Pagan Book of Living and Dying

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In response to her own mother's death, the bestselling author of the classic Spiral Dance presents a comprehensive guide to Paganism's beliefs and practices in facing death. She combines practical rituals with prayers, blessings and meditations.

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In response to her own mother's death, the bestselling author of the classic Spiral Dance presents a comprehensive guide to Paganism's beliefs and practices in facing death. She combines practical rituals with prayers, blessings and meditations.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780062515162
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
  • Publication date: 10/28/1997
  • Edition description: First Edition
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 384
  • Sales rank: 711,066
  • Product dimensions: 6.12 (w) x 9.25 (h) x 0.96 (d)

Meet the Author

Starhawk is the author of nine books, including her bestselling The Spiral Dance, The Pagan Book of Living and Dying, and Webs of Power, winner of the 2003 Nautilus Award for social change. She has an international reputation, and her works have been translated into many different languages. Starhawk is also a columnist for and ZNet. A veteran of progressive movements who is deeply committed to bringing the techniques and creative power of spirituality to political activism, she travels internationally, teaching magic, the tools of ritual, and the skills of activism. Starhawk lives part-time in San Francisco, in a collective house with her partner and friends, and part-time in a little hut in the woods in western Sonoma County, where she practices permaculture in her extensive gardens and writes.

M. Macha NightMare, Priestess and Witch, has chosen to develop her skills as a collaborative ritualist and author as her contribution to our emerging Pagan culture. Early in her journey on the path of Witchcraft, Macha joined in the formation of Reclaiming Collective, to teach Craft and to perform public sabbats in San Francisco. The collective evolved into a Craft tradition, and eventually dissolved itself in 1997, to re-emerged as a much larger and more inclusive entity. She co-created, with Starhawk, The Pagan Book of Living and Dying: Practical Rituals, Prayers, Blessings, and Meditations on Crossing Over, HarperSan Francisco, 1997, and is author of Witchcraft and the Web: Weaving Pagan Traditions Online, ECW Press, Montreal, November 2001. Her writing has appeared in many periodicals, and she has spoken on behalf of the Craft to electronic and print media.

Macha holds Elder and ministerial credentials through The Covenant of the Goddess (CoG), the oldest and largest non-denominational organization of Witches in the United States. A member since 1981, she is a former National First Officer and has served the Covenant in many other capacities. She is on the teaching faculty of Cherry Hill [Pagan] Seminary in Bethel, Vermont, where she also serves on the Pagan Pastoral Counseling Advisory Panel.

She is a member of the Biodiversity Project Spirituality Working Group, to increase biodiversity awareness, preservation, and activism within religious communities. She also works with the Sacred Dying Foundation in educating funeral professionals and hospice workers about Pagan beliefs and practices about death and dying. To keep current on Pagan research, she participates in the Nature Religion Scholars Network.

Her matron is Kali Ma. Her magical practice is inspired by feminism and a concern for the health of our planet, and is informed by Celtic, Hindu and Tibetan practices, the sacred art of tantra, and the magic of enchantment. When the opportunity presents itself, Macha travels the broomstick circuit, where she enjoys immersing herself in the diverse community that is American Witchcraft.

She lives in Marin County, California with her beloved partner Corby and their thwo cats. The light of her life is her daughter Deirdre Blessing.

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Read an Excerpt

Chapter One

Gointo a forest, a meadow, or a garden — anywhere plants grow and die and insects, birds, and animals forage. In any natural environment, death is constantly occurring. Leaves drop to the ground; plants end their lifespan. A butterfly ceases its fluttering and falls. A rabbit lies dead behind a bush.

Instantly the processes of decay begin. Subtle cues of scent or some unknown sixth sense alerts all the families of creatures that feed on death, from the tiny one-celled bacteria and fungi, to the beetles and termites, and on up to the vultures and coyotes. The earth takes in the dead through a thousand mouths that reduce each body to its most basic elements, and those elements, in turn, feed the living, nourish the roots of the great trees, and send the vultures winging aloft. As any good gardener knows, it is the processes of decay that sustain the fertility of the soil. All growth arises from death.

This cycle of birth, growth, death, decay, and regeneration is the basic life-sustaining process on this planet. From the time of the emergence of human beings as a thinking, conscious species, people who have lived embedded in nature have observed these processes in action and have acknowledged our dependence upon them by naming them sacred. They have understood death as a natural part of the cycle of life, and have known, not through faith but through direct observation, that death is the matrix in which new life is born.

For human beings, the death of a leaf at the end of summer, the culling of seedlings, or the salmon's end after spawning is easy to accept as part of thenatural cycle. But our own death, or the death of those we love, is not. We feel fear, pain, and grief at the thought of our own consciousness coming to an end.

Religions, theologies, and mystical traditions worldwide have attempted to reconcile us to death. Perhaps the major impulse toward a religion, for most people, comes from the recognition of our own mortality, from the deep desire to believe in an afterlife and the wish for comfort for our losses.

