Behind the Glasses of Ghuedhe
Life in Death and Love in Both
By Kyle Fite
I step out of the car and flick on my flashlight. The air is chill and the graveyard menacingly moonlit, headstones spilling heavy shadows over the soft September soil. My companions and I are here on something of a “psychic quest,” following up on a lead from some Ouija work done earlier this evening. I’m aware that I’ve entered territory presided over by the Baron, his cadaverous consort and cohorts from beyond the veil.
The goal is to locate and commune with a particular person whose name was telegraphed through the board. The several of us divide up and go shining our lights at the rows of marble monuments, searching for our contact. We couldn’t hope for a better atmosphere. The graveyard is old, lichen crawling across many of the pock-marked stones. The night is dead silent and there is a bit of a sinister air about the place, intensified for each of us as we wander further away from the car and into the dark.
I’m ready for some terror, itching for that electrical exhilaration which emerges at such crossroads between the worlds. Any moment that bolt of fear will be shot from the shadows, sending the mind into a hypersensitive state whereby we gain a glance into the larger picture of what we are-and may become.
We’re tripping through the Gates of Death. I’m keyed up. Feeling “Voodoo.” Ghost hunter persona activated.
And then my flashlight hits a portrait of a young boy, etched into a headstone upon which the love of Mom and Dad-and Grandma and Grandpa-is proclaimed. At the base of the stone are placed several small toys and action figures.
The sought for spookiness is blasted away and there is nothing at all left to fear. I sit down on the damp ground and simply stare as my guts begin to grind. My own son is the same age as the buried boy. I can understand-but will not pretend to feel-the parent’s grief. The most powerful talismans are right before me, mass made in plastic. I don’t touch them. They’re too sacred.
Off in the distance I can hear the voices of my companions. Our mystic mission now seems as superficial as a scavenger hunt.
Perhaps I missed the muffled thumping on a casket lid down the aisle or the hollow hissings circling in some luminous mist about a burial plot. Maybe I failed to see the flickering form of an earth-bound spirit next to the ancient oak tree as I rejoined the gang. I certainly didn’t find our friend from the Ouija chat. That’s alright. I was too focused on what the Baron had decided to show me. And I wouldn’t forget.
What is death? As humans, we have an intrinsic fascination with its “emblems.” I remarked recently to a friend that death and sex, Thanatos and Eros, seem bound together on some deep level of the psyche which gives rise to our fashions and fetishisms. From the popularity of wearing small silver skulls accentuating some sexy funeral black to the painting of eyelids and reddening of lips on a paper pale face, we evoke the images of the dead and fuse them into our hot mammalian lives. The primordial need to reconcile our most basic life urges with the observation of our mortality is easily enough understood. But the dead do not explain death. The death-masks we wear facilitate a false familiarity.
Now I am dreaming. It’s a strange adventure where a nefarious pimp seduces two women who I try to protect. His presence is ambiguous and compelling. He is a black man in a white suit, smoking a stogie. The girls cannot resist his charm and end up driving away with him. Later on, I am driving down a freeway and see the girls, pole-dancing off to the side of the road. There is the man again, putting them to work, laughing as his cigar dangles from his lower lip. Suddenly, an accident occurs. A station wagon ahead of me has just smashed headlong into a tractor trailer. I get out and run to the crushed car in the event that I might help. Crawling in from the back, I discover an infant in a car seat. Its body is severed in half and yet it is still alive. I carefully cradle the baby in my arms and pour all my love into its fractured frame. The end is near and I am helpless to help. I can only hush it to sleep, singing a gentle lullaby. All the while, the smoking man watches.
I wake up and know the man was Ghuedhe, Loa of sex, death and the protector of small children. Like the Baron, he is teaching me. It is a week later and I am standing beside a hospital bed as a very sick friend elects to remove her ventilator and other life support apparatus. The sepsis her body has been fighting is now beyond cure and the end is inevitable. She wants to go without a tube in her throat. She wants the opportunity to say goodbye to her family and friends.
