Friday, April 14, 2017

For the Faithful Not-Quite Departed

When I was a kid I really tuned into the whole Holy Week thing. Aside from Christmas it seemed to be the only time of the year when there was an actual story being told, a compelling focus for all the ritual and sermonizing we had to put up with all year. 

Sunday School met in the chapel for much of Lent into Easter, and the chapel was like a secret, hidden little mini-church in which kids ruled.

But there was something else that struck me about Holy Week. There were these little vent windows in the stained glass displays and they were usually left open, since the chapel tended to get awfully warm. And I would sit by the window and take in the intoxicating-- and irreducibly pagan-- wholeness of Spring. 

When I was a kid I spent most of my playtime outdoors, often exploring the woods behind our neighborhood. I walked to school until I got to 9th grade. I tuned into the sights, sounds, and perhaps most importantly, the smells of the natural world in a way adults are incapable of. I was able to process all of this sensory input in a way I would never be able to again, because everything was rich, new, unknown and alive.

Spring also meant baseball, which we residents of Red Sox Country took as religion. We'd play until the cold hurt your hands when the bat connected, then mess around with a football for a little while until the ponds froze and it was time for hockey. Baseball meant little league, when Watson Park turned into a city of kids every evening. It was there that I was initiated into the deeper mysteries of Spring.

But Easter was also a story of resurrection, a story that long predates Christianity. It's probably one of the oldest stories we have. But it's also a story of the Dead.

I understood the resurrection story, its power and its emotional appeal. When I was eight years old I lost someone very close to me, someone who died far too young. And died violently. It happened three days after Christmas, just because Fate is a fucking sadist. (I still remember playing with my new GI Joe training center in the basement when my mother called me upstairs to break the news).  

In many ways, my childhood died then and I spent far too much time trying to claw it back later.

This boy was touched by the gods, everyone thought so. Even adults recognized the power of his charisma, his natural charm. He was a natural born leader, other kids just naturally fell in behind him. But most of all, he was a genuinely good person who understood his power over others but never tried to exploit it.    

His death tore a hole through my family. Things I took for granted were going to slowly change, and something important was going to be taken away from me. So his death wasn't just a single tragedy, a focal point in time. It was to have repercussions for my entire human ecosystem. 

The dead boy haunted my dreams for years. You know how it is- you lose someone and they return to you in your dreams, explaining that it was a big misunderstanding, they were still alive and well. In one dream he came back dressed like an astronaut. I met him by the grape orchard in my neighbor's yard. He told me didn't die, that he just had been in outer space. How's that for symbolism? I can still picture that dream, better than yesterday.

So, yeah, the story of a charismatic young man rising from the dead and returning to his friends and family had tremendous resonance for me. Add in the magic of Springtime, which promised a banquet of baseball and Cheap Trick records (and hopefully, girls) and you're looking at an admixture that Medieval alchemists would have sold their souls to replicate.

There are lots of theories about the Easter story. It's just a rewriting of the passions of Pagan fertility gods. A double died on the cross or the death was faked. It was a mass hallucination. Jesus's ghost appeared to the Apostles. Plus, the old standby- aliens. 

I'm not going to litigate the debate here. It's besides the point. Because the Easter story spoke- and speaks- to generations of people who experienced loss and more than anything, wished that loss could be undone.   

Death has insinuated itself back into my human ecosystem. A while back, I told our Gordon that I sensed its presence, that it felt like it had entered into a holding pattern overhead. This was when a family member was diagnosed with cancer, which he beat into remission like the tough little bastard he is. But that was a false dawn since Death has taken a number of trophies since then, nearly all at far too young an age.

So I know a bit about Death. More than I would like to. But I also know that Death is a functionary, a delivery man. I know that something of the human essence keeps on trucking along.

I also know about the not-quite departed. Those whose passage to the other side is blocked for one reason or other. I spent a lot of time in a house where the not-quite departed had taken up residence and had to be encouraged to leave by a professional medium. There was a time in my life when everyone I knew either knew someone else who had a ghost story, or if not, had a ghost story of their own.

