One member of my spiritual court is La Santisima Muerte, “Most Holy Death”. While she frequently helps me with a great many things, granting various requests for myself and my patrons, one thing She typically does not do is “talk” to me.
I don’t ever hear audible voices from Spirits, personally. For most conjure practitioners, when they “talk”, it’s a type of telepathy that is unmistakable. You have a “thought” that is clearly not your own and yields some sort of useful information that is beyond a mere intuition. Never mind the fact that a psychiatrist would have me locked up for saying something like that; it’s how it happens for me.
Most of my friends know that I have pet ratties and what many people do not know is that these lovable little family members only live on average about three years. So, as my friend and fellow rattie enthusiast Aaron told me, they are around just long enough to become solid members of the family, then they are gone. They are almost a metaphor for the transient nature of life itself.
What do these two things have to do with one another?
La Santa Muerte doesn’t usually speak to me but She did speak to me on two, separate occasions, both of which had to do with the passing of two of my ratties. The first was my beloved Mr. Shea, a big, teddy bear who was a rescue and very nervous but sweet.
We became very close and at the tend of his time, his little lungs were shutting down, due to age and the respiratory disease that afflicts most ratties (not contagious to humans). He had been successfully treated for the respiratory illness for a long time but then age caught up and he was struggling.
I hated seeing him suffer and so I took him before La Santisima’s altar and held him up, asking “Do I need to go ahead and take him to the vet today and have him put to sleep?”. She surprised me by “saying” to me, emphatically, “Don’t”. That was it, just one word. But a wave of calm came over me and I knew in that moment that he would pass soon enough that it would not be necessary to euthanize him; he would go naturally.
He seemed suddenly calmer and I let him sleep that night in the bed beside me. Right around 6am in the morning, I woke suddenly because the bed seemed oddly “lighter”. My dog was sleeping on the floor, it was just me and Mr. Shea on the bed. I’m also just not a morning person, so it was curious for me to wake up at 6am, with no alarm set.
I knew that he had passed on, even though I hadn’t looked at him yet. When I did look, he was totally still and quiet and upon touching him, he was still warm. His spirit had just left his body. He had not been struggling to breathe as badly as he had been the day before. Passing quietly in his sleep beside me was far preferable to having to put him to sleep. I was immensely grateful.
Recently, I lost one of my female ratties. My little Elly was one of the sweetest ratties that I have had the pleasure to know, more friendly and outgoing than most.
She was not suffering as far as I could tell but she was growing weaker, each day. I had taken to giving her soft foods and fluids from a syringe, the type with no needle in it.
She was still in good spirits, just too weak to carry on. So again, I went before La Santisima Muerte and I asked for her passing to be peaceful. She showed me a mental picture (a vision, if you will) of tapping Her scythe on the floor (the altar shelf) and that let me know that She wanted me to bring little Elly before Her as I had done with Mr. Shea.
I held her up before La Santa briefly and then She (again, surprisingly) “spoke”, saying “Now, go sit with her”. So, I got some sugar water with aspirin and acetaminophen in it (tiny, rat-size dosages, for pain) and I held her and keep her hydrated and stroked her. I sang to her, because that seems to calm most living things. During “Hush, Little Baby”, she slipped off to sleep and then took her last breaths, asleep, unconscious and calm.
I’ve had some very rough experiences with ratties, they are fragile and prone to tumors, which can be excruciatingly painful for them and immensely sad to watch it unfold. You have to learn the difficult balance of when vet care, surgery or medicines can help and when it’s kinder just to put them to sleep. They can’t talk, so it’s really difficult to know and it can be emotionally and mentally taxing to watch the ones you care about go through such things.
Anyone who has a clue about what conjure is and what conjure is not, then they know… you can’t beat death. Death gets all of us, sooner or later.
Those who work with La Santisima Muerte frequently ask Her for “a good death”, meaning let my death in some way be meaningful to someone, let my passing serve to uplift another or let me die helping people or die in a way that represents who I was in life, when I was at my best. That’s far better than choking on an olive or breaking your neck from a slip in the shower. A death that is not stupid and senseless is a blessing… that is, unless you think you’d be ok with it if you were crushed by a vending machine; apparently that actually happens, multiple times each year. I don’t think I’d want that, personally.
In two cases, La Santisima Muerte has conceded to help with the passing of my little fur babies. In the situations where I did not think to ask, the death process was rough. That’s the way death is… it’s usually just awful.