I feel awkward and surreal. All I can muster is the word “Hey…”
“Hay is for horses,” she replies, always one for the quick joke. She’s made this joke many times before. This will be the last.
I wanted so much to help but could only hold her hand. An hour later pain meds are given and she closes her eyes for the last time.
Did I mention the Ghuedhe are fond of laughter?
My earliest recollection of dealing with death was the passing of my grandmother. I was very young at the time and my family had driven in for the funeral. Of course, my parents had explained things to me and answered my blunt questions about death. So it was with great surprise that I saw all my relatives weeping and somber. I saw my Grandfather sobbing like a child and was stunned. I was too young to question pat parental platitudes and simply believed that, as I was told, Grandma had “gone to Heaven.” I couldn’t fathom why anyone was sad when she had essentially departed for Disneyland In The Sky and would be waiting for us to join her.
My life shuttled on, through school and college and marriage and a baby boy. People around me would receive their own tickets to the tomb but it wasn’t until my Father died, after an unsuccessful operation for an arterial anuerysm, that I felt what my family’s faith couldn’t shield from my Grandfather’s heart.
I would see my Father for the last time at the hospital where he died. I was kindly granted a viewing in some antiseptic morgue and his body bag was unzipped. Reality was becoming a blur around me and I felt as if everything was turning to static. I gently brushed his hair with my hand but his skin was like cool clay and my last visit with the man who raised me straddled some sickening line between the familiar form and the finality of the grave.
A knife would plunge into me repeatedly for weeks on end. I wept until my tear ducts dried up and I could do nothing more than dry heave in sudden spasms.
As I began to come back into myself and, once more, acclimate to the land of the living, I would realize that this experience-and all the pain which trailed after it-was my father’s final gift to me. It was a program downloaded onto the hardrive of my soul. And it had begun to run.
When my father passed, I was already a longtime student of esotericism and the occult. I had cycled through various schools, each teaching their own metaphysical schema and explaining, often in a neat and tidy fashion, exactly what happens to the human being after death. I had sought to expand my consciousness into realms beyond that which our corporeal senses equip us to know. Meditation, astral voyaging, dream work. I had extended myself far enough into the subtle spheres to know there was much more than my “body-suit” operating in time and space. But my grasp on the ultimate destiny of the human being beyond bodily life was found wanting as grief swept over me and no theory or speculation could provide comfort.
It was at this time that I began “talking to the dead.” Some deep intuition was stirred within me as I dealt with my sorrow using the only tools I had. Helpless to bring back the dead and unclear as to what was really happening on the other side of the veil, I simply reached out from some place that seemed to be in my chest and directed its energy towards my father. It was a type of projection but also a harmonizing with his basic energy and through this “beam” I was able to communicate beyond words. I would do this again and again and then bring this practice to the many other loved ones who would die thereafter. I was amazed when I recently sat with a Palliative Doctor as she discussed with the siblings of a friend how they might cope with the imminent death of their sister. In clear and simple terms, without imposition of any theology or metaphysic, she described to them the process my father’s death had spontaneously evoked in myself, asserting that an energy link could be formed through a projection and harmonizing-and that, through this, the needed love and support could be given…and received.
I would become very interested in the work of E. J. Gold after this time, esp. his ideas on video-gaming as a form of “Bardo-Training.” In fact, it was through Gold’s work that I first encountered the term Bardo. This would lead me to the Tibetan Book of the Dead (after it led me to play QUAKE for endless hours). The TBD led me to look up an old friend who was a Buddhist and soon thereafter I was studying Chogyman Trungpa and sitting in meditation with the local Shambhala group, identifying myself as a “Buddhist” even though I kept on with certain occult studies. All of this was very powerful and wonderful for me. Meditation was opening me up to insight into the reactionary nature of the mind and I was amazed at how the Tibetans actually had developed a “Science of Death.” This was no vague and whispy ploy to control through comfort. It was precise, frank and bestowed compassion even as it confronted the ultimate dissolution of personal identity. This was transcendental and progressive action.
