Angry Dead, Toxic Dead – Follow Up

When I wrote “Angry Dead, Toxic Dead”, I didn’t exactly expect it to become the topic of another discussion night at the local metaphysical store; The Wandering Owl. However, that is exactly what happened, and I found it it be an enlightening experience.

Several things came up that I feel deserve to be expanded upon.

I want to elaborate a little bit on my current understanding of the nature of the spirit, and about death. I have pretty complicated views on both these things, and I think both deserve a little more exposition.

As I understand it, the spirit is not one singular entity, but more of a unified whole composed of numerous parts. It is analogous in many way to the physical body, which is composed of countless numbers of discrete cells, organs and systems. Overall however, the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. The level of organization in my body is something greater than any individual cell or organ. And, as is the nature of cells, they multiply, and are swapped out when the cease to function.

The spirit is similar in many ways, at least in the way I conceive it. “How many parts?” is a matter of some debate, because honestly I don’t know. That is one of the things that defines my view of the spirit, is that is dynamic and adaptable. The overall number of “parts” changes over time, based on a variety of factors. Sometimes parts drop away that are no longer needed. Sometimes new parts are added as a marker of some measure of spiritual growth. I suspect the number and kinds of parts of my spiritual “parts” is very different than ten years ago, and will be different ten years from now.

Obviously, there are all kinds of implications and nuances that go along with this. Certain parts can be isolated and healed. Others can rot, and have to be stripped away, for the health of the whole. As was a big thing in shamanic communities in the near-past, some spiritual parts can be “lost”, and might have to be retrieved. Just as a generality, I would argue that some measure of “soul loss” is natural, and might even be healthy. The fact is, I am not the person I was ten years ago, and my spirit reflects this. Sometimes “outgrowing” our proverbial skins could be a good thing.

In addition to this, spirits don’t exist in isolation. We leave spiritual “pieces” all over the place, as do other people. That is part of the process of how we shape meaning in our lives. Our homes and objects are dotted with little bits of ourselves. The things we create, the people we come to know, all of them are touched with pieces of spirits. It is also a two way street, and the people we know and the meaning in our lives does the same thing to our spirits. Connections are made, and bonds as well as spirits are shared.

It’s like countless little drops of water suspended in a spider’s web.

Death, in light of this model, is a “breaking down” of all the spiritual parts we have at the moment we pass away. Some parts live on as ancestors, or ghosts, or some other form. Some are lost forever, and some are recycled into whatever comes next. Some parts of us live on in our loved ones, and in the things that we leave behind. But just like the cells in our body once we die, the spirit starts to break down as well.

It is a completely natural process in this sense. I touched upon this kind of thing in the last post, so I am not going to detail it all here.

As such, I want to circle back to one of the points raised in discussion. In the last post, I talked about violent death, traumatic death, as leaving behind angry spirits (pieces). If left untreated (through rites, mourning, what have you), some spirits can go bad, and become the kind that only wish to inflect suffering on others. These are no longer the angry dead, but the toxic dead. They are polluted, and poisonous.

The question that came up in discussion was; what can we do about the angry dead and/or the toxic dead?

Caring for the Angry Dead

Several different people at the discussion group weighed in on this topic, and I thought their responses were nothing short of fantastic. I wanted to recap a few of the ideas here.

1) I briefly hinted at this in my last post, but I wanted to reiterate here. “Rest in peace” is not just a quint platitude, but is often the motivation behind burial ceremonies and mourning rites. The idea being, to help placate and “heal” the angry dead, and help them work through unresolved issues so they don’t become toxic.

Death ceremonies are also for the living. Like I mentioned in the last post, violent deaths hurt/wound the living too. The connections we share with the dead (especially loved ones), are torn away, and “tear out” pieces of our spirits too. In the case of violent death, healing is for both the living and the dead.

2) Offerings and placations. The idea being to help the angry dead come to terms with what has happened. To help “calm” them, and to help heal them. This can be a lot of work, and a lot of negotiation. They fact is, like many angry people, the angry dead might not listen, or might not accept what has happened to them. There are a lot of different forms this can take.

3) Holding space for them. The idea here being, creating a space or environment that gives the angry dead proper space and the time to work through their unresolved anger, so that it doesn’t become toxic. It might involve any or all of the things listed above. The way I understood it, the point is to make the angry dead “comfortable” and “sage”, so that they have the time to calm down and work through their death in a more constructive manner.

