Indigenous and More Motherly Reflections on Death

We are considering lessons that surround death. We saw in yesterday’s meditation how M. C. Richards, on hearing of her pending death, challenges head on the patriarchal platitudes about death. “O, death be not proud” and other parallel utterances.  In yesterday’s video we shared her poem alongside Mary Oliver’s poem “When Death Comes.” 

Seip Mound is one of the largest ancient burial mounds in the continental U.S., housing the remains of over 120 people along with many burial objects or grave goods. Wikimedia Commons

Frederick Turner has summarized Native American spirituality as “aboriginal mother love.”  One would expect from such a tradition an alternative take on death also. 

In my book on deep ecumenism, One River, Many Wells, I cite this poignant poem from ancient Meso-American times that names universal questions about death.

Where do we go, oh!  Where do we go?
Are we dead beyond, or do we yet live?
Will there be existence again?
Will the joy of the Giver of Life be here again?
Do flowers go to the region of the dead?
In the beyond, are we dead or do we still live?
Where is the source of light, since that which gives life hides itself?

Scottish actor Brian Cox recites the last poem of Palestinian poet/educator Refaat AlAreer, targeted and killed with his family in an Israeli airstrike on December 7, 2023.

The poet Netzahualcoyotl goes from sadness to hope in his poem about death.

Thus we are,
We are mortal,
Men/women through and through,
We all will have to go away,
We all will have to die on earth.
Within myself I discover this:
Indeed, I shall never die,
Indeed, I shall never disappear.
There where there is no death
There where death is overcome,
Let me go there.

The poet finds a sense of resurrection in acts of art and beauty.

Painting the Dream by David Paladin.

My flowers will not come to an end,
My songs will not come to an end,
I, the singer, raise them up;
They are scattered, they are bestowed.

Navajo artist David Palladin teaches how shamans know the importance of dying before we die.  

The symbol of the shaman is the dying, the going back into the underworld to experience our own wounds, to see our own death, to experience it, to rise as a warrior whose only weapon is love.*  

We find such teaching in Jesus and other mystics as well. 

*A correspondence from his wife from a closing address David gave to participants at a shamanic workshop he conducted in 1983.

See Matthew Fox, “Dying, Resurrection, Reincarnation” in Fox, One River, Many Wells: Wisdom Springing from Global Faiths, pp. 338 and 335-341.

Banner Image: Burial mounds from 500-700 C.E. atop Mt. Atago, Kyoto Prefecture, Japan. Photo by G. Witteveen on Flickr.

Queries for Contemplation

How do these questions and teachings about death speak to your own wondering and experience?  How do they render more real the teachings of Jesus or others you follow about what comes after death?

Recommended Reading

One River, Many Wells: Wisdom Springing from Global Faiths

Matthew Fox calls on all the world traditions for their wisdom and their inspiration in a work that is far more than a list of theological position papers but a new way to pray—to meditate in a global spiritual context on the wisdom all our traditions share. Fox chooses 18 themes that are foundational to any spirituality and demonstrates how all the world spiritual traditions offer wisdom about each.“Reading One River, Many Wells is like entering the rich silence of a masterfully directed retreat. As you read this text, you reflect, you pray, you embrace Divinity. Truly no words can fully express my respect and awe for this magnificent contribution to contemporary spirituality.” –Caroline Myss, author of Anatomy of the Spirit

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11 thoughts on “Indigenous and More Motherly Reflections on Death”

  1. Avatar

    The journey of faith strips us down from the labels and illusions that we have or have let others and society ascribe to ourselves. What are we when we are born and when we die? Stripped down versions of ourselves are we not? No longer carrying the weight and burdens of life, the weight and burdens that hold us back, create illusions of our worldly importance or worldly catastrophes and failures. We tend to turn away from God’s free will offering of joy, peace, acceptance, and worthiness for who we really are.
    Faith and resilience, call it what you will, provides us with ‘a living path of discovery’, a path into a new awareness in Christ consciousness, soul consciousness. The trials and tribulations we face are merely obstacles set before us that serve as the opportunities to transform ourselves into this deeper awareness. The universe keeps calling us back to God’s love for us. This is the liminal space or place where the unknown is revealed and the pursuit of the unknown through curiosity and not fixed beliefs, brings us to living in the awe and heartfelt wonders of the moment.
    ‘Stand by Me’ says the Lord, the Lord, the ruler across all time and space. Knowing that, we need to open our hearts and consciousness to receive the eternal, the eternal that creates ‘the new heaven and the new earth’. It is this ‘new birth’ that defeats injustice. Let us be ‘open’ to this force that comes from beyond our singular being. — BB.