I then received a phone call one morning from a frantic friend. Apparently something had happened to the World Trade Center and I turned on the TV. Death was witnessed, indiscriminate and no respecter of persons, bringing down more people than the mind could fathom in a mere moment. My Buddhist quiescence cracked like rotten floorboards before the impact and weight of panic, fear and outrage. Shortly thereafter my personal life was thrown into upheaval and I was once more pushed off balance, slammed with grief and forced to face the inevitable and painful changes of a life whose nature-as well as destiny-is impermanence.
Bardo training with QUAKE was great fun. Panic could be stilled enough to steady aim and launch a grenade into a zombie’s guts. I learned a lot from QUAKE. My skills of concentration, visualization and my work with dream states improved. I fortified the astral body and clarified some of its perceptive centers. But we also have an emotional body and this, too, is part of our unseen life. We take this with us into the Bardo and its limitations are preyed upon, leading us to either illumination or dissolution and rebirth. And, if there was one thing I was learning from Gold and Trungpa, it was that the Bardo isn’t merely a holding station for the deceased. We are lost in its Labyrinth right now. It is extreme stress and upheaval that wakes us up to this condition. However, that same stress and upheaval can make navigating its corridors and hallways almost impossible.
Some situations may require quick wits and a double-barreled shotgun. Others will ask for much more. Control over the emotions. The ability to discern between illusion and reality. A connection to a higher frame of mind from which an aerial view of the assault on one’s personal life might be seen in a more strategic and spiritually inclined perspective.
A marine stepping through an interdimensional slipgate led me into the Bardo. But there are trap doors beneath trap doors and the Bardo Run goes far beyond a computer screen.
Celebrities die and I feel very little, even as the internet lights up with momentary tributes and gossip. We’ve divided up people in the world and accord a greater importance to those who are known by many than the unknowns who live amongst us. We make a special crisis over a universal fact and replace our revulsion with the next bout of media entertainment. In some ways, this keeps our awareness of death compartmentalized and controlled. We can feel shock and sadness but need not have our lives shattered by it. After all, we didn’t really know the pop star found on the hotel room floor. We can return to our lives as needed and get on with what the Tibetans call the “Animal Realm,” a Bardo of instinctual reactions and somnambulistic patterns.
I know people who won’t attend funerals as it is “too upsetting.” Fear has dictated a circuitous route in the labyrinth of life and the hour of passing creeps steadily from behind. Diversion, excitement, anxiety and malaise all keep the mind from attending to the small yet persistent ticking built into the bio-machine. Yet that timeline, along which we race, is the backdrop for our shot in the physical universe, our flash in the pan. We’d better look long and hard at the situation we’re in lest our lives implode in the twinkling of an eye and become a testament to a herded animal life instead of the Voyage of a Soul.
I’ve walked alongside death long enough to see a certain meaning in the sweep of the scythe, a meaning present from the headlines of tabloids to the obituaries of a small farm town newspaper. I could add to the anecdotes above and tell you how my best friend’s heart stopped beating at the age of 30 and how I gave a eulogy for him to a family I had never met (and who he didn’t particularly like). I could tell tales of helping a funeral director hoist a “big and tall” corpse from the bathroom where a toilet bowl heart attack stole from the world one of the kindliest spirits I’ve known. Death, smeared in sweat and fever, at the local Hospice center. Flatlines at the hospital. Passing conversation in the hallway: “Remember so and so? She suddenly died last week…”
And every one of these deaths is overshadowed by that little boy’s headstone in the graveyard where Samedhi put his hand on me.
