death as we know it was invented around 50,000 years b.c.e., more or less. its impossible to determine and this writer has deliberately selected a round number. feel free to correct me. t’was in europa, around that time, according to the archeological record, people started burying their dead. and more than just sticking uncle hans in a hole and covering him up, they started placing the dead in the ground in a specific position, the foetal position, and more often than not with the head aimed in a specific direction, east, the direction of the rising sun, the dawn, the birth of a new day. and they started to place gear in the graves: tools, weapons, ornaments, clay pots containing foodstuffs, flowers. those neandertals didn’t have piles of extra resources to just go flinging useful items into graves. they buried their dead with items of great value and the best, if not the only, logical reason for this kind of behavior is that they believed in some kind of life beyond the terrestrial one. that’s death as we know it: death with at least the possibility of something beyond.*
there are two things happening with these graves. one is the foetal position, the other is the grave gear. it wouldn’t be too awfully hard for neandertals to figure out the positioning of a baby in the womb. they certainly knew what they were doing and it sure seems logical to assume that what they were doing was placing the dead body in the earth in the same pose as a baby in the womb to symbolize or facilitate the rebirth of some aspect of the deceased. whether they believed the dead would be reborn in this world or some other, we cannot know. but rebirth of some kind: in the belly of the earth and oriented toward the sun. the grave gear implies a journey to be taken. down to hel and across the river styx or to the happy hunting ground or something of that sort. some life beyond.
and at about the same time, on the other side of eurasia, on the island now called hokkaido, the ancestors of the ainu started shrining the skulls of cave bears. and these two events make sense when the distance betwixt them is put aside and that’s not hard to do. people were travelling back in them days and exchanging ideas. technological advances made their way slowly across the populated continents and ideas surely went with them. the idea of a life beyond the obvious one may have arisen in different ways in different places or it may have been carried along with new and better ways to knap spearheads and come to its physical manifestation in different ways in different places. its likely that there are graves yet undiscovered that predate the ones in europa or that they once existed but have been erased by time. either way, the formula goes something along these lines: we exist in some form after our bodies have perished; the animals that we kill for food must also continue to exist in some form.
that is big shit. that is some major conceptualizin’ that gives the lie to the idea that cavemens was a buncha grunting dummies. the cave bear shrines in northern japan, furthermore, point toward an idea common to the hunting peoples of north america, who, by the way, passed near if not thru ainu territory on their way to the bering strait landbridge a few thousand years after the beginning of the cave bear shrining, which has to do with a covenant between the people and the animals the people depend on for food. people are lousy animals, remember, so the idea goes that the game animals give themselves voluntarily to the hunter who is worthy of such a sacrifice in order that the people may survive. in exchange for this self-sacrifice, the people perform some sort of ritual. in north america, among the buffalo-hunting plains indians tribes, this generally took the form of a “buffalo dance” which ensured that the spirits of the buffalo killed this year would be reborn next year. the people get meat; the buffalo get renewed youth, again and again and so on and so on, until whitey showed up. the ainu ritual of the cave bear differed in detail, but the gyst of it was the same and that continued on up into modern times, also gradually fading, or being deliberately forced, to almost non-existence with the invasion of civilized people, in this case the japanese. both traditions yet live. both show a reverence for life and for the creator of life that reveals the token saying of grace before tearing into a factory-farmed, cruelly-kept, mechanically-slaughtered chicken or pig for the disgrace it is, in my opinion, which is the only one i have any real interest in putting forth, truth be told.
once people got the idea in their heads that some aspect of an individual continued to exist in some form after the death of the body, they kept it there. evidence exists of some deliberate care being taken to preserve the dead, or prepare them for rebirth or for some kind of journey all down thru the ages. shrines to animals, same thing. sacrifices? oh yeh. o’ coss, sacrifices are of an altogether different nature, becos a sacrifice involves a deliberate killing, but the fact of a sacrifice implies the belief in another world or it isn’t a sacrifice, it’s a homicide. so the concept of an other world to which some aspect of an individual human or animal goes after the death of the body is 50,000 years old, +/-. domestication of the dog appears around 30,000 b.c.e. the wheel wasn’t invented until 10,000 b.c.e. and i’m being generous with that one.
what’s on the other side? that question has been addressed in many different ways by different peoples at different times and i’ve no plan to start listing them here and/or now. that’ll come up as it does. all i’m trying to get into at this point is the long-standing, world-wide recognition of some sort of continuation of some aspect of the individual beyond or after the death of the body and i think i’ve made that case adequately enough to be able to skip to the quick: all differing details aside, the one thing that is universally on the other side of death is the ultimate. the heavens, the hells, nirvana, all that stuff happens on the other side. what happens in this world is the time/space bounded business of this world, which includes the seeking of or participation in or relating to the spiritual realm in some way, shape or form, but which is still the business of this world. the buddha woke up in this world, but he didn’t dissolve into the blissful void of nirvana until after he died of food poisoning. jesus was the son of god but he could hardly conquer death without first dying. the ultimate ain’t here. its over there. we’ll be over there soon enough, but for now we’re here. and once we’re over there we won’t need the bhagavad gita becos we’ll be staring krishna full in the faces or maybe the baptists are right and boy howdy, won’t we feel sorry for ourselves if that turns out to be the case, but pretty much however ya cut it, myths are about living not about being dead.
i would like to stress this becos one of the most common misperceptions about myth is that its about where you go when you die. myth is not about where you go when you die. myth is about living life. myth is about living a full, honest, unique, genuine, real life. there is no other you. there is no one else who can be what you can be. your life is yours, for god’s sake. forget about death for a minute** and focus on life and ask yourself if you want it to be full and honest and unique and genuine and real. if the answer is “no” then go watch t.v. or go shopping or go fuck yerself for all i care. if the answer is “yes”, then i’ve got good news: that’s what myth is about. see, its hard to figure out how to get that life. its easy to get sidetracked and diverted and think you got it when really you’re just shuffling along with the rest of the flock, getting fleeced and finally slaughtered. or to believe the advertising. never believe advertising. the genuine life is not easy and there are no myths that i know of that pretend it is, tho’ i may’ve missed some. the genuine life is damn hard to find and harder still to stick with, but it is genuine. and it is better than the alternative.
the alternative, in case you were wondering, involves selling your soul to the devil***.
*some atheists will argue that there is no possibility of life beyond death. these people may be, can be and should be, ignored. they make their claim after the possibility has long been acknowledged, as opposed to homo sapiens neanderthalensis, who was breaking new ground. and furthermore, atheists love to claim science as support for their negativity. well, pal, the scientific method leans on proofs and the existence of an afterlife or spirit world or deit(y/ies) or devas or any of that esoterica can be neither proved nor disproved according to any creditable experiment so the best that science can do is throw up its collective hands and say “we don’t know”, which is fine and good. religion oughtn’t be in the science business either. the earth is round. that’s a fact. the earth is a goddess. that’s a myth. you tell me how the earth functions and i’ll tell you what the myth means, deal?
**death is important, in its own way. i’m not saying throw it out the window. i am saying its coming no matter what so there’s no need to get worked up over it. one of the 10,000 paradoxes is that if you focus on life instead of death, death becomes no big thing. death, whether its your own or someone else’s, becomes just another seasonal change, just another transition. its worth thinking about from time to time, but to spend too much time on it is inappropriate.
***this is a point that i will be dealing with ad nauseum as we go along, being, as it is, a reoccurring motif in the revelent materielle.