Red Death is for the living. Green Death is for the already gone. White Death is for us all.
Death is a heady subject among pagans. It’s large. It’s divisive. It’s inevitable.
As a necromancer, how do I approach death, my own mortality and that of my loved ones?
This is my framework for conceptualizing death.These aren’t gods or regents but anthropomorphic personifications of natural phenomena. A symbolic representation, but powerful forces nonetheless.
The Three Monarchs of Death:
The Red Queen of Death is for the living.
She’s sexy, provocative, reckless and impatient. She tastes like the blood in your mouth from a kick in the teeth.
If you get too close to her she’ll burn your fingertips. The wounds will either cauterize and make you numb, or hurt worse than anything you’ve ever felt. They always scar, but sometimes the scars fade with time-time you have because you’re still alive. She’s a gushing, ragged wound; roses and rotting meat. You can hear her laughing when a speeding car misses you by an inch. She claws into your chest and squeezes your heart when you watch a loved one slip away in their sleep. She’s pain and violence, fear and finality.
The Red Queen is always with me. Sometimes she steps behind me and out of my field of immediate focus, but she is always there-trauma, mental illness and chronic ill health see to that.
My relationship with her is intimate and deeply personal; my perpetual dance partner in a tango.
The Green Queen of Death is for the already dead.
She’s motherly, patient and persistent. She tastes like forest mushrooms. She’s the roots of a tree cracking open a skull with slow but inexorable force. She’s a bountiful feast for smaller animals, insects and organisms. She’s silence carrying an ellipses into a promise…of something more. She’s the softness of rotting wood and the hardness of fossilized bone. She’s the serene marble statue of a saint in the vaulted halls of the church of nature.
The Green Death is where I do most of my necromancy work.
I love all of my specimens. However, I knew none of the numerous preserved animals in my collection before they died.
To love them as they were once alive would be to grieve for them in passing. Sadness is too sticky; I can’t flush it out effectively and it lingers. I’ve opted out of preserving anything I’ve had the misfortune of needing to help ease from this world. If I knew them in life, I couldn’t sever their connection to the Red Queen. If possible, I bury them, so they may rest and heal.
It is better for me to love my specimens as I first met them; already dead, belonging to the Queen of the Green Death. In my necromancy practices, I do my best to serve their modest demands. They require a pauper’s supper.
The Red Queen on the other hand, is ravenous for blood. Like fire, she’ll consume everything you let her.
“…Man’s heart is a ditch full of blood. The loved ones who have died throw themselves down on the bank of this ditch to drink the blood and so come to life again; the dearer they are to you, the more of your blood they drink.”
―Zorba the Greek, Nikos Kazantzakis
What to do then, when a beloved, close family member dies? In most instances in my life, it has not been my decision to make.
When it is, due to their connection with the Red Death, my regular preservation techniques would be too personally traumatizing.
Skulls are spiritually weighty objects which require no context. The spirits which inhabit dead remains have also been irrevocably transformed from their living selves.
Cremains themselves are only as meaningful as that which is ascribed to them by the living; given to a stranger, ashes may as well be a box of dirt.
For this reason, I had my cat-grandmother and cat-son cremated. This process creates a symbolic abstraction of their whole physical bodies without the removal of soft tissue usually associated with preservation.
This way I can continue to carry them with me in my life and in my heart-at least until my own death-as I remember them, as they were. The two boxes of ashes sit upon the mantel at the heart of our home. Their spirits are part of the household itself; friendly shadows slinking around corners just out of sight.
There is also a third monarch, The White Death, the Grim Reaper. This psychopomp has a single appointment to keep with every living thing and serves as a reminder not to take it all too seriously; because it’ll all be over soon enough.
I’m very invested in the well being of this planet.
Everyone should be-at least until we’ve got space travel and terraforming perfected.
My personal politics lean pretty far into syndicalist anarchism due to my environmentalism-which is, in turn, informed by my values as a pagan.
Being poor, disabled and queer, I’m very worried about the future, on both a personal and global level. I don’t have an economic buffer between me and homelessness/death.
When I’m nervous about something, I like to talk about it.
Discussions with people who don’t share similar views to me almost always end up centered around what we would have to give up in order to ‘save the environment’.
‘What about the internet? Electricity? Modern conveniences?’ people often ask me, as if wanting to live a sustainable lifestyle means pretending the industrial revolution never happened. I find this attitude to be a folly, as it frames sustainability from a standpoint of personal sacrifice; people are already stressed and stretched thin. Everyone hates taxes because it’s hard to share when you don’t have enough for yourself. But the scarcity we face is artificial.
In preventing a human-extinction level event of our own making, we would have to give up a lot, it’s true. But too many people are focusing on the wrong things-I don’t believe sustainability means making peoples lives harder.
The systems in place that are leading to mass deforestation, climate change, unsustainable population growth, water scarcity and more are symptoms of larger economic forces at play.
To remove them would mean disposing of:
Extreme wealth inequality
Unfulfilling bullshit jobs
Cultural and literal genocide.
