Good Bits of Culture on Death

Reply Tue 4 Dec, 2012 09:59 am
Hello, much in the vein of my other recent post (which you all answered so magnificently) I am now looking for bits of culture on death, to find a text for my friend to write a cantata on. We're looking for everything from little quirky folk stories to films, poems, short stories, films, religious parables etc. preferably with an interesting angle or psychological element.
Thank you, pq x
Reply Tue 4 Dec, 2012 10:19 am
@The Pentacle Queen,
Thank you Pent for that term. It's not everyday………

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Reply Tue 4 Dec, 2012 10:51 am
@The Pentacle Queen,
Edgar Allan Poe
"The boundaries which divide Life from Death are at best shadowy and vague. Who shall say where the one ends, and where the other begins?"

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Reply Tue 4 Dec, 2012 11:12 am
There is a book, the Bardol Thodol, which is usually called The Tibetan Book of the Dead, and which also has more esoteric names

There is an earlier text, which it would not be reasonable to assume had influenced the Tibetan book, which is The Book of the Dead, an Egyptian text dating back 3500 years.

There are many views of death which are embodied in other ancient texts, and nearly every mythos of any culture at one time or another treats of death and an afterlife.
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Reply Tue 4 Dec, 2012 11:19 am
@The Pentacle Queen,
If you are in the mood for spending some time reading, I'd suggest you take a look here: Sociology of Death

Plenty of interesting links, some touching, some heartbreaking about death.
Reply Tue 4 Dec, 2012 11:37 am
@The Pentacle Queen,
If you're looking for a well known source with a sense of humor, might I suggest Piers Anthony, On a Pale Horse:
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Reply Tue 4 Dec, 2012 12:08 pm
@The Pentacle Queen,
Try Hesse "The Prodigy"
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Reply Tue 4 Dec, 2012 02:00 pm
Here's a macabre short film, The Periwig Maker:
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Reply Tue 4 Dec, 2012 05:00 pm
And there is the classic The Denial of Death by Ernest Becker.
Reply Tue 4 Dec, 2012 05:21 pm
Death: The High Cost of Living

Neil Gaiman's epic comic book series The Sandman introduced us to The Endless (Destiny, Death, Dream, Destruction, Despair, Desire and Delirium a group of beings who embody powerful forces or aspects of the universe)

Death as personified by him is a wonderful character, one of my faves after Delight/Delirium

some of my favourite quotes about and by Death from The Sandman series

I find myself wondering about humanity. Their attitude to my sister's gift is so strange. Why do they fear the sunless lands? It is as natural to die as it is to be born. But they fear her. Dread her. Feebly they attempt to placate her. They do not love her.
Dream about Death, in Sandman #8: "The Sound of Her Wings"

"Death's a capricious thing, innit?"
"Yes. Yes, she is."

Hob Gadling and Dream, in Sandman #13: "Men of Good Fortune"

They say that cigarettes will kill you, eventually. Fine. That's just fine. I only wish they'd do it faster … I like smoking cigarettes. It's something normal people do. I smoke a cigarette, and pretend I'm normal. And I wish I was dead.
Element Girl, in Sandman #20: "Façade"

"And you've come for me? Blessed, merciful death. You've come to make it all stop?"
"No. I haven't come for you, Rainie. There was a woman upstairs, changing the light bulb in her kid's room. The stepladder slipped … like I said, I was passing and I heard you crying, and, well, the door was open … "

Element Girl and Death, in Sandman #20: "Façade"

Anyway: I'm not blessed or merciful. I'm just me. I've got a job to do and I do it. Listen: even as we're talking, I'm there for old and young, innocent and guilty, those who die together and those who die alone. I'm in cars and boats and planes, in hospitals and forests and abattoirs. For some folks death is a release and for others death is an abomination, a terrible thing. But in the end, I'm there for all of them.
Death, in Sandman #20: "Façade"

