help, such as making phone calls, arranging transportation, dealing with the authorities and paperwork are all concrete acts of love. Newly bereaved need nurturing and food and companionship are needed in spite of feelings of wanting to be alone or not being hungry. Companionship should never be burdensome - it isn't necessary to entertain or comfort or make wise remarks - we just need to be there. What are the rituals with the body after death?
The preparation and dressing of the body were already touched on. The body should generally not be embalmed or preserved in any way, and so cremation or burial should take place in three days or less, sooner in hot climates. Memorial services should be held for those unable to make the funeral. To allow it to return to the natural cycles of the earth, the physical body should be wrapped in simple cloth shroud and placed directly in the earth if the law allows, or in a simple softwood box, without any concrete or metal burial vault. Many cemeteries insist on a vault to minimize their workload in refilling depressions caused by settling graves, so this should be discussed in advance. The return of the physical body to the earth in a natural, unrestricted process is a central and important tenet of Paganism. In cremation, much of the physical body is released back into the biosphere, and remaining ashes should also be allowed to return to the earth.
Comparison of Christianity and Wicca
Monotheism. Christianity is monotheistic, meaning there is only one supreme God. A Christian is supposed to worship none other than God.
Heaven. Heaven is the eventual destination of the soul of a "good" Christian.
No Reincarnation. After death, the soul remains in Heaven or Hell eternally.
Satan. In Christianity, there is a supreme evil known as the Devil or Satan who is considered the ruler of Hell.
Hell. The sinners/those who did not let Jesus into their lives are sent to eternal damnation in Hell.
Prayer. A Christian requests help or guidance from God/Christ through prayer.
Bible. Scriptures that tell of the life of Christ and guidelines for Christian living. Told through the eyes of the Christian prophets.
Ten Commandments. Have no other gods, make no "graven" images of anything, don't take the Lord's name in vain, pray and rest on the Sabbath day, honor your father and mother, do not kill, do not commit adultery, do not steal, do not "bear false witness" against your neighbor, don't covet anything that's not yours.
Holidays Christian holy days, like Easter and Christmas, celebrate important days in the life of Jesus Christ (birth, resurrection). Sabbaths are based on important events in the Bible and in Christianity's history.
Church/Temple Sanctuary of Christian worship or the house of God.
Duotheism/Polytheism. Depending on the person's beliefs, Wicca is duotheistic or polytheistic. This means that there are more than one deity. For most Wiccan, there are two -- the God and the Goddess. For others, there are entire pantheons of gods (like the Greek gods and goddesses) each with different characteristics.
Summerland. Summerland is the place where the Wicca's soul goes to rest before being reincarnated.
Reincarnation. After death, the soul is reincarnated into a new physical being. (This cycle just keeps going and going.)
Satan. No Satan The God and Goddess represent both the dark and the light, the balance. There is no supreme evil in Wicca.
Karma. In Wicca, there is no Hell. The three-fold law or karma returns all negativity that a person sends out back to that person. This is how a person "pays" for their evil deeds. Rather than burn in Hell for eternity, they receive a just punishment from the gods.
Ritual. Wiccan pray, too. But rituals or spells can be considered the equivalent of Christian prayer. A Wiccan asks their God/Goddess to provide the protection, help, or results they need through their Magickal workings if not through simple prayer.
Wiccan Rede. One very simple rule. "An it harm none, do as ye will."
Sabbaths. There are eight sabbats which are celebrated by Wiccan. They have little difference from the main Christian holidays because the Christian holidays have their origins in pagan celebrations which existed BEFORE Christianity. Christmas originated from the pagan Yule celebration, and Easter comes from the pagan sabbat of Eostar.
Circle/Coven Some Wiccan may have temples, but most worship and practice rituals within a circle cast anywhere necessary. Others may consider their covenstead (where their coven meets) a place of sanctuary.
Summerland - A Concept
The intermediate stage between detachment from the physical plane and complete withdrawal of the Individuality seems to be a period of varying duration in what are generally called the Summerlands. The Summerlands have a real existence on the astral plane, and yet are to a certain extent self-created, whether on an individual or a group basis. In other words, the kind of Summerland in which you find yourself, and the company you meet there, depends on your own stage of development and on the strength of your links with the other entities concerned. Parts of the Personality of your last incarnation, on the astral and lower mental levels, are obviously still involved. In general, it seems to be a period of necessary rest and recuperation, and of the absorption (and discussion with friends?) of the lessons of the incarnation just experienced. In due course, you withdraw from the Summerlands too; all that is left is your Individuality, your immortal self, existing on a level of consciousness about which we, at least, are not prepared to be dogmatic, because its nature can hardly be grasped except perhaps in flashes on intuition, or described in the language of the level on which we find ourselves at the moment. But it can be said that is, too, k is a period of absorption of experience, at the fundamental level of the Individual: and perhaps, in proportion to one's degree of development, of consideration andchoice of the circumstances of one's coming reincarnation.