  2. Avatar

    Wonderings Of The Last Breath

    In the last inhale
    I implode
    Through the last exhale
    I explode
    consciously Oned With
    the substance of all matter.

    Traveling the Soul Vine
    I journey from
    the world of matter
    into the Mystery of Spirit
    moving from form
    to formlessness
    beyond space and time.

    I hear the sound of the drum
    the song of the ancient chants
    leading me through the bardoes
    I rest at the council of fires
    reviewing my life story
    and the lessons learnt
    the wisdom gained.

    A gateway opens before me
    glorious light envelopes me
    pure and Holy Love
    embodies me as the
    Great Mystery welcomes me home.

  3. Avatar

    Navajo artist David Palladin teaches what the shamans, and many past and present mystics, saints, and artists express and know from their personal experience, the importance of “dying before we die… and to rise as a warrior whose only weapon is Love.”
    This mystical wisdom is also my personal faith on my spiritual journey, to be transformatively open to the mystery of the FLOW of DIVINE LOVE PRESENT with-in Our Eternal hearts/Souls and among Us in ongoing COCREATION/DIVERSE ONENESS in the Sacred Process of the ETERNAL PRESENT MOMENT… COSMIC CHRIST CONSCIOUSNESS….

  4. Avatar

    This is also what the ancient mystery schools taught. Here for example is an inscription from Eleusis:

    Beautiful indeed is the Mystery given us by the blessed gods:
    death is for mortals no longer an evil, but a blessing.

    (quoted in Eliade, From Primitives to Zen)

  5. Avatar

    I believe that just as science is discovering more and more about the universe and the beginnings of our galaxy etc…so will science discover how the dead continue to communicate with us. For example, researchers say that in the brain, there is no one designated area for reading text, but the area that was used primarily to read faces evolved and learned how to communicate with a network of different neural areas; thus, the brain that can read words is the evolved brain. The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us… The way the Word became flesh is through the Body of the Work, and also it’s through literal words that humans use to communicate and express. For us to be able to continue to communicate with the dead, Spirit taught us to read the words of the dead….this is why I believe it’s written: The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. I love the way French neuroscientist Stanislas Dehaene explains it: “If you had not learned how to read, any page of text would look to you like this stone, a texture, but no meaning, but because you’ve learned to read, you can have a conversation with the deceased, you can speak to the dead, you can listen to the dead with your eyes, because you can read what they wrote two thousand years ago.” Reading words is just one example of the Body of the Work. There’s infinite bodies of Work.

    Yes I do believe flowers bloom in the region of the dead.

  6. Avatar

    Life after death interpreted differently from the teachings of the Roman Catholic Church’s institutional position. Jesus didn’t want to die. His Father wouldn’t take away our freedom to kill Him. Our redemption comes in the words “Forgive them for they know not what they do. “. We know what we are doing and yet we know not what we do. He also said “May they be one as You and I are One.”. And His last seven words “Into your hands I commend My Spirit. “. Jesus tells us who He is and why he came to visit us, in the first place. “I Am the Way the Truth and the Life.” He who follows Life will live forever “. “I have come that you may have Life in its fullness and abundance”. Therefore the Spirit of Consciousness in matter is simply to live, die. In killing Jesus the Cosmic life of matter All living things must die and be born into the eternal fullness and abundance of Life we all yearn for.

  7. Avatar

    Stage 4
    Three months to two years
    Waiting for the biopsy
    One to three weeks
    Waiting is worse than cancer

    Left alone in the Pause
    Full of potential
    And torture
    Left in Transit – alone –
    No matter how many people pray

    The cells are not on their knees
    Their god is growth
    And comprehensive,
    Ubiquitous and nationwide

    Stage 4 kills everything you love
    Memories become your best friends
    They hurt devastatingly in their beauty

    What is the beginning of terror?
    Remembering LOVE
    What is the beginning of peace?
    Remembering LOVE

      1. Avatar

        Yes. It‘s the all encompassing LOVE.
        It’s all we need to remember.
        It has never forgotten us.

        In gratitude for all life.

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