The not-quite departed sometimes come to us and try to make themselves known. I think this is more common than generally understood simply because many of us don't recognize their language. For reasons we will probably never explain, they can sometimes influence our physical environment, particularly through electricity, and now, electronics. But that's just the stage show, like Jesus and his magic. 

The not-quite departed don't want to haunt our houses so much as our thoughts.

Spectrology is as reliable as UFOlogy but there are some parameters that have been generally accepted for millennia. The not-quite departed are spirits with unfinished business on this plane. They were unloved or misunderstood, or they died unjustly or too young. Of course, that just described half of the people who've ever died but there seems to be other factors at work when the not-quite departed make themselves known to the living. Some think it's environmental, that geology plays a major role in these events. That very could be, but we may also never know that for sure either.

Truth be told, haunting is a pretty compelling explanation for the Easter story. If you're so inclined, of course. You have the prerequisite geology angle with the stone tomb, the fear and guilt Jesus' followers felt making them more receptive to spectral influence, the conflicting stories, the violations of the laws of physics. Throw in some dreams, visions and fantasies and you can wrap that thing up with a bow. 

But again, that's not the selling point here. Because the pitch was that if you believed this story, your dead sons would one day return to you too. And for most of human history pretty much every family in Christendom - the world-  were pining for a dead son.

I grew up in a heavily Irish Catholic neighborhood, with many first-generation immigrants*. The departed hold a special place in traditional Irish culture, as did the Easter story, certainly. The not-quite departed did as well. Given Ireland's history this certainly makes a lot of sense. It was common to see shrines to the departed in people's homes, more common in fact than shrines to the saints. I think this came out of a belief- perhaps never consciously acknowledged- that the departed were preparing the way in Heaven for the rest of us. A kind of variation on ancestor worship, if you will.

Which makes me think that the dominance secularism is currently enjoying will be short-lived. Secularism seems to be feeding into anxiety and despair among a lot of people, which in turn is leading to an epidemic of early death, from drugs, suicide or misadventure. 

I think this is a self-correcting dilemma. Trauma will inevitably lead people away from secularism- to religion, to magic, the New Age, whatever. This in turn will have a knock-on effect for the rest of the culture.

All of which is to say is that as much as we think we can sanitize death and ignore the calls of the not-quite departed, I think the inexorable laws of nature have other plans in mind.

*Martin Scorcese filmed parts of The Departed in my birth city, and cast Mark Wahlberg, whose family lives a block away from my old house 


  1. This is beautiful, Chris. Kudos. I firmly believe that the dead are not truly dead. I believe that human connections transcend what we think of as time and space. The soul is as as immortal as the spirit, but ever changing and growing. It's been my experience that the dead are still recognisably 'themselves' once they cross the threshold of death. Blessings and peace to everyone dealing with pain and loss right now. A happy easter to my secret sun family!

  2. Wow. Thank-you for sharing all that, some rather powerful words there I (& I'm sure others) can definitely relate to. I grew up not far from you, northwest of the Boston area in Chelmsford, just south of Nashua & the NH state line & right next to Lowell. Used to take the Green Line from Lowell into Harvard Square a lot when I was in HS. The Sox (& baseball) were a big part of my childhood as well (T-ball, Little League, & games on the pre-cable Channel 38. & Bruins, too of course!)

    But I lost quite a few people who were close to me in those early years as well; an older friend who lived down the street who used to babysit me when I was little who died of leukemia, a Grandfather who also died of leukemia around the same time (actually--now that I think about it-- a lot of people I was aware of were dying of that same form of cancer back then, mid to late 70s. Something was going on...) & then lost my Mom suddenly & unexpectedly to pancreatitis mid-80s, & an old friend who was class valedictorian until he killed himself a week before graduation. & I had quite a few of those dreams where the departed visit, so your words resonate deeply. I come from a mixed Catholic-Jewish background (don't get me started!) so I know the importance of ritual--which also had a big impact on me as a kid. & I agree that secularism/atheism is BS, it sucks all the magic(k) out of life. The ineffable exists for a reason. I'm just worried about the trauma part of the equation you mentioned above that will lead people away from said secularism. I think it may be closer than we think, with what's going on in the world now, its getting to the point where I just can't watch the news anymore. Regardless, for what its worth, Happy Easter.