When the first living thing existed, I was there, waiting. When the last living thing dies, my job is finished. I'll put the chairs on tables, turn out the lights and lock the universe behind me when I leave.
Death, in Sandman #20: "Façade"

Rainie, mythologies take longer to die than people believe. They linger on in a kind of dream country that affects all of you.
Death, in Sandman #20: "Façade"

I don't need to know the future. When the future's over, then it's me …
Death, in Sandman: "The Song of Orpheus"

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Reply Tue 4 Dec, 2012 05:39 pm


Shocking, outrageous, and poetic, Jigoku (Hell, a.k.a. The Sinners of Hell) is the most innovative creation from Nobuo Nakagawa, the father of the Japanese horror film. After a young theology student flees a hit-and-run accident, he is plagued by both his own guilt-ridden conscience and a mysterious, diabolical doppelgänger. But all possible escape routes lead straight to hell—literally. In the gloriously gory final third of the film, Nakagawa offers up his vision of the underworld in a tour de force of torture and degradation. A striking departure from traditional Japanese ghost stories, Jigoku, with its truly eye-popping (and -gouging) imagery, created aftershocks that are still reverberating in contemporary world horror cinema.
Reply Tue 4 Dec, 2012 11:54 pm
I assume you know all about this, but just in case you don't, the Mexican Day of the Dead is a treasure trove of ritual and art.

The Black death in Europe also gave rise to incredible art and fascinating practices.


Also look under Totentanz, especially for music.

The novel, The Book Thief may be of interest, given that it is narrated by Death.

I have a tibetan death mask, made from a single fungus.....

Speaking of which, death masks cross many traditions.


Reply Wed 5 Dec, 2012 12:10 am
Culturally, Australian aboriginal practices around death are interesting. I do not know how widespread this is in different aboriginal people's, but where I live, it is forbidden to mention the name of a person who has died amongst their community or family.

People bearing the same first name use another for a time or use a generic name, which I have forgotten for now. There doesn't seem to be a rule for how long this continues, but there seems to be a general agreement about when it's ok to use your name again. This can change if the community becomes distressed. If you are visiting communities where traditional culture is strong, it is important to ascertain, indirectly, if there has been a death or if something else has caused a change, because it is extremely distressing and offensive to people if you get it wrong.

Images of people recently deceased are also problematic.

Reply Wed 5 Dec, 2012 07:04 am
i regularly listen to the Hindsight podcasts from the ABC, many start with a warning to aboriginal peoples and Torres Islanders that the following documentary contains the voices of deceased people

the same goes for some of the docs and tv shows (The Circuit for example) i've seen
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Reply Wed 5 Dec, 2012 11:48 am
Good stuff,Dlowan. I wonder if the reason given for not using a deceased person's name is the fear of invoking their ghost--like calling to them.
Reply Wed 5 Dec, 2012 12:15 pm
JL that sounds eminently likely
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Reply Wed 5 Dec, 2012 01:48 pm
dlowan wrote:

I do not know how widespread this is in different aboriginal people's, but where I live, it is forbidden to mention the name of a person who has died amongst their community or family.

That's also very strong here, at least among the Navajo. I believe it is the same with all the Apache tribes as well. Also, none of those groups were involved in scalping or other mutilations of the dead. Any that did so were insane, or however that thought was expressed in the common language.
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Reply Wed 5 Dec, 2012 02:30 pm
American students always have this poem given to them to read, either in high school or in university. Thanatopsis is a (realtive) neologism from Greek, and means a meditation on death. Bryant wrote the poem in about 1813 or 1814, when he was 19 or 20 years old.