But She has the power to step in and say “Enough. Let’s get this over with and let them rest”. Sometimes She will do that.
Of course, there are times where you may ask and the answer is “No”. As human beings, we don’t get everything we ask for, just because we asked and we must accept that much of life’s suffering is simply inevitable.
Sometimes, we are told no, because as imperfect creatures, we are purified through suffering and trial. Most of the great myths and religions tell of purification through some form of pain, death, loss or disaster (see Wikipedia, Dying and Rising God).
This is evident in the stories of figures such as Osiris, Christ and even “the feathered serpent Quetzalcoatl in Aztec mythology”, who some postulate is actually La Santisima Muerte, in an earlier form; see Red Wheel/Weiser’s new publication, La Santa Muerte; The History, Rituals, and Magic of Our Lady of the Holy Death by Tracey Rollin.
If we pay attention, there are cosmic, transcendent lessons offered up, in the disguises of disappointment, humiliation, physical or emotional pain and eventually, the rending of that ultimate veil… death. The great curtain conceals the mysteries that we are yearning to have some sort of answer for.
Each of us must decide for ourselves what we are veering toward, with each passing minute. Are we are headed toward some sort of rebirth in the wheel of Samsara? A heaven, provided by the savior of our choice? A new dimension? A simple nothing, the sweet oblivion?
We each make up our own minds (and sometimes change them) about whether we go to meet our Maker or if in fact, all the mysteries have already been revealed in the film Sausage Party.
Because of a wide variety of personal experiences, I am convinced that both animals and humans have Spirits that somehow move on, after death. Simultaneously, I’m on the fence about how exactly all that “goes down”. Once again, Death holds the power, as none of us will ever get to say for sure.
Skeptics say “All consciousness stops when the brain stops functioning” and if that’s enough for you, then you’re done with the thought exercise… turn in your bowling shoes, because the party’s over.
But if you’ve ever had an encounter with a ghost or if you’ve ever had direct experience with a Spirit, ancestor, Deity, Angel, Demon, etc, then you’re just not so sure. If you have any past life memories (I personally have none that I know of) or if you have dreams or intuitions that come true, down to the fine details (I have bunches of those) then you are likely not satisfied with the simple explanation of death being the end.
You’re more likely to conclude that there is some sort of strange reason or at least a patterned rhythm to it all, some type of cosmic design or even intelligent thought behind all of it.
Yet, you still must wrestle with watching your loved ones pass away and the reality that you’ll eventually confront your own death. When that occurs, it will probably not be on a day of your own choosing, since few other than Mark Twain ever get that lucky. Twain was born on the day of Haley’s comet being visible in the sky and predicted his own death, to the day, 75 years later, saying “I came in with Halley’s Comet in 1835. It is coming again next year, and I expect to go out with it.”. He was eerily correct.
For those of us who believe in Spirits and ghosts and the like, we are left with the difficult dilemma (one easily shushed by a scientific, rationalistic, skepticism) that since suffering is inevitable, we must decide what that says about the gods and whoever or whatever else is letting that pain continue.
I tend to lean toward the argument that no true experience can be had without danger. Because we have imperfect bodies, ones that can and will be broken, we are capable of being truly alive. The cost of that ride is our eventual death and it can be a heavy toll to pay for some, while others get out easily, slipping quietly away in the night.
It can be said that for the suffering beings, the ones who endure long sickness or terrible, frightening deaths, that perhaps they are being peeled, like an onion. I once heard a preacher suggest that we are all like nuts, with a hard, outer shell and God is using trials and pain to “crack us”, an uncomfortable experience but one that reveals the sweet fruit of our better natures.
Through the loss, the tears and forced letting go, we gain a glimpse back into the void from which all things first sprang… and even the quantum physicists, a skeptical lot to be sure, agree on that; everything came forth from nothingness. It’s described as the big bang, the first whirlings or the Ain Soph Aur in Qabalah, the Tao and by many names. It is perfection and yet the price of stepping out of that, to be briefly awake is to be imperfect and to hurt.
We hurt when we are sick, when we are dying and when we are watching helplessly as our friends, pets and family are dying. We pray for their health or at least for their comfort and as much as we hate it, there is often an important role that the pain plays in the scheme of things.
Consider the Invocation of Osiris:
For Osiris On-Nophris who is found perfect before the Gods, hath said:
These are the Elements of my Body,
Perfected through Suffering, Glorified through Trial.