  3. Interesting about the Irish & the ancestor worship; another peculiar cross-over between our lot in West Asia and the folks in East Asia.

    There's an Irish journalist called Paddy O Gorman; he's spent decades doing street interviews with Irish people. One of his latest haunts is the graveyard on special days (Christmas, Valentine's Day, Mother's Day, etc); many Irish people visit their dead relatives there - and according to Paddy, this seems to be a resurgence of a folk religion to replace the authoritarian church one.

    You may want to check this feed every few days for one of Paddy's posts, perhaps it will be of interest. He usually does an insert every couple of weeks (though many of them are court hearings, where you hear the voice of the underclasses in their own words):

  4. There's definitely a sense of eerie, uncomfortable calm hanging over the whole world as we go into this weekend. It feels like the ghoulish specter of the dead and dying might put in an appearance at any moment, and not just in an abstract sense, but there, actually, in the personal world, where you can't look away or switch to another browser tab. I voted for Trump because I wanted to see him at least try to fix the economy and kick around some university maxists not wave his dick at North Korea and infuriate the Russians. And that fucker damn wells knows it too. So do his Deep State handlers who appear to have gotten their plans at least partially back on the rails. I guess we'll find out.

  5. We are barely past the Equinox, and fast approaching Walpurgisnacht. Liminality abounds!

    As for that feel in the air, what was it Gandalf said? Ah, right: "It's the deep breath before the plunge", spoken from his balcony in Minas Tirith as he stared at a distant Mount Doom, moments before the army of Sauron marched forth to war. What followed was a battle they barely won, and only after making peace with the dead. Interesting, that.

  6. Beautiful, thought provoking. Thanks Chris.

  7. The Resurrection of Jesus can best be explained through similar phenomena in other spiritual traditions.

    In Tibetan Buddhism and Bön it is called the "Rainbow Body". A truly enlightened being, upon death, will dissolve it's physical remains into a multi-dimensional Pleromic Light-body.

    The Shaivites of Kashmir have observed a similar process in their adepts and saints.

    As have certain schools of Daoism.

    As evidence of the primacy of Consciousness continues to accumulate, both common literalist religion and secular materialism will decline to be replaced by a Techno-Animism and rapidly modernizing Eastern Wisdom traditions.

  8. I see that Michael Ballhaus the cinematographer who worked with Martin Scorsese on 'The Departed' passed away on April 12th (or 11th depending on the source), 2017 aged 81.
    "The director-cinematographer duo had collaborated on six films such as “After Hours” (1985), “The Color of Money” (1986), “The Last Temptation of Christ” (1988), “Goodfellas” (1990), “The Age of Innocence” (1993), “Gangs of New York” (2002) and “The Departed” (2006)."

  9. The fact that doubting Thomas touched Jesus post-resurrection rather disproves the host angle.
    500 people don't have the same hallucination.
    The world will move away from secularism, back to Jehovah and Christ, but only because it is the purest Truth of humanity and creation.

    1. Dude you need some mental floss for your truth decay. Loving kindness is key. The cross is an instrument of torture.87

  10. What a timely piece. Death has been very much in the air this week - a mutual good friend has lost her dad and I found out an old friend ( a drummer with The Long Pigs ) passed away unexpectedly on Thursday evening. Your dreams of the dead are familiar to many of us, I myself suddenly started dreaming of my father 6 months after his death and would wake up confused as to whether he was dead or alive. There is such a big change coming and I wonder if our ancestors knew more about this time of year and the cracking of the cosmic egg.