My pursuit of the occult world has only grown in momentum. The Great Mystery of Death underpins many of my studies and explorations. I am hardly unique in this. However, extending knowledge into this “Great Unknown” does not seem to hold the ultimate answer we desperately desire. I recall Dr. Frankenstein, whose grotesque experiments were born of a reaction to loss and sorrow. He wished to evoke a power whereby suffering need not be. There are occult schools that teach the building and fortification of one’s astral self that life and consciousness may continue even after the inevitable bodily decay. This is one step away from the ill-directed desire to preserve the body itself. Hope is held onto, Death’s cold gaze evaded. Cryogenics has shifted from Sci-Fi to a lucrative service. Vampires are in vogue. Modern medicine will at least circumvent the slew of illnesses that dropped frontier folk like flies.
Are we running ahead, towards life, or running away, haunted by the most ancient of fears while being hunted by its progressing pace? Perhaps more importantly: is there an alternative to running in either direction?
All of my encounters with death have left their own unique scars on my heart. At the same time, each one has been a Gift. To fail in recognizing this would be a horrid ingratitude. Each life I have loved and lost has reminded me, for a brief incandescent moment, that I, too, will die-and yet am still alive. The utter inescapability of my death makes it more certain than any other event. In fact, it is so certain, I sometimes enter into the Gnosis of it having already occurred. It is a done deal. I’m already dead. This is not imagined. It is known.
This awareness most often comes to me at night, when I wake from dreams. I am once more conscious as a bodily being and yet still connected to my sleeping self. It is a strange “Interzone” where I suddenly know that I am already wiped out of existence and forgotten. Yet, somehow, I am still here. My awareness is like a rubber band, pulled across an abyss, immersed into its final destiny and then snapped back. I am reborn into Time. It is a Miracle. It is being raised from the dead and returning to the land of the living.
In Voudon, there is the Mystery of the Zombi. This often has dark and sinister associations. The Zombi is seen as something of puppet, a being whose personality has been expunged and whose postmortem animation is directed by some alien force. A Zombi is “bad” and, certainly, no one wants to be one.
My own understanding of this symbolism may differ from popular conception. I have already spoken of the Loa, Ghuedhe, the Lord of both Sex (which is to say Life) and Death. In his “Grimoire Ghuedhe,” Voudon Master Michael Bertiaux includes a question and answer section, specifically addressing the Mysteries of the Zombi. I wish to cite a portion of this here:
“Q: Is it true that the dead are perfect in…Universe G (that is, Universe Ghuedhe), that they are really in the Resurrection?
“A: That is the meaning of the “life” in that universe.
“Q: Was St. Paul, the Catholic writer of the Epistles, an initiate of them or one who knew of them?
“A: What more could his writings indicate so clearly?
“Q: But what of the decay of the dead bodies which happens to them in this world?
“A ”That is the difference between the body inherited from Adam (the body in Universe A) and the glorified body which is the hope of the True Resurrection in Universe G.”
I found this to be a tremendously powerful passage. The implication is a Resurrection (or waking up) of our own Spirits which may then reinhabit the corporeal form. This is very close to what I had experienced in my own, quite literal, “wake up calls.”
The “Zombi” is not a wretched creature, bereft of soul. Rather, the Zombi is infused with Soul! It typifies the Soul-Self directing action as opposed to the animal self on autopilot.
There is much more to this Soul-Self than the awareness of how miraculous its position in time and space is. The cognizance of mortality leaves the consciousness with nothing to define its existence save its own eternal nature beyond the vicissitudes of change. All of our experiences with death and dying have been leading us to this singular point. We have been shown that our natural tendency towards filling our minds with anything but this awareness is linked intrinsically into an attachment to the illusion of permanence. The real confrontation with the meaning of our mortality is not through the sorrow of loss or the stark experiences of watching others die and decay. It is through our own death, consciously and willfully invoked, while still in the body! This is not some morbid meditation on an imagined dissolution of form. It cuts much deeper than that. Form is shown to be a projection of mind. Therefore, mind is entered to cut into its core.
Death is not the subsequent rotting of the flesh-frame. It is a moment where radical change in consciousness occurs. The practice of meditation evokes this change without waiting on the demise of the body. The result is two-fold. One achieves ever deepening degrees of awareness of a universal consciousness on the transpersonal level-and one allows that same consciousness to enter the human form with greater degrees of freedom to express itself.
