*Because I couldn’t figure out how to gracefully work in this question later on in the post, I’ll start off with the spoiler: What is your concept of the afterlife? How does it work on your path?
When I got off work today in the evening, a big storm was just rolling in. I looked out the windows of my job and realized it looked much, much too dark for 7:15, but I decided to dilly-dally anyway. By the time I finally headed out to my car, a massive, ominous, tidal-wave-looking cloud had shrouded the whole sky, leaving only a thin strip of whitish sky that was quickly being overpowered by the front moving in. Thankfully I managed to make it home just as the drops were starting, and within two minutes of getting inside, it started to rain in earnest. There was lightning, thunder…a real dark and stormy night.
I currently have four adult housemates (all right, one is my mom and one is my brother, and the other two are a couple from my foreign country), and the foreign woman suggested that we watch a horror movie, since the weather was very fitting. We ended up scrolling through Netflix for ages (it has a surprisingly good selection) and finally settled on The Awakening, a 2011 British film about a woman who is an avid non-believer in ghosts, until she is hired to investigate one at a boys’ boarding school.
The movie was pretty good, very touching, and although somewhat predictable in hindsight, I was certainly captivated by it in the moment. The main character was a woman named Florence, a university-educated woman in 1921 England. She didn’t believe in ghosts, she didn’t believe in the afterlife, and she didn’t believe in God.
Quite honestly, although I knew that Florence would eventually meet a ghost that couldn’t be scientifically explained, I was rooting for her in the beginning. We all know I’m not a huge fan of the Christian God, and I don’t like to believe in Heaven or Hell. (It seems awfully boring in Heaven, to be honest–I don’t particularly want to worship at God’s feet outside a gleaming Jerusalem for all eternity.) The ideas of a perfect Heaven or a absolutely abhorrent Hell are difficult to imagine, certainly, especially in a logical sense. After all, what is happiness without sadness, and what is torment without relief?
Because of my desire to refuse the Christian afterlife, I similarly have trouble recognizing or wanting to believe in any other kind of afterlife. I know that a lot of Wiccans believe in reincarnation, something that I understand from Scott Cunningham’s books. But obviously not every Pagan or Neo-Pagan or Witch believes the same thing. For example, reincarnation seems a horrible thing to me right now, where I am in life. Let me explain.
In college, when I was really in the throes of philosophical quandaries about my religion, and about God, and about the afterlife, I was also a terribly tired individual. I wouldn’t sleep until projects were done; I did a lot of extracurricular activities and I worked a campus job on the side. Sometimes I wanted to fall into bed and sleep for the rest of my life. Severe exhaustion does weird things to a person’s mind, and it may have been around that time that I decided that “living” forever, no matter how perfect eternal life might be, would suck. I was so tired that honestly, the idea of just dying and sleeping in the ground forever sounded pretty damn good.
While I’m not so depressingly bleak these days, I still think that, after living a good long life (which I hope I do), being faced with reincarnation would be the last thing I would want. I’m still thinking that it would not be a bad thing to just die and be done with it. My body would go into the earth. Maybe a tree would grow where I was buried. Maybe I’d have a legacy or maybe I’d be forgotten almost right away. In any case, I lived while I lived, and I don’t need anything more than that.
Of course, I know that there is a huge possibility that things might not be that simple. I’ve never personally seen a ghost, but I can imagine that they could exist. It’s more plausible to me than Heaven is, at least. And I know that as my path takes shape, I might change my mind about what I believe. But for now, there isn’t necessarily a need for me to have an afterlife. I think people, over thousands of years, created these religious afterlives to deal with facing death. And while it always sucks when someone close to you dies (especially if you don’t believe in an afterlife), I’m not sure I’m afraid of dying if I live a long life and do the things I want to do (again, fingers crossed here). I’m afraid of dying now, certainly–I haven’t done everything I want to do. But an afterlife isn’t going to help me do those things either. I’m not going to write a YA novel or get married or have children or travel the world while I’m sitting in Heaven or Hell.
I suppose that was the long answer to a very full question. I’d be interested in hearing what some of your ideas are. I’m always open to new ideas.