  11. Happy Easter, everyone.
    Excellent piece, as always Chris.
    As you suggest it was also my experience that secularism was leading me to nihilism and despair. It had to go.
    Because of all the bullshit we've been fed and all the trauma around religion that so many of us have had to deal with, it's very easy to simply say "fuck this, it's all bullshit." Which is what I did for a very long time. I've since come to a very different understanding.
    Since we're talking childhood memories . . . I remember when I was 11 and staying at my aunt's house in Medellin. There was a huge painting of Jesus in the hallway that led to the bathroom from the room I was sleeping in. The thing always creeped me out and kind of intimidated me. It had the crown of thorns and the sacred heart with the flame, the whole bit. So one night I get up to pee and instead of averting my eyes and walking past it as quickly as possible, I stood in front of it, pulled down my pajama bottoms and shook my dick at Jesus. Of course, I was terrified, and ran back to bed and pulled the covers over my head, waiting for the wrath god to strike me dead. Nothing happened. After that, I didn't worry so much about being sent to hell for all eternity for some minor transgression of Catholic dogma.
    Those are still pretty much the terms I am on in regard to Yahweh, Jehova, and Ala. But since then, I have found that that psycho bastard is far from the only game in town.

  12. I can see what you mean. Harsh times are times for magic and religion. And harsh times are coming.

    To all those Trump voters that are surprised about Trump's behavior lately: you really shouldn't be. Especially those of you that know some magic, you really shouldn't have fallen for basic incantations. If you had done your due diligence, you'd be expecting exactly the sort of thing we are seeing now. But you just wanted to hear what you wanted to hear. That always gets you precisely nowhere. And if you know some magic, you really should know that.

    Personally, I was raised in a Catholic country but my parents weren't religious. When I started doing magic workings, of course Catholic stuff kept coming to my mind, but just as much or more science fiction. It also reminded me about the death of somebody close to me. And all I could think was something like: "The bastards! I knew reading some Philip K. Dick was the right thing for the funeral! And the bastards didn't let me!"

  13. "And it's 1,2,3
    What are we fighting for?
    Don't ask me, I don't give a damn,
    Next stop is Vietnam!

    And, it's 5,6,7
    Open up the Pearly Gates
    Well, there ain't no time to wonder why
    We're all gonna die.

  14. Beautiful post, TSS, beautiful post
    We live in stories

  15. great post CLK sad and wonderful all at the same time. The words of these Chameleons lyrics came to mind after reading it:
    " P.S. Goodbye":

    I've had too many crazy nights
    I've seen too many crazy sights
    I didn't want the scars to show
    In those moments only mothers know

    You know in retrospect it seems
    There's always danger in your dreams
    Like an actor stealing scenes
    All the magic moments in your teens

    All the thoughts you fight to hide
    Lady passion lady pride
    Sisters side by side
    Talking while our tongues are tied...

  16. Chris do you write the blog called
    Very similar writing style.

  17. This post is profound and elicits compassion. I have to admit to wondering about the story of the boy who died.

  18. my condolences on the loss of your friend, I say this because I might be thought harsh for the next but, obviously the dream was a kind of being in denial manifesting from the subconscious, and it is ironic that you were playing with GI Joe when you got the news.

    GI Joe is about war which is about killing, which is about killing SOMEONE'S best friend, someone's son.

    But Easter is not about emotional dreamy reverie about the dead and taking respite from pain in fantasies of them coming back.

    It is about ONE Person Who being not just human but God The Second PErson of the Trinity become human, died and came back to life, and will someday resurrect us all - to rewards and to judgement.

    As for the paganness of nature, rethink - the One Who died and rose again made all that (with His heavenly Father and His heavenly Father's All Holy Spirit Who proceeds from His Heavenly Father) and viewed correctly nature speaks of God the Creator.

    perhaps you might find Jay Dyer's theology and metaphysics lectures of help.

  19. Hey! This post could not be written any better!
    Reading through this post reminds me of my old room mate!
    He always kept chatting about this. I will forward this page to
    him. Pretty sure he will have a good read. Thank you for sharing!