The Lady of the Death
Human fear of death is a well - known, observable fact to all of us. The Gilgamesh Project of is found in the modern, transhumanist ideas that see death as the greatest enemy to be defeated. The Qur'anic verses, however, remind: "Everything on the Earth will perish and there will remain the Face of your Lord, Owner of Majesty and Honor" (Surah Ar - Rahman) & "Every soul will taste death" (Surah Ali Imran). Death mysteries have also been a part of every religious or spiritual tradition. Meditation on death is a practice known to many. In Christian philosophy, the Memento Mori contemplations were impossible to separate from contemplation on judgement, heaven, hell and salvation. It is there to inspire a person to be righteous and to watch over their actions and treatment of others. The ascetics who meditate on death, are also reminding themselves that death is not the end, but rather a "journey across the river" that brings one into eternal life. Tantrikas would go as far as performing a Shava Sadhana which includes meditation while one is sitting on a corpse. Vasudeva Bhattahcarya of West Bengal was said to get the vision of the practice after going to the temple of goddess Kamakhya. He was later reborn as his own grandson, achieving a moksha in that lifetime by the means of shava sadhana. The mahavidya Matangi, goddess of leftovers, is interpreted to esoterically represent the Divine Self which remains after everything else perishes. In spiritual traditions, a human being, is indeed, immortal, but in order to become an immortal, a human being, must first, die.
Skeleton Woman, Bones & Saturn
In Inuit mythology, there is a goddess who goes by the name Sedna. She is also known as the "Mother of the Deep" and her story is related to the Underworld & how she came to rule it. There are many versions of the myth. The first myth tells that Sedna had an appetite so big that she was to attack her parents, the creator god Anguta & his consort. Her father, furious and angry, puts her in his kayak and takes her out on the open sea. There he throws her over the side and gives her to the mercy of the sea. In her attempt to get up, she grabs by the kayak, but he cuts her fingers off, she then sinks and becomes the ruler of the Underworld. Her fingers became whales, seals and walruses. In another version, she is displeased with the man found by her father and she marries her dog lover instead. Once again, she is thrown from the boat and her fingers are chopped off. In yet another version, she is married to a hunter who hid his identity. When he takes her to his nest, he reveals himself to be the bird spirit (usually described as raven). Her father tries to rescue her, but the bird spirit becomes angry, causes a great storm and her father throws her off the boat. When she attempts to get up, her hands freeze and her fingers fall off into the sea. There are more versions, but in each, Sedna loses her fingers and her fingers become sea animals that the Inuit hunt. If the shaman hunter wants to catch an animal, and be ensured the success, he should comb Sedna's hair and she would then, allow him to catch her beloved animals. Sedna's myth echoes another Inuit myth told by Clarissa Pinkola Estes in the classic of archetypal psychology for women, "The Women who Run with Wolves". The story goes like this: A woman has done something of which her father disapproved. Angry, he brings her to the cliff and throws her into the sea. Her flesh was eaten by the fish, her eyes poked out by the sea creatures, leaving her only as a bunch of bones. One day, a fisherman came and while fishing, his hook caught the rib of the woman. Being sure that he caught a fish, he began pulling with a great effort. Feeling the weight, he felt proud of his big catch. The woman tried to get out of the net and remove the hook from her rib cage, but the more she fought, the more she got entangled. She came to the edge his boat, hanging, with corals and sea weed around her skull and joints. When he finally saw her, the fear took over his being and he started paddling towards the shore. He didn't realise that she was tangled in his fish line, and as he was paddling towards the shore, he was dragging her towards it as well. When he finally got on the shore, he held onto his fishing stick, and she, snagged in the fishing line went after him. She was very hungry and she grabbed some of the fish that were dragging behind her. The man ran towards the tunnel, thinking finally that he was safe. But when he lit his lamp, he saw that she was right there, her bones wrapped around him. His fear grew dim and he, feeling compassion for her, began to free her from his fishing line. He then dressed her in furs to keep her warm. She did not speak to him as she was afraid that in fear, he would throw her out and break her bones. The man fell asleep. A tear dropped from his eye. The woman was very thirsty so she came to his eye and put her mouth on his tear. Then she reached inside the man and took his heart out. The flesh and lively beat of the heart now inspired her hunger and she began to sing: "Flesh, flesh, flesh!". As she sang, her body filled with flesh, and she began wishing for a beautiful flesh and a head full of hair. The story ends: "She sang the divide between her legs, and breasts long enough to wrap for warmth, and all the things a woman needs. And when she was all done, she also sang the sleeping man’s clothes off and crept into his bed with him, skin against skin. She returned the great drum, his heart, to his body, and that is how they awakened, wrapped one around the other, tangled from their night, in another way now, a good and lasting way. The people who cannot remember how she came to her first ill fortune say she and the fisherman went away and were consistently well fed by the creatures she had known in her life under water."
