Welcome to Heckheim!

Heckheim means “Hell House” and it’s a term my friend Petra came up with back when her then-roommates decided to oust her on the sly while she and her then-husband were away at Burningman. It’s a cautionary tale on how roommate relationships can go sour almost out of the blue. It’s almost like everyone just pretends everything is fine, and no one every says anything, until it’s too late.

And maybe that’s an analogy for just about everything else, too – we act normal because the alternative is to escalate a crisis prematurely. If we can pretend that there’s no elephant in the room, then maybe somebody else will have to deal with it first.

So, what’s the opposite of Hell House, or Heckheim? Valhalla? What is your view of Paradise, even if you’re an atheist? Some Pagans profess a belief in the Summerlands, but that’s not exactly Paradise on Earth – it’s more of an interim place between lifetimes. The Christian Heaven is also an otherworldly, post-mortem experience, as are the various versions of Hells proposed by Judeo-Christian and Buddhist thought. By contrast, utopian and dystopian worlds are both potentially in the here and now.

There’s something a bit static about all the otherworldly places that puts me off. Even C.S. Lewis’ post-apocalyptic Narnia (the one that revives for a few deserving heroes after the destruction of Narnia in “The Last Battle”) seems a bit … well, it did imply a series of evolutionary stages where each one was more wonderful than the last. Mikhail Bulgakov’s novel “The Master and Margarita” also describes some sort of afterlife, a reward of sorts, that’s bestowed almost as an afterthought on two of the main characters, and it’s also a dead end. A small house of peace and contentment, but then what?

Some of the esoteric literature seems to imply that one’s state of mind at the time of one’s death is a major determinant in what happens to you (“you” being some sort of consciousness). If you are overly attached to material concerns or relationships, you can get stuck in the “Bardos” which are a Tibetan concept where your soul can stay permanently enmeshed in the soap opera that was your life, kind of like re-living the same bad dreams for all eternity.

Jewish folklore implies that every Jew should die with the “Shema” prayer on his or her lips. But why? Someone asked me this and I couldn’t answer why this might be important. Maybe because we don’t know what’s coming afterwards, so why not put ourselves in a better frame of mind for the Great Crossing just in case? It’s an affirmation of faith, of alignment with whatever Higher Power there might actually be – whether it exists or not.

I had a nightmare where aliens were about to kill me, and I said this prayer expecting to die, but instead the aliens vanished. If I’d been intending to banish the aliens using a magickal formula, I wouldn’t have picked the Shema necessarily. And yet, to my surprise, it gave me strength to face destructive outside forces, whether those forces defeated me or not. The prayer means, “Hear O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is One” and perhaps it was also an act of defiance for me to declare that in the face of death. After all, we can’t always control what happens to us, but if we have any free will, we can use it to determine our attitude – and attitude is the start of all action.

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