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Tuesday, 8.17.04: Spiritualism?

I grew up believing that mediums were basically carnival performers. When people died, I was taught, they went to heaven. Maybe you could believe they would intercede for you with God now and then, but basically they were inaccessible. My grandparents have been a source of much inspiration for me, but they've never sent me, you know, a message.

And yet I have friends -- very serious professional women -- who go to mediums and regularly receive messages from beyond. I had a conversation with one yesterday. She spoke matter-of-factly about a consoling message received yesterday, via a medium, from a recently deceased friend. I started feeling a little guilty that I'd never opened myself up to this kind of experience. Am I missing out on something?

But it occurs to me that maybe I don't want to open myself up to a lot of dead people giving me their opinions about my private life. There are cultures in this world who go to great lengths to see to it that their dearly departed get out of town. In Indonesia, for example, the Toraja people will not even admit someone is dead ("Grandma is feeling poorly") until they can afford an elaborate funeral to send the soul "south," where the afterlife gets lived out.

The Torajans have a longer history of dealing with spirits than my generation of New Age dabblers. And from what I witnessed, the traditional cultures do not care to have them hanging around, except in a very controlled way (for example, contained in effigy dolls). Too many loose souls hanging around only make mischief.

And think of it from the soul's point of view. Do I want to spend eternity on call? If there is an afterlife, do I want to spend it fretting about the living? Do I have such little faith that they can't get along without me? It would be like dragging a cell phone along on vacation -- maybe not Hell, but definitely not Heaven.

I don't mean to make fun of these beliefs. The good side of any religion is that it gets you through the very dark nights. For myself I prefer the human capacity for mythmaking and the weaving of stories. I spent a lot of time last spring thinking of my grandmother and her early life. It was important for me to try to interpret what her early years added up to. I found lessons in courage and the importance of conviviality in getting through hardship and grief. I did not need a psychic phone call from her. I hope she's too busy playing pinochle with her friends.






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