is the website (and personal soapbox) of Cather "Catalyst" Steincamp, Pagan author & activist. His "Castings" are an ongoing series of editorials on events in the Pagan world and beyond, and how these things affect the Pagan Community.
November 17, 2004
A Prayer for Reason
June 14, 2004
May 11, 2004
April 7, 2004
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March 29, 2005
I try to avoid doing reactive pieces. By this, I mean that I don't like doing columns that are specifically in response to something that the Religious Right does. To me, my columns are about Pagan issues, specifically those internal to the Pagan Community. One of the reasons I haven't written one in a while is that most of the topics I could address (without repeating myself) have been on the subject of right-wing Christian activities, which isn't what I like to think my writing is about. However, I've been following the Terri Schiavo case with some interest, and it occurs to me that there is a Pagan angle to the issue. Specifically, I want to discuss Death in a Pagan context.
One of the things that drew me to Paganism is its attention to life-- it often seems to me that Christians are so concerned about getting into Heaven that they pay very little attention to this world. Worse, some Christians seem to think that any source of joy in this world is sinful. While I don't for a minute believe that they represent a majority of Christians, they do seem to get a lot of press.
Pagan beliefs of the afterlife, and what influences one's experiences there, vary. I expect most of us believe in reincarnation, but there are no numbers available to back that statement up-- so I won't call that statement anything but opinion. But what about Death itself?
I don't know about you, but I personally would not want to be kept alive in Mrs. Schiavo's position. I am fortunate that my family seem to be fairly intelligent about such matters and I don't expect that there would be much conflict in such a situation. But just to be safe, my wife and I are drawing up Living Wills.
Mrs. Schaivo's situation was tragic enough. Even worse, it's caused conflict in her family, because they can't agree on what she'd want. I say this is worse because I really don't believe she's still there-- the shell that is her body is still going, but her mind is no longer functioning. The real suffering is that which her family-- both sides-- are going through.
Another tragedy is the religious conflict that's going on. All the polls I've read about-- both the unscientific web polls and the more scientific surveys-- indicate that a majority of the public supports the view of the husband. Unfortunately, the Religious Right is taking advantage of the fact that she had not made a Living Will, and the political machine is siding with them. Had Living Wills been popular before her heart attack, and had she filled one out, all of this would have been avoided.
I predict that there will be fallout from this issue within the Christian religious communities. While I think the impact will be an overall positive one, I expect that many Christian organizations are going to be shaken by this because of major disagreement amongst themselves and their leadership. The dogma of Christian churches and organizations changes over time, but it is less responsive to public opinion. (This is both a strength and a weakness-- Pagan groups have a hard time expressing any kind of values because there's always somebody who doesn't want to commit to them.)
The next question is-- what do you think? In the case of Mrs. Schiavo, your opinion is just as irrelevant as mine, but if some tragedy should strike you, that opinion will become important. If you haven't made your wishes in such a situation explicitly clear, you might find yourself in a similar situation. Even if you've told your friends and family what you'd want, if you don't have a legal document to back it up, the issue might be out of your hands.
If something should happen to you, will your coven, grove, or circle be prepared? Will they be protesting the enforcement of your decision? Don't assume that because they're Pagan, they're going to agree with you. A majority of the public-- which is predominately Christian-- sides with Mr. Schiavo, and yet this issue has been dragged through the courts for years. Even now, the normal legal channels within the state have been exhausted, the federal channels opened by the Right have been exhausted, and yet the conflict still rages on. This conflict will end only with Mrs. Schiavo's death, and even afterwords there will be much fallout.
I would encourage Pagans to talk about this with their peers, and for groups-- be they small, religious groups or large, social groups-- to take up this issue. Death is a very spiritual subject, and while we as Pagans do not generally push spiritual views, even within our community, I think we should foster discussion of the subject. I would hate to see the Pagan Community torn apart by something that could be resolved by discussion, and I'd particularly hate to see us pressuring a family to make a decision that may conflict with the wishes of the person who is most affected.
Furthermore, I would encourage you to talk to your family and coven about other death-related requests. Do you want to be cremated? If so, what to do with the ashes? How about your organs? What kind of ceremony would you like? Me, I want any useable organs to be removed, and I don't really care about what happens to the rest, excepting that I'd like some sort of permanent grave marker. I don't really care about the funeral service, as such a service is for the benefit of the living. But that's me.
What do you want? Equally important, what have you done to make sure your family and friends know? Please-- your death will cause enough pain. It's up to you to make sure it doesn't start a fight.
© 2005 by Cather "Catalyst" Steincamp