A Witch’s Thoughts on Death

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We got morbid real quick, didn’t we?

Death can be a scary thing to think about. When I first began to experience anxiety and panic attacks, the root cause of it stemmed from my fear of dying. I was five, by the way, when it struck me that, unlike getting a cold or a splinter, when you died, that was it. You didn’t just get over it with medicine, and you couldn’t undo it. The thing is, how do you comfort a child who’s afraid of dying? It’s not like you can tell them, “don’t worry, kid. You’re not going to die.” Because that’s not the truth. Everyone outside of fictional vampires and highlanders will experience it. That’s why they call it ‘the great equalizer.’

Of course, my parents tried their best to tell me it was going to be okay. They said I was young, that I had so many years ahead of me before I even needed to worry about it. But movies like ‘My Girl’ really put a wrench in those cogs (“Wake up Thomas Jay!”). As I got older, my peers, particularly my high school peers, would tell me that they weren’t afraid of dying because the KNEW they were going to heaven. This confused me somewhat. How could you know where you were going after you died? You could have hope or faith you’d end up somewhere, but unless you’ve actually died and seen it, how was it a certainty? Besides, that went against what my Catholic upbringing taught me – Something about the road to heaven being narrow and few people traveling it or whatever while the road to hell was wide and many people traveled it. This didn’t help in the end, because now in addition to dying, I was afraid of hell.

Ironically, it was my slow but inevitable departure from the church that brought me the most comfort. In the end, it wasn’t thoughts of a post-death paradise that served as my balm. It was science. More specifically, it was energy. In the most basic of explanations, we know for a fact that energy cannot be created or destroyed. Sure, you can begin to argue about entropy and the heat death of the universe (yay thermodynamics), but for the most part, the energy that makes us up can’t have come from nowhere. That means that, fundamentally, that energy came from somewhere in the universe. Furthermore, it meant that when I died, that energy didn’t die with me. It has to go somewhere. Maybe it’d go into a tree, a flower, an animal or insect, but it continues on and will continue on no matter what.

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When I embraced the witch in me, what really struck me was how my thoughts of dying didn’t change much from that. I put a lot of stock in the infinite energies of the planet, how even when we ground, we tap into that store to help balance and recharge whatever is out of alignment in us. But another thing I like about being a witch is, no matter what your thoughts on the afterlife are, it is not incompatible with this path. You can still believe in an afterlife or reincarnation and it is not in conflict with practicing the craft or working magic and spells.

In fact, this answers the next question. The theory of what happens to your energies may be sorted in my mind, but energies are not consciousness. My energy may go into making a tree, but that doesn’t mean my memories or what makes me who I am does. Does that die with me? Do I become a ghost, pass on to a spiritual realm? Some people claim to know the answer to this question, and maybe they do, but I do not.

However, I have determined that the fear I had of death had more to do with a loss of control than anything else. You can’t know when it’s going to happen to you, and you can’t stop it. For somebody who likes to be in constant control of the things around them, this is a hard pill to swallow. But, the moment you surrender yourself to the unknowable and yet awesome powers of the universe and embrace the magic around you, the easier it becomes to cope with the fact that not having control can be a beautiful thing, too.

There is also a comfort in endings. Think about the most embarrassing memory you have. Maybe one from a decade or more ago that you still cringe when you think about. You wonder, perhaps, if other people remember it, too, whenever they think of you. Now, imagine one hundred years from now? Does anyone remember it? Does anyone care? No. Maybe it sucks that your actions and contributions might not be remembered centuries from now, but hey! The mistakes you made and blunders you created won’t be remembered either! Didn’t help? Yeah, my sister didn’t think so either. And she even said something to the effect of, “We all remember that one time Attila the Hun died having sex.”

Well, Bonnie, unless you invade another country in the most epic, I’m-a-warlord way possible, most people won’t remember things about you. And I’m also not saying that you being alive didn’t make a difference. I’m just saying that maybe it didn’t get worldwide recognition. But that’s okay. Whether you believe that we will get another chance, that we move on to a new realm of existence, or that this is it, what really matters is that we make the most of the time we have here and enjoy it as best we can!

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