Monday, December 3, 2007

The Summerlands and Beyond

"Behind the walls of the Pélori the Valar estab- lished their domain in that region which is called Valinor; and there were their houses, their gardens, and their towers. In that guarded land the Valar gathered great store of light and all the fairest things that were saved from the ruin; and many others yet fairer they made anew, and Valinor became more beautiful even than Middle-Earth in the Spring of Arda and it was blessed, for the Deathless dwelt there, and there naught faded nor withered, neither was there any stain upon flower or leaf in that land, nor any corruption or sickness in anything that lived; for the very stones and waters were hallowed." ~JRR Tolkien, THE SILMARILLION

"May it be a light for you in dark places, when all other lights go out." ~Galadriel

"I look forward to the day when your people join us beyond the rim. We will wait for you. ” ~ Lorien, BABYLON 5

"There is no conclusive evidence of life after death. But there is no evidence of any sort against it. Soon enough you will know. So why fret about it?" ~ Robert A Heinlein, THE NOTEBOOKS OF LAZARUS LONG

"Since life and death are each other's companions, why worry about them? All beings are one." (Chuang-Tzu)

A friend of mine passed last week. He was a young man, bright and intelligent, working for his Masters in Literature. We called him the God of Computers, because he could tell us how to solve any computer problem. During his recent hospital stay, he fixed the nurses' computers in exchange for Kit Kat bars. We used to gather to watch STARGATE on Friday nights. Since I lost my car, I wasn't able to visit him as much as I'd like to. I will miss him.

The Egyptians were about the first to have a complex afterlife system. Reaching the paradisal Fields of Aaru was quite a task: you had to be mummified, weighed against a feather of the goddess Ma'at, and pass a long journey to gates guarded by demons. The Norse had Valhalla, where warriors fight and hack each other to bits eternally, restored in time for the evening feasts. The Aztec paradise was also for warriors, and people who died of old age or disease went to dark Mictlan or the brighter Tlalocan. To the Greeks the Underworld was a land where souls lived as bodiless shades. The Celts had the Summerlands, a place of eternal peace and beauty where everyone except really bad souls lived and only certain great heroes ever returned to the Earth. Judaism named the underworld Sheol, a part of which was Gehenna, a place of fire that purified souls and destroyed evil.

Jesus talked in parables using the Jewish myth-system as a metaphor for spiritual anguish and cleansing, but he was taken literally, and Hell became an eternal torment - a horrible thing to ascribe to a loving God.

In Eastern religions there are several hells, also seen as places of atonement for bad karma. Karma is also worked off in reincarnations. Eastern beliefs, though, are more concerned with enlightment than places of rest or punishment. Samsara, the cycle of life, called in Vedanta "the state of becoming," is a path of learning that leads to moksha, "freedom from limitations."

Modern pagan systems like Wicca have melded the Celtic afterlife with reincarnation, viewing the Summerlands as a place of rest and reflection between lifetimes.

In THE LORD OF THE RINGS, Valinor is very like the Summerlands. It is reserved for the immortal Elves and can only be reached from the Grey Havens by the Straight Road. Frodo and his fellows are given special dispensation to live there after their adventures.

Most modern popular myths use traditional versions of the afterlife, but there are some new ideas.

Edgar Rice Burroughs, before Tarzan, wrote UNDER THE MOONS OF MARS. His hero John Carter basically dies on Earth and is transported bodily to Mars. Barsoom (the Martian name for their planet) was unlike anything NASA found, with dry sea bottoms under two moons, swordsmen, four-armed green warriors, airships and princesses. ERB meant it as fantasy, and he never said directly that Carter had died, but it did bring up the idea of being reborn on other worlds.

Michael Moorcock took this a quantum leap forward. His Eternal Champion exists in many dimensions of the "Multiverse." Elric of Melniboné, Dorian Hawkmoon, Corum Jhaelin Irsei, Jerry Cornelius, Erekosé and many more are all facets of one being. In such a system the death of one incarnation would not mean the end of the person.

My Christian Science chaplain once described death by saying that, while you seem dead to the rest of the world, to you nothing has changed; you just go on living. That suggests not only the Taoist belief that life and death are merely two aspects of one being, Yin and Yang, but also concepts from quantum physics like Schroedinger's Cat, where the cat is both dead and alive until observed. More on that in later blogs.

All I know is that if there is a Summerlands or a Valhalla, their computers are working now!


Dawn said...

All I know is that if there is a Summerlands or a Valhalla, their computers are working now!

That's the first real smile I've had in a week. Thank you, hon.

theoldbastard said...

I'm sorry to hear of the death of your friend.
As an atheist I don't believe there is anything beyond this life, but I do believe in the celebrating and sharing of memory of those who touched our lives.
You've done your friend proud already.