Transitus, gloria mundi

Charles Cowling





The Transitus festival held just over a week ago was a success. Lots of people came to find out about death on a sunny day when they could have been off picnicking. Considering the financial risk the organisers seem to have exposed themselves to, success must feel especially sweet.

Because Transitus explores ideas and experiences around the continuation of consciousness after death, it also exposes itself to being wryly written off as a congregation of new-age tree-hugging moon-bayers. This is the reductionist tendency of educated people schooled in the exercise of the critical faculty. The clever person is the person who can point out why something’s no good. We have education system which teaches children to backseat drive Shakespeare, that’s why.

There were workshops exploring ideas of the afterlife; analogies between birth and death; psychic painting; soul midwifery; woodland burial; funeral rituals; sacred music. There was a performance of Laura Wade’s play Colder Than Here. There were displays of coffins and sounding bowls. There was more going on than you could possibly get to, which is why we are all going to come back next year.

There was a brilliant talk by Peter Fenwick on end of life experiences. It was a coup to get him to deliver the keynote speech because he is a man of science who has made a scientific study of what dying feels like emotionally and spiritually. The only way to poo-poo him is to adduce data. If you haven’t read The Art of Dying yet, buy a copy now.

Transitus is a big tent. It was Peter Fenwick who, in the minds of the sceptical, was possibly most influential in tethering it to reality and relevance.

You don’t have to feel comfortable with everything Transitus explores to feel at home in its big tent. Here’s its manifesto:

The Transitus Network comprises a growing group of people working in a way that honours all aspects of life – mind, body, spirit and emotions – that are involved with the sacred process of dying. Our aims are: to release fears and taboos; support those dying and bereaved; raise awareness of ‘green’ and family-based approaches to death; and to encourage the acceptance of the concept of continuity of consciousness. The Network also supports its members so that none of us feels alone. Members include those working with: midwifing the soul; music thanatology; alternative funerals and celebrations; natural burials; grief counselling; life after death; related workshops; and more.

There are lots of what you could broadly call funeral reformers out there, most of whose aims overlap. There are organisations like the Natural Death Centre and green fuse. There are individuals like Tony Piper. There is the celebrancy movement. There are ecologists. Why on earth don’t they all get together on the same platform?

It all depends on what you reckon to be the value of a consensus, and the price of compromise necessary to achieve that. I like the ferment that’s presently going on because it is so squabble-free. Collaboration is all, governed by mutual respect.

Cacophony, that’s what Cynthia Beal calls it. Collegial cacophony. There’s a creative dynamic in that.

To join Transitus write to Judith Pidgeon, Ivy Cottage, Bath Road, Sturminster Newton, Dorset DT10 1DU. Her email address is transitus@btinternet.com. They’ll be very pleased to have you on board.

Here’s some feedback on the festival, transcribed by the indefatigable Susan Morris of the Natural Death Centre:

“Absolutely marvellous workshops – they really connected with what I am doing and trying to achieve. I have met a lot of people.”

“Fascinating. People talked about something not normally talked about. I feel less afraid to discuss death now.”

“It covered so much. I shall now join Transitus. It’s all complex and all encompassing. “

“ I have met people today that I didn’t think it would be possible to so . I have made connections today that will last. I feel inspired. Thank you for a great day.“

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