SUMMERLANDS: A spiritualist word for the Heaven which souls enter after death. Often used by believers in Reincarnation (q.v.) to denote the astral stage of rest after physical death, before the Individuality (q.v.) withdraws from all the lower levels to prepare for its next Incarnation (q.v.).
Death and Life
"Both despair and euphoria about death are an evasion. Death is neither
depressing nor exciting; it is simply a fact of life."
"Precious life slips and falls, Between our grasping fingers. It holds us in its sway. For a few short moments, Ticks on the cosmic clock. We are gone, Or our beloved is gone, And someone weeps. Over there somewhere, Another life begins. The clock ticks, And it all starts over." Tom Barrett
We materially advanced westerners have few guideposts for managing our experiences with death. We gape at it on the movie screen-- images spiced with explosions, smoke, and flame, with short takes and quick cuts, but we never look it in the face. Never see it with unblinking eyes. Our executions are behind high prison walls. We turn away from the squashed opossum on the road. Our families give up their last breath all too often in hospitals that are to the spirit as a vacuum is to air. Safely quarantined from death, we let it titillate us on screen and in books. But do we know what to do when we encounter it for real? We know to cry for our dead pet. We pay homage to the rare dead elder all made up in Sunday best laying stiff, but pretty, in the open coffin. But these experiences are thrust upon us unwillingly and we retreat from them as soon as we can. What if we really concentrated on the change that is death? How would we be different if we could look at death with clear eyes, see it for its mystery and grotesqueness? How much more would we appreciate life if we were not afraid to examine the alternative to it? Most of us grasp at life, holding it tightly so that we don't lose it. In grasping we fail to relax and enjoy the life that we so much fear losing. We need to realize that ALL is impermanent. We all go some time, so it is prudent to be prepared for the moment of our transition. At the same time consider that those whom you love will be gone sometime too. Maybe before you, maybe after you, but there will be separation.
That means: Live life with fullness. Just BE in your life. Be aware. Be mindful. Be fearless. Be compassionate. Love. Share. Forgive. Look around at those you share air with. Think of your family and friends. How would you respond if these individuals were gone for good? How can you prepare yourself for the loss. What has been left unsaid? What has been left undone? What amends would you regret not making? What can you do now to bring a greater sense of completion to your life?
Q: Do you worship Satan?
A: Satan is a part of the Christian and Muslim religions. Since pagans are neither Christian nor Muslim, Satan is not part of our deity structure at all. We believe that each and every human being is completely responsible for his or her own actions. To us, evil is a choice, albeit a bad one, that a human might make, not an embodied entity to blame our actions upon. If an individual chooses to do evil, most pagans believe they will be punished via the laws of karma or as a result of "cause and effect." In other words, "What goes around usually comes around."
Q: Do Witches believe in heaven and hell?
A: Many Witches and Wiccan believe in some form of reincarnation, that the results or karma of past deeds can follow a person from one life to the next. This may also help to explain why terrible things sometimes happen to wonderful people or why some people seem to have been born with certain skills and knowledge. It may also explain why some people seem to lead a "charmed" life. Some pagans believe in an after-life spent in another plain of existence. Known as Summerland, Avalon, Valhalla or simply the "Other Side", they believe that they will be reunited here once again with friends and family.
Q: So why do you use that "Satanic" symbol?
A: The pentagram, or five pointed star, is not Satanic. Pythagoras used it as a symbol of health and his followers wore them in order to recognize one another. In Medieval times, some Christian knights used the pentagram as their symbol. To modern Wiccan the pentagram means many things; The five points correspond to the elements Air, Earth, Fire and Water with the top point corresponding to "Spirit". The pentagram in a circle may also represent a human with their legs and arms outstretched, surrounded by universal wisdom or the "Goddess" - humankind at one with the environment. Many Witches and other pagan practitioners do not wear the pentacle at all, but have other symbols of special meaning to them.
Q: Do you do blood sacrifice?
