Anyone who deals with death and its consequences - which means all of us - should read this eloquent and sensitive book. Billed as a “guide to death and the mysterious world beyond,” The Journey Into Spirit is written by a Druid whose career (and calling) has been spent working in morgues. He shares his personal experiences, weaving in Celtic philosophy (which, he explains, is because that’s his own tradition) and theories of the afterlife from across the span of written history.

The author begins with the body, gently describing what happens to people physically when they die, something with which he is intimately familiar. He brings in other aspects of the experience as he shares the respectful energies of his workplace and co-workers, and the explosion of grief that happens when people come to view their loved ones’ bodies. He shares how to hold space for those moments, when seeing a loved one’s corpse brings the reality of loss home to us in a very physical, visceral way.

Hughes’ explanation of grief as a necessary and natural process is excellent. He urges readers to let their grief unfold naturally, not trying to “get over it,” as we are often told. He points out that “we can no longer carry on connecting to the deceased in the way we are used to. The relationship has changed, and if we do not respond to that change, we become lost in the search for what we have lost. To forge a new relationship with the spirit is one of the healthiest tools you can develop in life, for it will cause you to understand what it is to be human and what it means to die.” Grief is about relationship, and can reach into all facets of life.

I found the entire book a delight to read, but the final third, where Hughes delves into the philosophy of the spirit and the soul, and what comprises our Universe(s), was my favorite. He acknowledges that he is trying to write about concepts that are well beyond words. He says that he knows he may come under fire for the views he shares, and writes, “this is unavoidable, I fear, for in a universe of infinite possibilities and potential, there can be no absolute truth. We can only strive to serve our truth by our unique connection and perception of it.” The ideas he shares about the nature of life and death are thought-provoking and deep. He provides a section in each chapter that urges the reader to ponder their own experiences and philosophies. These include questions and sometimes meditations.

This book, with its overarching view of reality, extends beyond the purview of Starhawk’s The Pagan Book of Living and Dying, which is mainly focused on rituals and practices. It reminds me more of The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying by Sogyal Rinpoche, actually. At the end of the book, you will indeed find suggestions for rituals and practices. But this book’s strength lies in the inner journey it takes us on. By reflecting on death and our beliefs about what happens to us after we die, Hughes guides us to shine a light on ways to better live.

~review by Nikki Starcat Shields

Author: Kristoffer Hughes
Llewellyn, 2014
pp.292, $19.99

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