For the scent of the Dying Rose is as the repressed Sigh of my suffering:
And the flame-red Fire as the Energy of mine Undaunted Will:
And the Cup of Wine is the pouring out of the Blood of my Heart:
Sacrificed unto Regeneration, unto the Newer Life:
And the Bread and Salt are as the Foundations of my Body,
Which I destroy in order that they may be renewed.
For I am Osiris Triumphant, even Osiris on-Nophris, the Justified:
I am He, who is clothed with the Body of Flesh,
Yet in whom is the Spirit of the Great Gods:
I am the Lord of Life, triumphant over Death.
He who partaketh with me shall arise with me:
I am the Manifestor in Matter of Those Whose Abode is the Invisible:
I am purified: I stand upon the Universe:
I am its Reconciler with the Eternal Gods:
I am the Perfector of Matter
And without me, the Universe is not.
Here, we see some rhyme and reason to the cycle of birth, life, death and rebirth. Whether we accept the idea of existence beyond death as truth or we laugh it off, as a desperate attempt by fools, to shade their eyes from a cold reality, we all know that death is gaining ground on us.
If we accept the concept of the soul as the state of things, then we agree by default that pain, while awful and unfortunate, is needed. It is the vehicle for growth.
The more we allow ourselves to accept death’s inescapable presence, the more we can grow as individual spirits. As we reject death, we become callous and cold. As we embrace it, we warm to each and every living thing, because we are keenly aware of the brevity of those fragile gems.
This is why I continue to keep ratties, instead of deciding that they just don’t live long enough to mess with. I’d rather enjoy my three years with the little fur balls and be sad when they leave. You know, the whole “it’s better to have loved and lost than to have never loved at all” thing. Yeah, that old chestnut.
Whether you choose to love things that have short life spans or not, if you’re reading this, then you are on a collision course with the great beyond, yourself. Death will have the last word, either way. Death is acting as the Teacher to all of us, whether we are choosing to get the lesson or not.
Yet, in some places, where there is no real higher good to be achieved, where the suffering is just plain unnecessary, the agony can be diverted away, the benevolent side of death that is merciful can shine through.
I am grateful that La Santisima Muerte chose to help my two ratties, because She did, in fact, have the power to say no. If there had been some reason for their suffering, I would have gotten a “No” response and that would have been it. I would have had to humbly, painfully accept that. I would literally have been powerless to change it. Euthanasia would have been all that was left.
Instead, just those two times, I asked, because it couldn’t hurt to ask. I did not make a demand, as in “You have to do this” or ask with a begging tone. I simply pointed out that I had already made my peace with the fact that these two little babies were not long for this world and any help in seeing them out quickly and peacefully would be graciously accepted and deeply appreciated.
Not only did I get what I asked for but I got more… She communicated with me, in a way that let me know that the request for their peaceful transitions would occur quite soon, indeed. The first was within twelve hours and the next was within thirty minutes of my asking.
Thank you, Most Holy Death.
The cold, hard truth is that all any of us are ever doing can be boiled down to one of two things. We are either torturing the dying or giving comfort to the dying.
All of us are dying. Every living thing we’ll ever encounter is dying… at one rate or another. If you’re being cruel and acting like a shit to other people or animals, then all you’re doing is adding insult to injury, because that person or animal is already dying. Do you really need to pile on more misery?
If you’re being kind and loving to others, then you are comforting the dying. The way I see it, that’s the only thing you can really do that’s of any value. You can comfort the dying. You can do that by teaching, sharing, lending a hand, being of service to someone or to some greater cause.
Ironically, you can do it by being a protector to those who are too weak to defend themselves, by bringing death to those who are torturing the weak.
You can do it by just not being a selfish, little shit. Just staying out of the way is enough to be useful. Even hardened archenemies will sometimes decide to leave each other alone, because the other party is burying its dead. It’s considered poor taste to harass your enemy while they are tending to the remains of those they’ve lost.
On the battlefield, it’s a rule of the Geneva Convention that you don’t shoot the priests who are giving last rites, or the medics who come to collect the wounded. If we were to take that logic a step further, I suppose we’d never shoot at each other to begin with.
It’s a bit silly that we kill each other, anyway, when you consider that not one of us will get out of life alive.
But people are not much smarter than little ratties and learn, if at all, very slowly.