Both Sedna's and Skeleton Woman's myth can be analysed from multiple perspectives - the one relating to our psyches and the one speaking of metaphysical patterns observed by the ancients and that transcend the psyche itself. It can be the story of animus and anima developing in man and a woman, but also a story of the "bones" we throw away into the deep ocean of the unconscious. Sedna and Skeleton Woman both end up in the depths of water; water represents our unconscious and our emotions, it also is the locus for our moksha, the liberation, the release from rebirth, in this specific case, from the repetition of patterns that happens when we fail to be aware of that which is causing them. Once attached to his hook, the fisherman could not get rid of her until he faced her and even felt compassion and tenderness for her condition. In return for his kindness and life giving blood (his heart) and nourishment (his tear), she released him from his fear, gave him love and access to the wealth of her sea, just like Sedna does to her shaman. In cosmological & metaphysical anatomy, it is said that Saturn is the one who rules bones and teeth. Saturn is, likewise, often associated with death, graveyards, melancholy and old age. He's also associated with dogs and crows - animals frequently visiting graveyards. Both dogs and crows are in the Sedna's myth. Dogs and canines are liminal beings, always standing on the boundaries, borders, protecting them and willing to attack those who unlawfully cross. They are in the police, they make sure that the sheep do not get lost or attacked by those who cross the boundary unlawfully. They'll eat corpses and many other impurities, hence why they're also associated with Hecate, Saturn and the Underworld (Cerberus, Anubis having a head of jackal who is also a canine). When the Skeleton Woman goes after the fisherman, she is the embodiment of the Saturnian archetype - she forces him to face the reality, to look the "ugly truth" in the face and learn to love her. As Saturn is said to always reward the one who is willing to look at the truth and do the heavy work which most want to escape from, the fisherman also gets his reward - the fearsome, the ugly is no longer frightening. The body fluids, as well as the heart are said to be ruled by the Moon. The Moon is the symbol of nourishment and feeding - instead of avoiding the Lady of the Death, he grows comfortable around her, stops fearing and instead surrenders his nourishing, life giving, power to her. And while she takes his heart and has him die for a moment, she allows him a rebirth in the fullness of his being. He has embraced the beauty of death, thus allowing him to be reborn new and pure, without attachment to fears or expectations. When life brings up our own skeleton woman to surface, we may like the fisherman, be inclined to run and to hide, but ultimately, there's no hiding from any Saturnian force, as there's no escape from death, that's at the very core of any Saturnian theme. There's a famous story told by Muslims about Azrail (The Angel of Death) and the man who was with the Prophet Sulayman. Sulayman (Solomon) was with a man when Azrail also came there. When he left, the man asked Sulayman about the other man's identity and Sulayman told him that it was the Angel of Death. The man said: "He looked at me as if he were to take my life." Then Sulayman asked him: "What do you want me to do?", the man said that he wanted to be taken to India by the wind. Sulayman, being known for his magical powers, did so. When Sulayman saw Azrail again, he asked him why he looked at the man like that, to which Azrail said: "I was ordered to take the soul of that man in the east of India soon. I was surprised to see him here."
Across the River
This essay ends with a poem from a well- known poet from my country, Mak Dizdar. I shall not make a commentary, rather will allow my readers to cross the river on their own: "None can say where it is found We know little but ’tis known
Beyond mountain, beyond valley Beyond seven, beyond eight
And still sadder and still madder Over weary, over bitter
Over hawthorn, over thornbush Over drought and over hindrance
Over dread and over doubt Beyond nine and beyond ten
There below beneath the earth Over yonder beneath the sky
And still deeper and still fiercer Beyond silence, beyond nightfall
Where the roosters do not crow And the horn’s voice is unknown
And still sadder and still madder Beyond mind and beyond God
For there is a dark blue river It is broad and it is deep
It is broad one hundred years A thousand summers is its depth
And its length not to be thought Murk and darkness unrelenting
For there is a dark blue river
For there is a dark blue river And that river we must cross."
Links The Skeleton Woman - Full Story Offering Flowers, Feeding Skulls: Popular Goddess Worship in West Bengal, June McDaniel Patreon