William Cullen Bryant

To him who in the love of Nature holds
Communion with her visible forms, she speaks
A various language; for his gayer hours
She has a voice of gladness, and a smile
And eloquence of beauty, and she glides
Into his darker musings, with a mild
And healing sympathy, that steals away
Their sharpness, ere he is aware. When thoughts
Of the last bitter hour come like a blight
Over thy spirit, and sad images
Of the stern agony, and shroud, and pall,
And breathless darkness, and the narrow house,
Make thee to shudder, and grow sick at heart;—
Go forth, under the open sky, and list
To Nature’s teachings, while from all around—
Earth and her waters, and the depths of air—
Comes a still voice— Yet a few days, and thee
The all-beholding sun shall see no more
In all his course; nor yet in the cold ground,
Where thy pale form was laid, with many tears,
Nor in the embrace of ocean, shall exist
Thy image. Earth, that nourished thee, shall claim
Thy growth, to be resolved to earth again,
And, lost each human trace, surrendering up
Thine individual being, shalt thou go
To mix for ever with the elements,
To be a brother to the insensible rock
And to the sluggish clod, which the rude swain
Turns with his share, and treads upon. The oak
Shall send his roots abroad, and pierce thy mould.

Yet not to thine eternal resting-place
Shalt thou retire alone, nor couldst thou wish
Couch more magnificent. Thou shalt lie down
With patriarchs of the infant world—with kings,
The powerful of the earth—the wise, the good,
Fair forms, and hoary seers of ages past,
All in one mighty sepulchre. The hills
Rock-ribbed and ancient as the sun,—the vales
Stretching in pensive quietness between;
The venerable woods—rivers that move
In majesty, and the complaining brooks
That make the meadows green; and, poured round all,
Old Ocean’s gray and melancholy waste,—
Are but the solemn decorations all
Of the great tomb of man. The golden sun,
The planets, all the infinite host of heaven,
Are shining on the sad abodes of death,
Through the still lapse of ages. All that tread
The globe are but a handful to the tribes
That slumber in its bosom.—Take the wings
Of morning, pierce the Barcan wilderness,
Or lose thyself in the continuous woods
Where rolls the Oregon, and hears no sound,
Save his own dashings—yet the dead are there:
And millions in those solitudes, since first
The flight of years began, have laid them down
In their last sleep—the dead reign there alone.
So shalt thou rest, and what if thou withdraw
In silence from the living, and no friend
Take note of thy departure? All that breathe
Will share thy destiny. The gay will laugh
When thou art gone, the solemn brood of care
Plod on, and each one as before will chase
His favorite phantom; yet all these shall leave
Their mirth and their employments, and shall come
And make their bed with thee. As the long train
Of ages glide away, the sons of men,
The youth in life’s green spring, and he who goes
In the full strength of years, matron and maid,
The speechless babe, and the gray-headed man—
Shall one by one be gathered to thy side,
By those, who in their turn shall follow them.

So live, that when thy summons comes to join
The innumerable caravan, which moves
To that mysterious realm, where each shall take
His chamber in the silent halls of death,
Thou go not, like the quarry-slave at night,
Scourged to his dungeon, but, sustained and soothed
By an unfaltering trust, approach thy grave,
Like one who wraps the drapery of his couch
About him, and lies down to pleasant dreams.
Reply Wed 5 Dec, 2012 05:12 pm
Thanks, Setanta. Quite an experience.
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Reply Wed 5 Dec, 2012 05:23 pm
how could i have forgotten my 2 favourite death poems

dying is fine)but Death
e. e. cummings

dying is fine)but Death


wouldn't like

Death if Death

when(instead of stopping to think)you

begin to feel of it,dying
's miraculous

cause dying is

perfectly natural;perfectly
it mildly lively(but


is strictly
& artificial &

evil & legal)

we thank thee
almighty for dying
(forgive us,o life!the sin of Death

Not Waving But Drowning
Stevie Smith

Nobody heard him, the dead man,
But still he lay moaning:
I was much further out than you thought
And not waving but drowning.

Poor chap, he always loved larking
And now he's dead
It must have been too cold for him his heart gave way,
They said.

Oh, no no no, it was too cold always
(Still the dead one lay moaning)
I was much too far out all my life
And not waving but drowning.

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