Sunday 10 February 2019

The importance of the (so-called) 'dead' in life

I have previously noticed that this current era is strange, even within context of the past couple of centuries of the post-industrial revolution era, in terms of matters that used to be regarded as having great significance being now regarded as utterly trivial or non-existant.

Perhaps the most extreme devaluation is the role of those who have died: the so-called dead.

We now experience a total denial that the dead have any active role in everyday life - indeed, the idea strikes modern people as ridiculous, since death is understood to be the opposite of life. For modern people, where there is death, there is no life; and life excludes the presence of death.

Yet it seems that Men of the past dwelt in a world composed of both the living and the - far more numerous - dead. 

In the most remote past, the dead were apparently perceived as present 'here and now' - the dead were often seen, heard, felt... There was a social relationship between the living and the dead much the same as between the living. The presence and activity of the dead was therefore a matter of everyday sensory experience.

Indeed the dead were not dead as we understand the world. We understand biological death to be the extinction of life and Being; but in the past death was regarded as a transition, the crossing of a threshold - a change of form.

Therefore the dead remained alive but in a different form. When a person had died biologically, he continued to to play an active part in life - and this was potentially a permanent situation.

The living and the dead had a two-way interaction; they could help or harm each other - they were mutually engaged in the making of the world. The presence of the dead was sensed, was known - the dead provided all manner of guidance and warning; the living might do things to please and assist the dead.

If this were the only factor at work; the dead would tend become more numerous, more important, with each generation. But working in the opposite direction, was the dead undergoing a transformation back into life; by some kind of reincarnation. Another aspect was the potential for transformation between men and other types of Being - such as animals - the same 'soul' being able to remain a spirit, or to take-on different forms.  

Needless to say, modern Man typically does not experience the world this way, and believes that ancient men did Not really perceive the dead around them, and did Not really interact with them - they were in error and only imagined this situation.

What was really happening (we believe) was that the living were doing everything... and the dead were absent - because they we obliterated by having died.

However, such an interpretation is based on two things: the absence of sensory awareness of the dead combined with the theoretical assumption that death is the end.

Of these, the assumption is stronger than experience; because the assumption that death is the end is so powerful, so overwhelming; that when a modern person does experience the presence of the dead - by seeing, hearing, touching, interacting with a dead person - then this (and any possible) perceptual experience is always explained-away.

Any perceptual or experiential account of contact with the dead is always (for typical modern Men) interpreted as being the result of some kind of pathology (an hallucination due to mental illness or sickness) - or a self-deception, wishful thinking or imagined fears.

At the extreme, the claimed experience is stated never to have happened: to be a fraud.

In other worlds, our assumptions about the finality of death are stronger than any possible experience that the dead remain present and active.  

This open-up the possibility that the dead are still actually 'with us', as much as ever they were; and that the difference between ancient and modern Men is at the level of perception: they perceived the dead, we do not.

The possibility is confirmed when modern men are (rarely) conscious of the dead - despite not perceiving them... when we simply know that the dead are present. For example I may know that I am are interacting with someone dead, and may know what he wants, and how he is responding to me.

In other words, the awareness and relationship with the dead may be something that happens in Consciousness - and without Perception. The theoretical basis, the metaphysical assumptions, that explain the primacy of Consciousness, the primacy of Thinking, for modern Man; are something I have often written about.

But here I simply want to say that modern Man may, on this basis, return to the situation of ancient Man - to a situation in which ordinary everyday life is lived in awareness of the presence of the dead, and indeed in a social interaction with the dead. 

Furthermore, this may lead to an awareness that the dead are concerned-with this mortal life on earth, and we are concerned with the continuing life of the dead: both sides have roles to play, jobs to do, destiny to pursue.

Further-more, we may come to agree that this is a matter of primary importance; and that the typical modern failure to acknowledge the presence of the dead is seriously damaging to us and to them - in a manner closely analogous to an act of denial of the existence of other living people, despite that they are all around us: as if, solipsistically, we regarded all 'other people' around us as merely hallucinations and delusions.

The typical modern, and absolute, metaphysically-rooted refusal to acknowledge the presence and importance of the (so-called) dead is - at root - a denial of Love; having the inevitable consequence of spiritual isolation and existential loneliness.

When modern man assumes that death is annihilation, and holds to that assumption in despite of all experience - this acts like a wish: the wish to be cut-off from reality.

And this deep yearning for the nothingness of total isolation fulfils itself in a horrible fashion, as we see all around us.    


John Fitzgerald said...

'All Hallows Eve' by Charles Williams is a superb fictional meditation on this theme, where the living and the dead interact and relate with each other in a way that, if anything, is more meaningful and real than when all the characters were 'alive'.

Bruce Charlton said...

@John - Yes, I know the Lewis brothers (and TS Eliot) regarded this work as having an uncanny insight into spiritual realities.

However, although it works well fictionally; my impression is that the 'future' of interaction between living and dead would not be much like a 'conversation' (or question and answer relationship).

That was the model of 19th century (continuing) spiritualism and mediumship - but while there was *some* core of validity to that movement, the results were extremely unreliable - for reasons that Steiner and Barfield described.

The idea is that modern consciousness has (irrevocably) changed, so that the kind of perceptual contact is no longer possible in clear consciousness; and when consciousness altering methods/ technologies are used to induce trances; the inevitable accompanying cognitive impairment (and diminution of discernment) is what leads to dreamlike or psychotic phenomena, errors and 'wishful thinking' - plus deceptive spirits - contaminating or overwhelming any true material.

Faculty X said...

Exceptional post.

I had no idea there was such a depth of contact with the departed in the past. Probably this dearth is due to current Western European culture and is linked to our decline. Perhaps the closest is if I think of Ancient Rome, or China, with their attention to their ancestors.

On a personal note my mother passed away last year and she and I have been in contact numerous times since. Looking back I would have never known before her passing that I would have a continuing communication of the sort it has been. My experience closely matches your description of how things are with the somewhat departed.

Regarding the Q&A aspect, the muddling of the reply comes from the type of altered state, or one's ability to process it. I've found the method in general of Q&A and a kind of conversation - if sufficiently reflective and open to insight - to be good. Is there a better method?

Communication in the land of the living is already fraught with misunderstanding. Looking back I don't see much difference in trying to understand a comment from the spirit world versus trying to understand what people are trying to say in this one.

Bruce Charlton said...

@FX - Thank you.

By saying not Q&A I meant the kind of table tapping/ ouija board methods of interrogation on the one hand; and not expecting a fluid conversation on the other.

My thoughts have been stimulated by the early chapters (and commentaries) in a selected book of essays by Rudolf Steiner called Staying Connected.

As always (for me) with Steiner, unique and wonderful insights are mixed with dross; but I have got used to this. Steiner makes some very suggestive points regarding our duty to the dead - and the loneliness of the dead in a world whether their existence is denied even by those who once loved them.

Anonymous said...

This may only be tangentially related, but over the last couple of generations, people seemed to have largely ceased from naming their children after ancestors. The tendency now is to pick a child’s name based on personal preference and/or novelty. I have consciously named most of my children after ancestors, living and dead.

Like my experience with my own sin, I have received pretty clear signs that the dead still exist (my comments about my natural tendency towards skepticism apply here as well). I don’t know if the signs come from the ancestors themselves, from angels or from God.

My wife has very specific, vivid dreams of the dead, including children we have lost in pregnancy and their interaction with dead ancestors. People would think of her as “superstitious” but maybe she is just open to divine communication.