Saturday, July 7, 2007

Heavens and Heavens

I had a conversation about heaven and hell with my Hawaiian friends. It was sometime after my 3rd birthday. I had asked my Mother if we were Christian, because Lono had said we probably were and I wanted to be sure. My Mother assured me that I was Christian, as I had been baptised. I told her I didn't know what that meant, so she told me I'd had water sprinkled on me.

"That makes you Christian?"

"Yes. It means you will go to heaven if you keep being good."

"Where's heaven?"

"It's a place in the sky where everybody is happy all the time."

"Where in the sky?"

"I don't know; ask your Father when he gets home."

Instead, I reported back to Lani and Lono, because they gave reliably clearer answers. I said we were definitely Christian, but the heaven thing needed explaining.

They tried, but it made no sense to me. "It's a place in the sky." OK, how do I get there? I don't fly. "God carries you up." Right. So if it's in the sky, why can't I see it on a clear day? "It's invisible." Right. So how can I have fun there if I can't see all the fun things you get to play with, cause everything's invisible? "You don't have fun, God just makes you happy." How? "He puts happiness inside you." Why do I have to go to the sky for that? "The alternative is Hell. You don't want that."

I asked what Kahiko had to say about all this. They told me that ancient Hawaiians didn't make such things a big central issue of their worship. I said, yeah, but they think something about it, right?

So Lani said that some people believed in reincarnation and some didn't. He said that of those that believe in reincarnation some believe you take a rest between lives and some don't. Of those that think that you rest between lives, there's general agreement folks don't rest all in the same place. So there isn't heaven and hell, there's heavens and more heavens, different ones for different people.

Of course we sidetracked for an explanation of "reincarnation". I then wanted to know if all the Hawaiian heavens were invisible heavens scattered around throughout the sky, and I was told that, no, they were where you couldn't see them because they were all in the ground.

But isn't that where Hell is? Doesn't that mean Hawaiian heavens are all hell? No, Lani said (with some exasperation now), because Hawaiians don't regard the Earth as evil the way Christians do.

OK then, how do I get to one of these heavens, I said.

Lani told me about jumping-off places. After you're dead your soul goes wandering around until you find a high place, called a jumping-off place, where if you jump off from it in the right direction the ground will open up for you and you will fall into your own special heaven.

If you jump the wrong way? The ground doesn't open and your soul is broken in the fall, and is doomed to linger at that spot forever, wishing it had chosen better.

How do you know which way to jump? You don't. But you'll know when you've found a jumping-off place because there will be the souls of dead children all around the bottom waiting for you to get ready to jump so they can shout directions to you and try to trick you into jumping the wrong way, just to be mean (as children often are.)

It's a lovely horror story which visited some real living anguish upon me several years later when I took it too seriously. I'll save that for another time but for now, here is a painting I made in the 90s of a jumping-off tree pretty much as I envisioned it hearing the story. Just the faces of the broken souls appear out of the darkness. The tree glows because it calls the dead soul to climb up into it, to jump from it. The children's souls at the bottom, trying to confuse the jumper, are brightly colored by mana that the dead can see.

At the lower left some demons haunting the jumper are hanging about. Our jumper ought to jump into the middle of them. That's the trick. By the way, the smiling demon at the far lower left will smile for you upside-down, too.

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