This consciousness is free of fear for it apprehends the illusory nature of existence and therefore the illusory nature of what we think of as “death.” The trouble is that we arrive at this Gnosis by cutting a route through the layers of mind which shrink in fear at the suggestion that their points of reference are not real in any permanent sense. More so than the scare of skeletal spectres, the fear induced by confrontation with impermanence is almost unbearable. It threatens not just the mortal life of the individual but the basic assumptions underpinning reality itself. One must willingly step onto a carpet knowing that it will ripped out from under the feet…with no floor beneath.
Mammalian survival instincts recoil at the thought of this. We are hardwired toward self-preservation. It is through this tenacious drive that we continue to reproduce and human life on the planet continues. But why? What is the purpose of this outward flowing into the future? We can look back into our known history to see human awareness evolving. Simplicity moves towards sophistication, superstition towards sobriety. It has been a long standing and arrogant conceit in our religions that proclaims “Man” to be chief amongst living beings. We are declared created in the “image of God” and our dilemma is not one of growth but acceptance and subservience to “correct” belief. The facts indicate otherwise. We are at an awkward and uncertain phase of being. Half animal, half spirit. We are pulled in two directions. Our momentum pushes us beyond the limits of our present incarnation and our evolutionary make-up shackles us to the tendencies which brought us to this point, tendencies which now oppose our ultimate destination.
There is a vast difference between the evolutionary aberration of suicide and the action taken by Thich Quang Duc, the Vietnamese monk, who burned himself to death on June 11, 1963. Thich Quang Duc understood the nature of impermanence and shot an arrow into the public mind which would not miss its mark. The photo of his burning body is now famous. It also provokes the questions: how-and why-would a human being do this to himself? He cannot be written be off as an unstable mind. His Buddhism attests to a super-sanity. It is, perhaps, a sanity our own madness would prefer to evade. Thich Quang Duc knew that his life was a portion of the Universe whose nature is perpetual change. He also understood the pulse of life and what it is moving towards. On behalf of that Greater Life, he exposed the Roman Catholic persecution of Buddhists, the perpetuation of cruelty and insanity.
We fear death and yet we often come up empty handed when it comes to something worth dying for. Death is the price of Life. It is prearranged and built into our system ere we are conceived. If we do not have anything worth dying for, what is it we are living for?
Life and Death are glibly said to be two sides of the same coin. But, as we look at the endless changes that underlie all we conceive of as substantial, we see that our field of awareness is one of Being and Non-Being. Our bodies, continuously built up from a basic DNA platform, are being washed down bathtub drains every night. Seven years and all cells have been replaced. The person who lived then is no more. We have effectively died and been cremated. What was is no more. What is, therefore, shall no longer be. And just as our bodies are replaced with new and intelligent life, so shall our Being move into Continuance, even beyond the event we label “Death.”
It is my perspective that by going beyond our attachments and more deeply into the awareness of Life Itself, we confront crisis and come into a more fearless and compassionate, creative and vital path of action. We don’t attain to a oneness with the Universal Mind. We enter consciously into the Oneness that has always been.
That having been said, we do not shed our skin-sheath to find some conclusive repose in a Nirvanic state. We are human. Our illumination and elevation does not preclude the nature of what we are. Our emotions, our loves…these things remain with us-and they make us what we are as part of the Plan.
In Aleister Crowley’s religion of Thelema, the morbidity and repulsion surrounding death is traded for the idea of the “feast.” One’s passing is the “Greater Feast,” a celebratory event connected to the great joy of life’s continuity. As I see it, Joy and Sorrow are also two sides of a coin. If the grim and somber view towards death holds us down from our Utmost, so may the opposite view. I do not feel compelled to rise above the loss of loved ones by denying my pain at their passing.
“It’s my party…and I’ll cry if I want to.”
A dear friend of mine simply said that the difficulty of death is found in the fact they we, the “living,” are left to “miss the loveliness” of those we’ve lost.