A: Wiccan believe in the sanctity of all life. Most pagans believe that animals are part of the same natural cycle of life as humans are. Q: Do Witches and Wiccan cast spells?
A: Yes. Well, some do anyway. However, the term "spell" is widely misunderstood. Spells, are somewhat like prayers and are used to create needed change in one's own life or the life of a loved one. But while prayers are a petition to an external Deity to create the change, most Witches and Wiccan believe that Deity is present in everything, including ourselves. Spells, then, are the channeling of our own divine selves, our own energies, to create the change. Spells such as those which use love magic to gain the attention of a specific individual, or curses, are considered "manipulative". Most Wiccan believe that anything manipulative--that goes against the free will of another--is considered wrong. Many other pagan paths have similar codes of conduct based upon the tenets of their tradition or belief and almost all believe that the responsibility for their actions will lie with them.
Q: Are Witchcraft or Wicca cults?
A: A cult by definition is a group of people who blindly follow one leader. As Witches, Wiccan and pagans tend to be free-thinkers, there is no one person that we consider to be THE leader. Thus we cannot be called a cult.
Q: Do you have ritual orgies?
A: These rumors come from our lack of taboos regarding sex. We have no rules which prohibit homosexuality, or pre-marital sex. Sex as the generative force in nature is seen by most pagans as something utterly sacred. We feel that the physical act of love is to be approached with great respect and responsibility.
Q: Why do all Witches/Wiccan wear black?
A: We all don't. Many Witches/Wiccan actually seem to favor green and/or purple. Black, however, is in many cultures a symbol of clergy. Priests, Ministers and Rabbis all favor black as the main color of their ritual garb.
Q: Aren't all Witches Women?
A: No. Neither are Wiccan or those in other pagan paths. Witches can be either men or women. The term "Warlock" is never used to describe a male Witch as it is considered to be a religious slur. "Warlock" is an old Scottish word meaning "traitor" or "oath-breaker". Men and Women alike can be Witches, Wiccan or pagans.
Q: Why would anyone want to be a pagan, a Witch or Wiccan?
A: People are generally drawn to Wicca and other pagan paths for several reasons. Many women feel left out of more mainstream religions because of the lack of feminine divinity. For them, the Wiccan concept of the Goddess as Mother of all Living fills an empty space in their spiritual search. As a nature based religion, Witchcraft also appeals to those who feel a strong need to "get back to the Earth" and places a major importance on protecting the environment, which we are a part of, not apart from. People drawn to the mystical find pagan belief systems much more accommodating as we do not see anything unnatural about psychic ability or the use of magic to create needed changes in one's life. It gives us the freedom to make our own decisions about what is best for us.
Q: How do you convert new Witches/Wiccan/pagans?
A: We don't. We feel that the attempted conversion of others is a form of religious bigotry. i.e. If one tries to convert another to his/her religion, s/he assumes that the other person's beliefs are not as valid as his/her own. We feel that all paths are equally valid as long as they do not infringe upon the basic civil rights or free will of another. According to our beliefs, it is up to the individual to choose his or her own path. We do not try to manipulate others into our way of thinking, we only try to educate others about our religion so that they may better understand us. We do, however try to help guide those who have already expressed an interest in the pagan belief systems or religions.
Q: So what do Witches/Wiccan/pagans DO?
A: Pretty much what everybody does. We come from all walks of life. We raise families, go to work, and hang out with our friends. We practice our religions and belief systems, celebrate our holidays with festivals and continue to study and explore our past while contemplating our futures. Many covens and groups meet once a month to worship together under the moon. Pagans tend to hold ceremonies or "circles" out of doors as we feel that being with nature brings us closer to the divinity who creates it. Some pagan beliefs may seem strange to those who have not heard much about them before. Pagans, on the other hand, are usually very well versed in the beliefs of other religions. They find the various religious systems interesting and often encourage their own children to learn about these other religions. Pagans believe in free will and free choice and that an educated choice is always better than blind obedience to any religion or dogma. We are not "against" other religions. We have simply made our choice to be pagan and we expect others to respect that choice as we respect theirs. All that we ask is that we are allowed to practice our religion without prejudice or interference as is our right guaranteed here in the United States under the Constitution and as outlined within the constitutions of many other countries. The freedom to practice religion -or no religion-as you choose-whether it be Christian, Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist or Pagan-is the freedom to follow your spirit and your heart.
This precious freedom must be defended, protected and treasured by all or it will no longer be guaranteed for anyone.