"Death as Ally" by Portia Richardson
I believe Death is an ally for helping us learn to truly live.
As a scorpio, an anti-capitalist, an animist witch, a life-long student of earth honoring spiritual teachings, and a person who bleeds with the moon cycles - I turn to Death as a supportive ally to help me ride the waves cyclical change.
Death is needed for life to emerge.
Now is a seasonal time of dying. Death is all around and within us.
Here in the north, the land is shedding the growing season. The vital energy of life is sinking back down into the earth to rest for the winter. The trees stand bare boned. The darkness is increasing each day.
If our culture valued Death as an ally, we would all be slowing down right about now.
We would be taking time for collective grieving for those who came before.
We would be honoring our passage through the veil into the unknown.
But in the industrialized west, this is not the case. We are not slowing down this time of year, just the opposite. Death is not viewed as an ally. Instead, Death is to be feared and avoided at all costs.
Why? How did we get to this distorted devaluing of Death? Let’s begin with how capitalism views Death.
First, in a capitalist culture, there is no such thing as cyclical change. It’s all about the up up upward growth. Linear progress.
The death phase of the cycle, which involves not only literal death but also rest and non-action, is not so good for the bottom line.
Yet, research on productivity in the workplace now shows us - when we embrace our everyday, moment to moment, little deaths (such as taking breaks, having vacation time, not-doing so much all the time) we actually increase our productivity!
The only reason we feel this as counter-intuitive is because we’ve been conditioned to believe otherwise. Anyone who observes nature will tell you: death begets life. The ancients knew this and honored Death’s role in the cycle.Second, medical culture tends to view Death as a failure of the body. This is based on materialistic, mechanistic, and reductive ideologies that gained popularity in the Age of Enlightenment, which followed and overlapped with the witch burning times.
This was a time when we had a cultural mind-body split.
The body became a machine that could be deconstructed, manipulated, controlled, and fixed (as the land and people were also being actively divided and conquered in the Age of Discovery and the industrial revolution).
During this time medicine became obsessed with curing vs healing.
Death became a failure.
But you cannot have true healing without Death.
Third, we have a cultural obsession with youthfulness that frames aging as losing power, Death is the ultimate loss of power.
It makes sense why our capitalist culture is obsessed with youthful power.
When we are young, we are more resilient under the systemic pressure to produce.
As we age, we start to break down under this pressure.
Chronic disease results from chronic stress.
Out medical culture has historically blamed us as individuals versus the larger systems for our burn out. People who crumble under the systemic pressure are viewed as a diseased, ugly, worn out failures who need to be hidden away in elder care facilities and forgotten...until they lose the battle of progress and finally die.
What if we gain spiritual power as we approach Death?
Forth, woven into these capitalistic and materialist ideologies are the historical puritanical religious scripts and politics that command us to control our original nature or else our afterlife will be an infinite Hell situation.
Death became a punishment for Life. And a control tactic.
And a major buzzkill when remembering our mortality in moments of embodied pleasure.
Fourth, we collectively suffer from a perpetual and generalized fear of the unknown.
Death is a cultural phobia. We struggle with what we can’t see, feel, touch, measure, and thus control.
We’ve forgotten how to trust Death’s wild energy as we pass through the portal.
We must remember, Death is simply a transformation.
Death is Birth into another form.
Lastly, we struggle to grieve as a collective.
When we can’t grieve, we resist letting go and stay energetically stuck. Grief is the energy Death needs to transform back into Life.
But grieving can be overwhelming, which is why communal grief practices are important for healing. Many traditions cross culturally have healers whose craft is to help the bereaved grieve by crying and wailing themselves. The purpose is to share the weight of grief as a community so no one gets lost in it.
Historically communal grief practices were actively erased and suppressed with colonization.
So it makes sense why we are currently over-medicating ourselves with pain meds to cope with the latent ancestral grief that’s stuck in our bodies.
We have forgotten our grief is and expression of our love.
I believe Death is an ally who shows us how deeply we love Life through grief.
Death cracks open our hearts.
Thankfully we are beginning to see a rise in people practicing as death doulas and grief ritualist who support communal grief work and can help us through the passage.
How do you transform your relationship with Death?
Honor your mini deaths. Begin to understand Death as cyclical and recurrent - and an important aspect of nature. When you look to the cycle of change, you will find there are many opportunities to work with the energy of Death. Seasonally, attune to the energy of the fall. What are you releasing this year? What is dying to create new life next year? In the daily cycle, night is Death’s domain. What is dying each day so you can start anew tomorrow? You can play with aligning to the energy of the dark/empty moon. Or if you bleed, the menstrual cycle is a mini-death. And there are always circumstantial mini-deaths happening all the time that give you opportunities to practice letting go and trusting the unknown.
Clearing clutter. This is a great opportunity to practice asking for Death’s help as an ally. What can you release to create space for life? And clutter doesn’t need to mean: stuff. You can declutter your physical environment, but also your body, your mind, your heart, your relationships, your energy field etc.
Connect with elders who embrace Death. These people are wise. They will teach you to honor Death and reframe your beliefs about aging and dying.
Honor your ancestors and those who came before. This practice will help you feel the timelessness of Death-Life and the ever present thread that weaves us all together.
Actively practice grieving when you feel the energy of Death upon you. Feel your feelings. Better yet, share them openly with others. Cry together. Let it be an expression of your love.
Observe nature. You will observe Death in action and begin to understand its purpose and place within the cycle of change.
Stop working so much. Take breaks. Take naps. Don’t produce more. Don’t go go go all the time. Let Death become an ally to help you rest and restore. Let Death help teach you JOMO (the joy of missing out). And notice how working with Death in this way actually allows you to be more present and productive in your day to day Life.
Instead of relating to Death as the grim reaper, notice what happens when you relate to Death as a loving complementary opposite to the Mother Life archetype? The Death Mother, who gently takes away what is no longer able to live so new life can flourish.
People who work closing with the dying will tell you Death can be beautiful.
And full of love.
People who have had near-death-experiences say the same.
This season I invite you to let Death become your ally.
Welcome in the energy of Death as the darkness settles.
Feel Death’s stillness. Feel the emptiness.
Let yourself die in all the ways you are able.
And trust your rebirth will be all the more vibrant and alive, thanks to the blessing of Death.
- MEET THE AUTHOR -
CRYSTAL OF THE MOMENT: smokey quartz
SUN SIGN: Scorpio
FAVORITE GIFT TO GIVE: presence
FAVORITE GIFT TO RECEIVE: presence
Portia is a holistic and interdisciplinary healer, teacher, guide, ritualist, and channel. Her medicine path is one of remembering our wholeness. She works at the intersections of embodiment, expanded consciousness, creative expression, sacred activism, ancestral connection, and cultural healing. She is a queer person, a partner and mother, an independent musician, an animist, an eclectic witch, and a bridge for the Otherworld. She works 1-on-1 with folx and holds group events through her private practice Tall Reeds Healing Arts, as well as teaches graduate courses through the Center of Spirituality and Healing at the University of Minnesota. Her mission is to heal collective trauma and dis-ease by tending to how it is showing up for each of us individually. Her practice flows from the guiding principle of as within so without, as without so within. You can connect more with Portia at www.tallreedshealingarts.com.
Photos Captured by Jenna Dailey