4) Banishing. Sometimes, the angry just don’t listen, and you can’t get them to calm down no matter what you do. Sometimes those feelings of anger might go unresolved, or the dead may openly refuse to face them. What do you do in that case? One of the points that was raised was to “take all their energy and get rid of them.” The point I think is if the angry dead refuse to be cooperative, sometimes the best thing to do is to protect yourself and those around you. To “diminish” the angry dead, and send them away, minimizing both the harm to yourself as well as others. This can apply to the toxic dead too.

Caring for (dealing with?) the Toxic Dead

One of the questions that was raised during the discussion is; what do you do about the toxic dead? Keep in mind we are talking about a whole other level of nasty here. While it is in some way normal for the dead to be confused, or even angry (in the case of violence), the toxic dead are what happens when that anger and hatred goes unacknowledged and untreated. To use a rough analogy, it is what happens when deep wounds go untreated, and become infected.

When the anger is left to fester, the hatred left to ferment, and the calls for vengeance and the sufferings for others becomes the only motivation, that is when you get the toxic dead. And speaking frankly at this point, there is little else anyone can really do for them at this point. In my own experience, they don’t tend to listen to reason, or even want to be placated. They want to stay angry, and they want to hurt people. I don’t much care for dichotomies, but the toxic dead may be a case of the truly evil.

I would say once the dead become toxic, there is little left in the area of diplomatic solutions. Only two real options are left for dealing with the toxic dead.

1) Banishing: As I raised this point previously, I am not going to harp on it all that much. The idea being, is diminishing the toxic dead so that they can cause little harm to others, and sending them away. This can be a lot more difficult with the toxic dead, for reasons I will detail in a minute

2) Pulverizing: This might strike you as an odd word choice, but hopefully you will see what I mean. As I said before, death is a kind of “breaking” of the spirit into various parts. Violent death is more of a “shattering.” However, it is some of these pieces that remain behind that become the toxic dead. They can be “broken/shattered” again. In other words, the dead can die again. They can be shattered to the point that they are practically nothing, or have been pulverized into something else. I imagine it as a kind of spiritual entropy.

Perhaps a good analogy is a clay pot. For most of its life, it could be considered whole. But then it falls off the table. Smash! In effect, the pot has ceased to be a whole pot, just as the dead have ceased to be living. But the parts still remain. If you had the reason to, you could keep smashing those shards until they are nothing but fine clay sand. That is a far cry, and quite distinct from being a whole pot.

All analogies aside, I feel a certain disclaimer is in order. I feel “don’t try this at home” doesn’t really convey what I am trying to say here. Inevitably, there is going to be that person that reads this and goes off to hunt for the toxic dead.

Don’t. For the love of whatever you cherish, Don’t. I do not have heaps of experience with the toxic dead, but the ones I have encountered are nasty. As in don’t ever try this by yourself kind of nasty. This was a point actually raised during the discussion. These sorts of spirits are really bad news. Like one person taking on an armada bad news. You would be the one, of course. Unless you brought an army, which is kind of the point. Don’t deal with these things alone, and specialists in nasty things should probably be among them. Allies are important. Also, so it a crapton of heavy caliber cleansing. In my experience, not only are they singularly nasty, they also have a habit of polluting other things, infecting other people. They like to spread that shit around.

Think of Nago the boar demon from Princess Mononoke. Think of the pollution monster voiced by Tim Curry in Fern Gulley. Seriously, don’t try this at home.

Military Dead

All of this could imply that there are very serious implications to not only being killed, but the taking of other lives as well. I speak as a hunter here, and as I mentioned in my last post, taking a life does something to your own spirit.

This is some thinking out loud, but something I also mentioned in the discussion. I wonder about soldiers, not just ours, but everyone’s. Regardless whether “enemy” or “friend”, most soldiers either have taken lives, or had their own taken from them.

I wonder about those military dead that still linger.

But I also wonder about those that came back, the ones that lived. Righteous or not, they still have the dead on their hands. Would they come back with broken spirits, carrying the weight of the dead? I would think so. I would also say there may well be a deep spiritual component to things like PTSD.

I do not think anyone can be that intimate with violence and death, and not be effected by it.

How many military dead still linger? How many broken spirits came back?

Native Americans

Which leads me to my next session of thinking out loud. Here in America, we built our country on the genocide of Native Americans. The bodies of those dead are under our feet. How many of those people have been left unattended, left to fester?

Hell, when you drive away and kill the people that care for them… Would it be a surprise if they were left untended?

You always see how bad things get in movies when a house or something is built on a Native American burial ground. What about a country?

Do those of us still live still bear the scars of the deeds of our ancestors?

In some way, I think we all carry the burdens of the dead.


Wow, that got heavy… Thanks for reading!


About Nicholas Haney

I am a writer, author, hunter, craftsman, and student of anthropology/archaeology. View all posts by Nicholas Haney

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