Review: The Journey Into Spirit

I have met Kristoffer Hughes numerous times over the past few years, mostly at Pagan conferences and gatherings. Kristoffer has always been full of life, humorous, playful, and a pure joy to be around. I had a vague idea of Kristoffer’s professional occupation, but never really equated that too much with the individual I have come to know. This book of his, showed me a completely different side of Kristoffer’s life, but not a different side of Kristoffer. I’ll explain a little more in a bit. In the meantime, I’ll try not to give away too much of what is written within those pages. In my opinion, it is best experienced by the reader…not through the reviewer.

I understand quite a bit of the cycle of life and death, my father was a hospital Pathologist. While his profession was more geared towards the study of diseases, the death of individuals from those diseases was a part of that life. I never got to be in on an autopsy, ethically that would just not be appropriate – particularly for a child of sixteen or younger (the time frame that I was exposed to my father’s profession). However, I did get to see some of the aftermath of such expositions in the skin and cell samples that were prepared for study. However, I never really placed the idea of the care of the body after death into my perceptual vision.

This book takes a rather candid, and surprisingly intimate, look at the pattern of what happens after death. And oddly enough, I completely understand quite a bit of the perspective that is laid forth in what Kristoffer has written. One of the major thematic points made is how death is set off to the side – not openly viewed in our modern society. For someone looking to find an inviting perspective on the process of dying, death, and burial – Kristoffer has indeed presented a very approachable perspective.

Perhaps the most shocking perspective for me was the extremely personal perspective that Kristoffer provides – particularly in the beginning of the book. More than once, I found myself empathizing greatly with what was written. Thinking back on what I have come to know about Kristoffer in the limited times we have met and engaged one another, I realize that this is not really all that surprising. Kristoffer has always been a warm, engaging individual who has a genuine smile, and a fantastic bear-hug for everyone. The off-kilter banter in conversation and in lecture shows affection for every single individual within earshot. Its not all that surprising, in retrospect, to find that same warmth and empathy within the written stories showcased in this book.

Do I recommend this book? Most definitely. Whether you are looking for something with depth and introspection towards the aspect of death, or are seeking something that might help you to understand the passing of a loved one — The Journey Into Spirit can provide that, in my opinion. Should you ever get a chance to meet the writer – take the opportunity and do so. You will find someone with a personality as large as the universe, and a heart four times that size.

You can find this book at Llewellyn or on Amazon….and perhaps even your local bookstore.

Thinking on Death – the Meaning of Us

One of the more interesting – for me – notations of what Pantheacon became, was a dialogue on the concept of death. Now, for me, death is the end of one cycle and the birth of another. Yes, I am a believer in reincarnation. No, I am not a person who wants to delve deeper into that by looking at my past lives. There are many reasons for that, but the strongest one for my mind, is that I am here and now. What I did in a past life may have the potential of being part of this one – but I am living this one, not the previous one and most assuredly not the incarnation to come. Focusing here and now allows me to provide for the role I am supposed to be in this life.

The “Death Panel” was interesting at Pantheacon. Byron Ballard started the panel off by singing – not sure if she was singing the ancestors in or if she was singing in praise of the ancestors or both or neither – that didn’t matter. It was GORGEOUS and raised the hairs on my arms. It was POWERFUL stuff. The panel focused a lot on how to help others prepare for the end of their journeys, and how to help prepare yourself as well. There was quite a bit of discussion on mundane things, including the need for a Will. There was a lot of information to weed through, and I am certain many of the folks came away from the Panel with a lot of different points and perspectives.

Kristoffer Hughes gave a wonderful presentation on the perspective of dealing with dying. At one point, he relayed a very, very interesting perspective on how cancer forms in the body. At the end of that small segment, he ended with the point that cancer had taken his father from this life. You could literally feel the anger that Kristoffer had for what cancer was and what it did to his family; but you could also feel the warmth, and love that he had for his father which had a heavy hint of sadness attached to it. I get that….

