There’s a running joke among my close friends that after this year is over, once I die, I’ll have my bases covered for the afterlife. I hope the divine has as good a sense of humor as my friends…
Every religion/philosophy has their version of the afterlife. For some of our Abrahamic monotheists, there’s a sort of waiting period before Last Day judgement of Christ. Whoever makes the cut prescribed by that particular faith, makes it to Heaven/Paradise. Those who don’t, go to Hell. In many Eastern traditions, reincarnation or rebirth is the name of the game. Depending on your karmic debt in this life, you will be reborn in the next with a new opportunity to reach enlightenment and secure liberation. Others still maintain that once you die, that’s it. No afterlife. You’ve expired and your experience in existence ends.
The interesting thing about Wiccans and Pagans is that no two may believe in the same afterlife. Did you know that there are even Wiccan atheists? Variety is the spice of life. But there is one concept, one place that many modern Wiccans believe the soul at least visits upon death. The Summerland.
Gerald Gardner, the founder of modern Wicca, described Summerland as the “ecstasy of the Goddess.” It is a place of splendid, perpetual summer. Full of majesty, beauty, wonder, there is no pain or sadness here. Summerland is an endless garden of bliss, life, and light.
But what is one’s place in Summerland?
Because Wicca is a faith based on nature and its cycles, many Wiccans (and other Pagans) believe in some form of reincarnation. Life, just like energy, recycles itself. Some believe that “once a witch, always a witch” so that every lifetime is a reincarnation of a previous life as a witch. Others still insist that we move from species to species, learning new lessons and developing new qualities along the way. For this reason, the Summerlands act as a waiting station between lives. Perhaps here, we commune with other souls on their own journeys. Maybe we trade advice, lessons, stories, a few laughs and ales. It is believed that the Summerlands is also where those finished with the rebirth cycles come to rest. Here, they abide forever, basking in the “ecstasy of the Goddess.”
From the Goddess we all proceed, to the Goddess we must return.
As pleasant as this place sounds, you won’t find too many Wiccans or Pagans focusing on the afterlife. The purpose of life for them is to connect with the divine in their unique way, and to gain knowledge/communion with nature around them. If each life is a chance to learn something new, why focus on anything else? In this way, the general attitude is to remain in the moment.
Because the Summerlands is a spiritual plane of existence, Wiccans and Pagans in this life believe communication with the resident spirits is possible. This is one important aspect of Sabbats such as Samhain, when the veil between our world and the spirit world is thinnest. Here, we can commune with the dead (or at least ask to) and be in their presence. Some within the Wiccan community find this practice abhorrent, maintaining that the dead are at peace, why bother them? At this point I suppose it comes down to one’s personal experience. If you’ve contacted passed spirits and they didn’t seem particularly keen on conversation, take the hint. Honor the dead, but leave them in peace, in that case.
What are your ideas about the afterlife? Is there one? Every faith I’ve studied this year has some idea of the afterlife involving vast, beautiful natural expanses such as gardens and light. Is there a common thread here coming from truth or wishful thinking?