I forget when I first read the words that are the title of this post. I know it was a while before I read them in the book Reaper Man. But they struck me, deeply.
I’m a polytheist, by my focus has grown to be focused on Hel in particular, often to the exclusion of all else divine at times. I know there’s a term for it, but I can’t recall it at the moment. But there’s a reason I practice this way.
Hel is the Goddess of Death.
From this flows one inalienable truth, death is sacred, death is holy. Death shapes our world, often in ways we do not realize, but without which we could not exist, much less live.
One of the things that has been hopefully made clear throughout the last several months is that I am an individualist. Now, there’s a lot of very good reasons to be an individualist, but mine flow from a Truth from Death.
Everyone dies alone.
Death is a person shaped hole, through which only one person can pass through at a time. Each person makes their way individually to the afterlives, where they are individually judged for their individual actions. What you do, as a person, defines what happens to you in Death. The actions of others, helpful or harmful, do not matter to your end fate. Only you, only that single, individual person that is you.
That’s one of the reasons I have no patience for “Social Justice” or other such ideologies. “This person is privileged!” “This person was mean to me!” “That person’s a racist, this makes me cry!” and so on and so forth. “Someone has it better than me, and I demand that stop!”
In death, there are no rich or poor at the gates. All the pockets are empty. There is only the soul, honorable or dishonorable, content or bitter, loving or hateful, and so forth. Hel cares not what you suffered in your life from others, only what you have done to yourself and others with your own deeds. Did you live with honor, did you make people’s lives better as you could, prevent harm from coming to others, act justly? It matters not if someone was more famous, had a bigger house, or other mortal concerns.
It’s not an image from Norse mythology, but one of the best illustrations I’ve found of what death is like is the image of Anubis weighing a heart against the feather of truth.
If your heart is equal to or lighter than the feather, you passed on, but if it was heavier your heart was fed to a monster. While we don’t exactly have a scale or feather in Helheim, the principle is the same. It is you who is measured, for who you were, not for what your skin, privilege, gender, or anything else was.
This understanding shapes all I see.
But Death is more than that. We only exist because of Death. Were it not for things dying, we could not eat, could not digest. Without our cells dying as they were replaced, we would know only agony until we were devoured by our very selves, or left as monsters of undying flesh. So much of our bodies is made of dead and dying matter.
A while back, I was hanging out with my father who got talked into buying some sort of “anti-aging” cream made from stuff from the dead sea. We ended up talking about it and I stated that I was not impressed by such low necromancies, attempting to use dead things from a dead sea to hid the fact that one was aging and dying.
Mine is a world of Death. Each thing that has died had a living essence once. It fell, not matter how small, to the hand of Death. Be this death Hel, Anubis, Thanatos, Pluto, or any number of death gods and reapers. But this too only enhances my individualism, especially when it comes to the Gods.
Death is no mere force that ends life. It is individual beings, coming to collect the individual essences of other beings. Because the last thing one should always have in one’s life is at least one person who cares enough about you to come for you at the end.
As Death the Endless is fond of saying, “Everyone deserves at least one hot date.”
So some out there can insist that life, earth, and soil are sacred. That those thing are sacred because they’re one, giant, interconnected thing. And to them, perhaps they are. Some might even argue that these things should be the most sacred in the minds and hearts of everyone.
But what they hold sacred could not exist without what it is that I hold Sacred. Earth, life, everything, could not exist without Death. It is all made more precious by the inevitable end. Things can only be born from things that have died. Some things last longer than others, but everything, individually, can, will, and must end.
And this end is not found in symbols, archetypes, or extensions of ourselves. Those things cannot guide you past life, even if they might guide you in life. Because in the afterlife, all those things in your head pass away. You understand all in your life with clarity, objectivity. All the good, the bad, the whys, they’re there. And there is a God, or a Goddess, who looks at all these things and all you have done not with sentimentality, or compassion, or hatred, but with cold reason and objectivity. You are judged as truly as anything can be judged. And then you are let to pass on.
Only a being can do that. Only an individual can do that. One person, to another, without hate or love, and see them for who they are regardless of what group or collective or tribe or any other category that person might fall in.
Each hair on your head is a living thing that has died. Every cell, every grain, ever blade of grass, every human life’s soul. Each is taken, on its own. Down to the smallest, individual thing.
That is Death.
That, truly, is sacred, because in each individual action exists an act of supreme love. Not gathered up in gross bundles, cut away the same as each other. But each bit of life worthy of being cared for as it fades away, by itself, the sole focus of the Being taking it.
Each talk of grain, falling by itself, to the Reaper’s scythe.
If there is only one thing I could write. If there is only one thing I could pass on to the world forever, it would be this knowledge.
What can the harvest hope for, but the care of the reaper man?
I also found Death (the character)’s self discovery to be unspeakably profound. I prefer to stay close to my sources of food so that I know that the goats deaths are honored appropriately.
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So as one who lauds Death and is the self proclaimed Husband of Hel I have to wonder how you feel about mankinds ultimate goal of ending Death. There are entire industries devoted to your ‘low necromancies’, to the end of superficial aging and the medical field strives to prolong life by even a few minutes if not years. Cryogenics is a field that grows by the day. So it makes me wonder what the Gods of Death and the Reaper shall do if in some far flung future mankind puts an end to death in all forms, whether by disease or age or by injury and accidental chance. What part will ‘sacred death’ play in mankinds future if we stop death?
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