The thought of another, second, eternal life must be as old as thought itself. The conception of a greater and perfect life to come, redeeming and justifying the sufferings and the failings of this lightning flash of first existence – this is I believe the first thought, the founding thought of thought itself. Thought is Death’s first-born, and every thought is descended from that First Thought of Death.
Something in the order of 300 billion human creatures have walked the Earth over the last 3 million years or so. Every single one of them has known death, has thought of death, has adopted an attitude towards death, has imagined an aftermath of Death. Death is the human bond, our fastener. It has always been with us, and it is with each & every one of us.
The ultimate and omnipresent fact of death, the fact that life is besieged by death until death breaks in and conquers, every time, is the fact that gave the impetus to the development of the first rituals, in a desperate but beautiful attempt to counter death and preserve the being of deceased ancestors in artistic & ceremonial form.
Art, born of ritual and the heart’s longings to recall & reconjure, relive & revivify, is the fragment of The Resurrection we have managed to appropriate. The only life after death we know of, the only life-beyond-the-living body that we can produce by & for ourselves is the life and the life-force preserved in the greatest of our poems, paintings, songs and so on.
Although Homer declared themselves merely a Muse’s instrument, and Christian artists believe they are merely the expressive vessels of The Holy Spirit. The great medieval poets of Persia – Rumi, Hafiz etc – put their eloquent genius down to the inspiration of The Beloved. In all who think like this there is a common sense that when we make beautiful art or engage with it as audience we are touching Heaven, we are connecting somehow to an Immortal realm that triumphs over Death.
Burial was the first ritual, and it was practiced by our Neanderthal & Naledi ancestors/cousins for sure, and likely also by Erectus. The knowledge of death and our elaborate denials of it are therefore perhaps two or three million years old. The Universe, or at least what we know of it, is 14.5 billion years old.
In terms of the vast age of the known Universe the concept of Death is newborn. And it is us alone who now carry it. Nothing in the Universe conceived of death before us.
The ritual impetus is the origin of the ritual arts – chant, dance, masks, drumming & piping – which evolve into song, poetry, music, drama and so. Death is the Ubermuse.
The explanations demanded by Death – where do the dead go and what happens to them there? – give rise to religion and philosophy and moral systems in general – we would need none of all that if we couldn’t die, or kill. Strange as it may sound, Immortals have no need of Theology.
The resurrection of Christ as depicted in The Bible is a promise to the righteous that they too shall return entire and intact and become deathless creatures in a deathless world, forever.
The unrighteous, which might as well be all of post-industrial humanity, since we have destroyed rather than tended The Earth, will suffer the darker eternal undeathliness of Hell.
But whether they are eternally damned or eternally blessed, these post-mortems could not be human creatures – as humans are so by virtue of the fact they die and are aware of death, and that all our lives we struggle with the notion, indeed the temptation, of death.
Being Deathless the Heavenly as well as the Hell-hunted will have more in common with Death than with life, as it is otherwise only Death that doesn’t die.
And each one of us in being born resurrects death, for without us no such concept could exist.
It is death that comes back to life in human form, over and over, again and again, forever and ever amen.
Below a reminder of the universality of death in the St. Peter and St. Paul church, Vilnius