Ask a Necromancer, by Amanda Downum

Turn and Face the Stranger

Once again we reach the long cold dark of the year, a time for changes, endings, and beginnings. The Deadlands is changing formats to a quarterly print publication. Changes loom for the necromancer as well.

I’ve written about how much attending mortuary school meant to me. In my previous life as an English major, I was frequently asked if I would use my degree to become a teacher. I laughed, I cried, I hissed in horror and disgust; I most certainly would not. By my second year in the mortuary program, however, I realized that I had found a subject I would love to teach. Supervising apprentices at work has confirmed how much delight I take in showing people how to find arteries.

After moving to the East Coast, I began looking into the various funeral service programs in the area. It was a long-term goal. I needed more experience in the field, after all, and to be hired as full-time faculty at a college, a master’s degree. One particular program was very responsive, and I scheduled an appointment to talk to the head of the department and maybe take a tour.

I went in just to ask questions and get a feel for what I would need for this distant future goal. I left with an invitation to apply for an adjunct position. So it came to pass that your very own necromancer will be instructing a new generation of baby embalmers in the spring. One might almost describe me as giddy about this opportunity, if giddiness were the sort of thing that described lich queens. Which of course it is not. We are dour, icy, and implacable.

And now, our last question of the year. John writes:

I require a short explanation before asking my question. There are those who believe life after death (as an individual, with memories and separate identity) is possible only to those who have prepared a suitable afterlife body by working on themselves with diligence, in life. The work involves self-observation, rigid honesty with oneself, centering in the present moment, and expanding consciousness through certain exercises. It also involves absorbing an energy, and with it guidance, from a sort of infinite sea of intelligence that exists within our cosmos but not usually detectable. Its form is not supernatural. It is a being of nature. It looks through our eyes as we live our lives, however we live, but objectively, and most people are unaware it’s there. The body in question is sometimes called the rainbow body (in Tibet), sometimes the Body Kesdjan (as in GI Gurdjieff’s teaching), and it has other names in other traditions. Once it passes from this world, it moves on to a “solar realm” and evolves there, as it tries to make itself useful. So my question is, what do you think of this idea–that an afterlife must be earned? (The selves of those who don’t cultivate that body simply disintegrate. There is no hell or heaven.)

That came perilously close to “this is more a comment than a question,” but did finally achieve the form of a question. In theory, and as a writer, I’m all in favor of any sort of immortality or transcendence–corporeal or incorporeal–that can be attained through study, diligence, and sacrifice. As a serious agnostic, I won’t rule out the possibility. I’m skeptical of the concept of complete knowledge as an attainable state, especially as it refers to the absence of delusion, but I also have the sort of ADHD that makes meditation incredibly difficult, so I may not be the best person to ask. I wish all such seekers the best of luck.

Amanda Downum is the author of The Necromancer Chronicles, Dreams of Shreds & Tatters, and the World Fantasy Award-nominated collection Still So Strange. Not content with armchair necromancy, she is also a licensed mortician. She lives in Austin, TX with an invisible cat. You can summon her at a crossroads at midnight on the night of a new moon, or find her on Twitter as @stillsostrange.

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