This book describes the understandings and practices of one of those traditions, the Goddess tradition as it has evolved over the last twenty-five years in the extended community that has grown up around the Reclaiming Collective of the San Francisco Bay Area. Our traditions around death arise from our deepest core values and beliefs about life, so we begin this book with some background in our history, practices, and thealogy. We cannot talk about death without delving into the mystical, entering the realm of spirits, voyaging through the otherworld, examining the nature of the soul. But even confirmed skeptics and atheists can take comfort from the roots of our tradition in the observed processes of nature. You do not have to believe in the cycle of birth, growth, death, and rebirth, or take it on faith as revealed truth, or accept it as dogma. You are not asked to accept truths mediated through someone else's experience, even the experience of a great teacher or mystic. You can simply walk out into a forest and observe the cycle in process.

Pagans — another name we use for ourselves — have preserved understandings of death that can be helpful to Pagans and non-Pagans alike. Because our spirituality is rooted in the earth, we honor and embrace the natural cycles of birth and death. We are taught no distaste for bodily reality, no sense of corporeal life as somehow unclean or of matter as inferior to spirit. Our worldview includes layers of reality that go beyond the visible and quantifiable, and we do believe our connection to those we love extends beyond death. But we have no desire to make our view a dogma. We offer our insights with respect for intellectual freedom and in the hope that they can be helpful personally and collectively in our encounters with death.

Acceptance of death as part of the natural cycle can be a healthy counterbalance to our present-day combination of denial and obsession.

Modern Western culture hides death away in hospital rooms, isolating the dying. We undertake tortuous and heroic measures to prolong the last physical signs of life, without considering the whole well-being of the dying person. Although recent years have made us more conscious of the rights of the dying to refuse painful, last-ditch interventions, heroic measures are still the norm. Helping the terminally ill to consciously end their lives is a crime, while denying health care to the living is seen as sound fiscal practice.

At the same time as we fear and deny death, we are obsessed with violence. Who could begin to compile the body count from our movies and television shows? Daily we watch people stabbed, shot, blown up, and burned — often at the hands of those who claim to love them — or vaporized by space aliens. The children who grow up watching this fare fear that their schoolfellows are packing weapons in their book bags. Our young men, and even our young women, can be shipped off to fight electronic wars that seem like video games as long as the blood and stench and suffering are far away.

Our disconnection from the cycles of birth, death, decay, and regeneration runs through every aspect of our society. We have forgotten the connection between decay and fertility. Our agriculture substitutes quick-fix fertilizers for compost, mulch, and manure, thereby impoverishing the soil and polluting our waters. Our technology creates products with no thought of how they will end their useful life and be returned to the cycle of the elements. We make plastic bags of a nearly eternal substance in order to carry a lettuce on a twenty-minute trip from the grocery store to home. We create a whole nuclear industry before we have solved the problem of what to do with its wastes. Our landfills are overflowing and toxic-waste sites dot the land, because we behave as if death and decay were anomalies instead of integral parts of every activity.

The Pagan Book of Living and Dying. Copyright © by Katherine Starhawk. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.
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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 3.5
( 6 )
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Sort by: Showing all of 6 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted September 22, 2004

    I believe in Death after Life

    I found this work to be poignant and touching in a visceral level. As a minister I have found it more than serviceable when preparing both the living and the dying for the next stage in their life. I would recommend it to any minister in any Culture of Faith.

    4 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 22, 2005

    Do Not Go Without This Book

    I purchased this book last year after me Grandmother passed away. I know that death is just another phase of life, but this book really helped put things into a deeper perspective for me as well as gave me even more ideas on things to add to my ceremonies I perform for various Pagans that have passed onto the Summerlands and the families/friends that they've left behind. QUITE valueable Book!

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 28, 2000

    The Wheel turns for everyone......

    A beautifully written collection of mediations and actual accounts. Unfortunately, I purchased the title to prepare for such a Crossing of a loved one. I am so very glad I bought it. I even bought a copy as a gift for a friend to help understand the Pagan way and to help her through this long, difficult time.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted August 20, 2010

    This people are patethic!

    Even though the literary quality of this woman's books was good at the beginning, I have found that each one happens to be worse than the one before! It surprises me so much that the reputation of her workshops is so good amongst the pagan community! One of the many pathetic stories I found in this book, is that of a woman whose child, a toddler, was run over while roaming the collective in which they lived on his own! activity in which, according to her, engaged in quite often! I wonder why this woman didn't end up in jail! On top of that, she used her son's death as a "pick up line" to atract "lovers" as she says, and gain their sympathy! I believe this is unbelievable! I've heard other "pick up" lines, maybe "what's your sign" etc, etc, but this is preposterous!
    In another chapter, she tells the story of a woman she almost assaulted physically over a disagreement in politics during one of her courses! I think if you go to a conference, and expect to be beaten up by the lecturer, that can hardly be called "a quality workshop" as some of her fellow pagans call them.
    Now is this book going to help someone to deal with the loss of a loved one, or inspire anyone because of the way these women dealt with their losses? I doubt it, Another reason why I wouldn't recommend the book, is because it might put the reader in "raport" with the foul vibes of these people, they are truly terrestrial!

    1 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 26, 2013


    I guess its it is for for SPECIAL people

    0 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted February 25, 2010

    more from this reviewer

    Exactly what I ordered.

    I ordered a book from them.It came very quickly and it was exactly what they described.Thank you for the great book. And the fast service.

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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