Beltane musings on the Green Death

It started on the first day I noticed the winter chill had broken-at least during the daylight hours-as the cold rushed back in with sunset later that evening. Spring; and with it the stirring of the Lady of Green Death.

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The Lady of Green Death. Apologies to the people whose photos I yanked to make this. Image description:  A photo-manipulation of a funerary statue of Mary, with a sunflower for a face, blended into a forest. 

I don’t perceive the Monarchs of Death as inherently seasonal, although White Death and Red Death walk with hands held at Samhain time. What they are is abstract and alien and unknowable in terms not translated into myth and metaphor. They don’t speak, because words do not serve them. Their presence is paradoxically both qualia and a fundamental force; a firsthand experience and a law.

On this first temperate day, I had paused on my way to meet a friend to admire a baby seagull. Cute.

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I hadn’t gone far when I spotted another; dead in a barren promenade planter. At a glance, it didn’t seem injured or malformed, but perhaps too young to fly. Hit with a pang of melancholy, I didn’t investigate further so I don’t know for sure. I’ve always been fond of seagulls; although most people consider them vermin, silver gulls are a native species and thus protected under the same laws that sanctify eagles. They’re inquisitive, adaptable and boisterous birds. I once sat on the beach at midnight during a terrible cricket plague and watched as the gulls formed a line to drive the insects towards the waves so they could be picked off with ease. A favorite pastime from my childhood was amassing great flocks by feeding them barbeque table scraps on camping trips and leading them around like a beneficent Australian Pied Piper. It’s hard to ignore a bold bird that will steal a sandwich straight out of your hand if you aren’t paying attention. Baby gulls are shy, squeaky and awfully cute, and my young self tried to favour feeding them over the ones too busy posturing to snatch up bits of sausage.

Back in the present, so few steps apart, I recognized the poignancy in the moment.
For every life, there must be a death.
The thin crust of the Earth is like an enormous digestive system, grinding and chewing and renewing itself as it awakens from the sleep of winter, stretches and hungers for sex and nourishment. Usually calm, serene and silent save for the rustle of insects in leaf litter, and the hiss of mushrooms releasing spores, at Beltane the Green Lady pulls like a tide, urgent, insistent. She’s an explosive force pushing out of the ground in a cacophony of orgasmic lust, rain and verdancy.

Many living things take a scattergun approach to reproduction. Plants blast seeds out in all directions knowing not all will land in viable soil. Babies die. Eggs fail to hatch. All are digested back into the biosphere, perhaps to try again in another form. There is a critical moment in which the young must bloom, must hatch, must fly, must stand or take a breath or stretch upwards or they will die. Many do.

Beltane is a crucial point in time, hurtling forward and dangerous with possibility. Now, NOW. NOW!
You can trip and stumble but you must not hesitate. Jump. Awaken. Feel. Live.
Or don’t.
Sometimes it’s a choice and sometimes it isn’t. Not everyone will make it.

Now is the time to bloom into our better selves, and let the old rot and nourish us while we still have the chance.

 

Previous post on the Monarchs of Death.

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Necromancy and the Queens of Death

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. 

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Death as depicted in the Rider-Waite tarot.

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.

 

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It was much harder to take selfies 15 years ago

 

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.