Two years ago, right around this time, my father passed away from a heart attack. Two months earlier, he had surgery to deal with Stage-1 cancer, and was dealing with chemo treatments. As a Type-II diabetic, I am certain that his body’s ability to deal with the chemo treatments was not exactly the greatest. Six months prior to his death, my mother passed away after a three-plus year battle with dementia. It was hard to deal with, especially when your own mother rarely remembered your own name. Just to show how unprepared these moments can be…I had three years to deal with my mother’s ultimate passing. When my father called me that morning, I had a sense of relief – not a sense of loss. I got the news of my father’s passing when I was at OBOD’s Gulf Coast Gathering.

That night, I did the initiation into the Bardic Grade. I was happy to have been initiated by others into the Grade (I had done a self-initiation four years earlier, but it did not have the effect that this one had on me), but I was also numb at the sudden nature of my father’s passing. It took another three weeks to fully understand what had happened, while I was trying to pack a few belongings out of his house before selling it. It took another full week of grieving to bring myself back to balance.

I have resisted a lot of labels over the years I have been alive. And I have resisted even more in the thirty-one years I have consciously been on this Path of Paganism. Only recently was I tagged with the label of “Elder”. And that one single conversation, with someone who had not been born when I made my first aware steps within Paganism (in fact, she wouldn’t be born for another ten), really shook my foundations. Whether I want to accept it or not, I am an Elder within Paganism. I may be new (somewhat) to the path of OBOD and Druidry, but I have been Pagan for more than half of my fifty-one years within this incarnation.

My father passed in his mid-seventies. If I survive that many years, that’s only about twenty-five more years that I potentially have in this incarnation. What else do I want to accomplish? What places do I wish to see? What kind of Priest am I to be? All concepts I struggle with from time to time. And then one thought enters my mind, when my father passed away – what was he thinking of doing? ┬áHe had already retired from his job as a Pathologist, nearly twenty years after he had retired from the United States Air Force. I know he wanted to spend time in his home reading, watching tv, and occasionally playing a round of golf. That was why he moved to Hot Springs Village in Arkansas – because there seven golf courses there. But in his own time, he did wood-working. He made little characters that corresponded to the seasons that he could put on the back of his mailbox. A scary cartoon ghost for Halloween. A cartoon rabbit holding an egg for Easter. He not only cut these out, but he developed the system on the back of the mailbox to hold these. All it took was a screw and a bolt to hold the thin piece of wood in place. He painted those pieces, and when they faded – he would paint them again.

In a manner of speaking, I have done the same thing. I have an MS Access database of Major League Baseball stats that goes all the way back to 1882. Every Winter, I update the system with stats from the past season, including adding a new players. I also find out which players had died during the past year, and update a field with that information as well. Its not as open a display as what my father did, but it is something that I treasure doing. I go hiking when the weather permits me to do so. But mostly, my spiritual work at the stone circle in my backyard is where my time gets spent.

Am I ready to die? Hardly. There are aspects of my life that I want to work more with. There are places, such as Glastonbury Tor and Mount Tai that I still wish to visit. I still have yet to see Avebury, Stonehenge, and Newgrange. I have friends that are on the other side of the Atlantic that I have yet to touch hands with or get hugs from. For me, my life is not complete without those actions being taken. And there is so much more. Perhaps, I am trying to run from Death as fast as I can – and that statement would be correct. But its not about running from Death that matters – its the way that I spend my living moments, and how I prepare my own family members for the moments past my death. I want my friends and family to remember the fun times with me, the times we smiled and laughed together – rather than the uglier moments. Those moments have happened, and will happen — and the idea of glossing over those moments is reprehensible. Were I to pass away tomorrow, I would want my friends and family to rejoice and celebrate that we shared all those moments together. The good ones, the bad ones, the ugly ones, the indescribable ones. Because all of that encompasses the meaning of us. And that’s what I will cherish; both in the here and the beyond….

London Bridge is Falling – Thoughts on Death, and New Family

This weekend, I decided that a trip to my parents’ graves was in order. I haven’t been here in Hot Springs, Arkansas since I interred both of them in their locations in the crematorium, side-by-side. Just as my father had requested, and prepared for. See, my father wanted to be sure that everything was taken care of, and apparently either didn’t trust myself or my sister to take care of the details, or didn’t want to bother either of us with it. All the arrangements had been taken care of, from the location, to the plaque on each site, to his own cremation. It had already been paid for by him. The only thing left was to set everything in motion. As I was the only child who was there at the time, showing up for the interrment fell on me by default.