I love innovation; medical, communication and accessibility tech is invaluable in improving individual quality of life. I’m very excited about the future of robotics and artificial intelligence. But I also want to see a return to having a connection with land, artisanal craftsmanship, co-operative local food production and the value of human labor. Our lives are short and precious. We have the capacity to make work be spiritually fulfilling and not merely a tool for survival to keep poverty or starvation at bay. We don’t have to accept a world shaped by the rich and powerful to the detriment of us all.
Lay your hands on a hand-carved oak table. Wear a scarf knitted with love. Eat a lemon grown in your neighbors yard. Make a hand-drawn birthday card. Light a candle made from locally harvested beeswax. It’s magic.
I believe it’s beyond the limits of human nature to live in a perfect utopia. Humans are psychologically messy, complicated and often aggressive. Conflicts will arise.
But if we don’t change these systems of oppression now, nature will adapt to the changes we’ve wrought-without us. Perhaps for some future creatures to dig up and be confused over.
Living as ‘other’ and striving towards authenticity, no matter how transgressive is an intrinsic part of my pagan path.
At least that’s how I’m shoe-horning in this week’s theme. I defy easy classification; or, It’s my blog and I’ll go off-topic if I want to. I’m going to be very blunt about queerphobia. Beware.
I’ve always been terrified of zombies; I can’t sit through Romero movies. I have bad anxiety and need to read plot spoilers. Jump scares cause me physical pain.
This is a bit of a paradox. I love horror movies. I’ve been elbow deep in gore. I’m a necromancer. I make distasteful jokes about cannibalism.
I’m terrified of zombies…because I’m queer.
Zombies can be read as various kinds of zeitgeistic metaphors. Debt, unchecked consumerism, unemployment, the failure of the social order.
So why do zombies scare me so much? In their natural environment they are ubiquitous and beyond reason.
Small bands of survivors huddle together in a hostile, resource scarce world against an unending hoard wishing them death. Am I describing my friends on a Saturday night, or The Walking Dead?
I strive to be understanding, logical and compassionate. All the people slinging death threats at me aren’t. They can’t be reasoned with. There is an unending parade of them. They howl and beat on my metaphorical door through the internet. I don’t have enough ammo (resources, time, energy) keep them all at bay. They get through and they wound me. They claim I owe it to them to change their minds.
You can’t cure zombies. Meaningful change must come from within.
Just like a survivor in the zombie apocalypse I cannot ever feel safe. I was born into a social order that was built from the ground up to exclude people like myself. This world was never meant for me. The zombies have inherited the earth.
Like the characters in The Walking Dead, I can try disguises, slathering myself in zombie guts to walk among them. Not living my authentic self is just as unpleasant.
However I can only hide so much of myself, no matter how hard I try. Violent straight people can smell your fear. The disguise inevitably slips. Is this it? I ask myself during every confrontation, and there are many. Is this the day I die?
Which is going to kill me first, a mishap of fate or illness, or an attacker? Or alternatively, myself, after the vigilance and battle has ground away my resolve until I can no longer fight? Death isn’t a question; it’s a promise.
I catch a snippet of television. A politician is claiming Australia doesn’t have a homophobia problem. My friends can’t get legally married and word is passed around about someone local being near-fatally bashed for being gender nonconforming.
I like to fantasize that humans are rational. I’m often proven wrong. Zombies cannot be reasoned with. If a zombie has broken into my compound and displayed bigotry I try to educate them, but they are too many and too stubborn. It’s often fruitless because zombies don’t want to listen, they want to argue, to gorge themselves on my vulnerability. To feel victimized by my defenses.
I am strong but scarred. My strength costs me dearly. They are relentless. Their self-sanctified opinions do me active harm. For every one I block ten more shuffle forward chanting ‘you don’t exist’. Zombies lack the higher brain function to appreciate the irony. I exist, but if I cease to do so it’s because they have killed me.
Friends and allies mute the groaning from just beyond the wall. But I can still hear it. Queer spaces aren’t perfect safe havens either due to lateral violence; just like in the zombie apocalypse, survivors turn on each other due to the scarcity of resources. Gatekeeping and respectability politics abound. Nonetheless my social justice is intersectional because those survivors in the boarded up building next door? I feel for them, too. I’m not going to use them as bait just so I can temporarily get ahead. Because it’s not a real victory until the war is over.
Zombie media isn’t prone to happy endings. Nor is media in general kind to queers, when we can get them, which is rare. Gays get buried. Women are refrigerated.
I enjoy apocalyptic fiction because it represents a game board hurriedly and messily wiped clear. A chance to start over, and for some lawless, anarchic fun.
The best apocalyptic fiction is queer. Why reinforce heteronormativity when you can have the Gayboy Berserkers and the Vulvalini?
Mainstream zombie media on the other hand is an endless grind with no hope of closure. Awash with an ambient anxiety that is already the background radiation of my life, it’s littered with the same regurgitated heterosexual romances reinforcing current social mores with the flavor, colour and excitement of mashed potato. It’s not meant for me, and never was.
The zombie contagion has spread too far. There is no hope but for homogeneity. In the real world, people say ‘gay gene’ and my friends and I hear ‘eugenics’. We fight to survive and live but sometimes it feels Sisyphean and pointless.
But to conform and join the hoard is to die, so fight we must.