I felt this truth when I sat on the damp graveyard grass before the headstone of the little boy I wrote of at the beginning of this essay. The greater the loveliness, the deeper the love-the sharper the pain.
As Morrissey sings in “Mama Lay Softly On The Riverbed”:
Life isn’t much to lose
It’s just so lonely here without you
Will we be back for another go on the Terra via some Reincarnational Route? For me, this is not the question. Rather, I want to know: what Reincarnational Route brought me here…now? It’s not an issue of “will I come back?” It’s a matter of “I’m back…again…now what?”
We connect to God by God connecting to us in this moment. There is no other moment. If God reaches into us, we may rightly call it “Grace.” This evokes within our hearts a deep gratitude, a flowing of compassion through our lives. This current calls up pains we’d rather anesthetize. It calls up love we didn’t know we could transmit. It shatters us and in doing so it shatters the scales which have shielded out eyes from the glory and goodness which is at the heart of our Being.
When I attend funerals, I find that I must touch the body laid out so nicely in the casket. On one hand, I am confronting the stark reality of death’s heaviness. I never think that she looks like she’s sleeping. She’s DEAD. And as my hand touches hers, I confirm this. But at the same time, I feel something of the reading of the Tibetan Book Of The Dead, which is really called “The Book of Liberation through Hearing in the Bardo.” The body, now well chilled and lifeless, remains a link to the mind which journeyed through it. By means of this link, I give the best of what I am. I have not forgotten. I still love you. I give you this love and will continue to do so. You don’t go into the Beyond alone. I’m a part of you and you are a part of me.
I’m not trying to comfort myself in this. There is no comfort. I open to the pain and let it move through me. I open to my doubts, my confusion. Let the carpet be ripped from beneath me. Let me fall. All that matters is sending the love I have. And as I fall into an abyss of uncertainty, I send it with all I have.
All I have written is to be read by the living. These words could only be written by one who is alive and, at the same time, they will soon be a testament to one who has died. It is my deep hope that you, the reader, might find something of value herein, something which helps escort you further on the path, even if it be a city block. Our lives are meant to be ALIVE. My dissolving body returns to the earth and feeds its endless processes of growth. My internal world of thought and feeling likewise returns to its Source. As the dust of my body feeds the energy of earth life, may the thought and life imbued in these words feed the Heart of the Child growing through our experience on this plane.
Death and Life may be two sides of the same coin but they come together to evoke Love in this world. We will love in both sorrow and joy. The scriptures do not lie when they proclaim that “God is Love.”
I now turn to Ghuedhe. We go awry if we think of him in terms of our humanity. We also make a great miss if we divorce his nature from our humanity. Ghuedhe is a Bodhisattva. He doesn’t fit the bill of piety. Life, however, is not pious. It is real.
Ghuedhe is in our flesh. He is in our longings and desires and all that makes us human. At the same time, he is outside of this. He is the negative space around our temporal lives. Ghuedhe will come crashing the party, playing up every offense, obscenity and opposition. He is a Gift from God for he is here to bring us into balance. One lens of the glasses punched out and the other inscrutable.
When we have been pushed, pulled and punched into what we’ve denied, we are then given the picture of the Child. We can see, with a clear vision, the sacrament of life, the potential bristling within the boy, the bright beginnings behind the eyes of the girl.
The details will take care of themselves. We are liberated when our compassion flows into the little ones-for we find in them ourselves. We then become ourselves.
I pour rum into a glass and raise it to Papa Ghuedhe. I raise it to Baron Samedhi, Lord of the Dead. I raise it to Manman Brigette, who has taught me more than can be conveyed in words.
I raise this glass to YOU, dear reader. Already maimed and claimed by the scythe, already a denizen of the grave, you LIVE. I drink to what you will do, to the love you’ll send forth.
I drink to you going beyond yourself and into your SELF.
I give my heart to Papa Ghuedhe-and, in doing do, I give my heart to you.