For me, it was an ironic moment. Here I was, the only family member that was there when my father and mother were placed in the little vaults that would contain their ashes. Me. The child that was the bigger disappointment. The one that was always considered to be unreliable (and with some good reasoning behind that too, I might add). Me. The child that had essentially ostracised himself from his parents (on a somewhat mutual – and unspoken – agreement). I was the one that was there for the moment when the coverings were set in place. In essence, I was made to look the part of the responsible, respectable child.

It took a long while for me to reconcile that moment with my life. In my own recollection, it took almost six months before I started to truly grieve the fact both of my parents had crossed beyond the veil. It might have been shorter or longer, I am not sure. I didn’t exactly mark time on a calendar, and never really wrote anything in my journal about the entire process, because I really wasn’t aware of it. When I was finally aware of the process of grieving that had been occuring I was already in the throes of moving into a new home. Just another stressor added upon everything else.

Since then, I have been travelling nearly non-stop. Over to Scotland, England and France. Over to San Jose, California. Over to San Antonio, Texas. Over to Mandeville, Louisiana. But during all of those travels, I have also been aware of changes that have been taking place in how I perceive the world around me. Looking back over notes from Cat Treadwell’s Druidry course, and the notes I have taken in my progress in my Bardic Grade lessons, I am really grabbing hold of the connections I feel around me. I am learning to communicate with people better. I am coming out of my shell. Like a flower awakening from a long Winter’s slumber, I am thriving in my new sunshine. My world is far more than the job I hold. My world is far more than the nice house I live in. And I cannot experience any of it focusing on the wrong things. I feel so alive, but yet….what about death?

If someone had asked me about death twenty years ago, I would have told them that it was something I wanted to avoid at all costs. Now, don’t get me wrong, death is still something I want to avoid, but twenty years ago I was afraid of dying. But dying is merely the next step on my journey, going beyond the veil into the real unknown. Frankly, I am not really “ready” for that now. There’s a lot more to experience, a lot more to feel, and a lot more I want to experience with the people who are my family.

And what does lay beyond the veil? I have my own theories, but how accurate all of that is…I truly couldn’t tell you. I have Christian acquantainces who claim to know the answer to that without question. I have my doubts about their accuracy on what comes after, but then I have doubts about how accurate I am as well.

I do certainly believe in past lives; that we all move along in life after life – mostly not knowing much about the previous incarnations or who or what we knew. I have had offers to take me into a past life regression, to find out who I was. Typically, I politely turn such offers down. I honestly don’t really want to know. There’s a curioisty factor for me, but that’s balanced out with the knowledge that its far better for me to focus on the life I am living right now.

Now my parents chose to be cremated after their passing. My father chose for them to be interred. My choice is somewhat different. I prefer the Capsula Mundi option, where the body is buried in an egg-shaped, bio-degradable container. A tree seedling is planted with the container, and as your body degrades into nutrients in the soil, you feed the tree’s growth. In essence, your physical body transforms you into a tree. I want to be buried using this option…somewhere in the northern Rocky Mountains. I am quite sure my Christian acquaintances will roll their eyes over this one.

So, here I sit in a hotel on the south side of Hot Springs, waiting for the morning to come. I will then travel to the other side of Hot Springs, and then further north to Hot Springs Village, where my parents are interred. Currently, my thoughts and emotions are calm and contemplative. I have no idea what mindset I will be in within the next twelve hours. But whatever it might be, I am ready to embrace that moment for what it is, and what it will become. I literally have an army of friends on Facebook that are right behind me, making sure I don’t fall. They may not be here physically, but they don’t need to be. They are standing right next to me in my heart. Its really interesting how my immediate DNA family has melted away, and a stronger family that is bonded with me in my heart, my soul and my spirit has risen up to show me what family is. I couldn’t have taken these steps back to my parents’ graves without them in my life. London Bridge is falling, indeed.