The Psychology of Death in Fantasy and History

The Psychology of Death in Fantasy and History

The Psychology of Death in Fantasy and History

The Psychology of Death in Fantasy and History


This volume investigates the impact of death consideration on such phenomena as Buddhist cosmology, the poetry of Rilke, cults and apocalyptic dreams, Japanese mythology, creativity, and even psychotherapy. Death is seen as a critical motivation for the genesis of artistic creations and monuments, of belief systems, fantasies, delusions and numerous pathological syndromes. Culture itself may be understood as the innumerable ways that societies defend themselves against helplessness and annihilation, how they mould and recreate the world in accordance with their wishes and anxieties, the social mechanisms employed to deny annihilation and death. Whether one speaks of the construction of massive burial tombs, magical transformations of death into eternal life, afterlives or resurrections, the need to cope with death and deny its terror and effect are the sine qua non of religion, culture, ideology, and belief systems in general.


Jerry S. Piven

Life, like a dome of many-coloured glass,
Stains the white radiance of Eternity,
Until Death tramples it to fragments.

—Percy Bysshe Shelley (1821), Adonais, stanza 52

The articles in this volume seek a psychological understanding of death in fantasy and history. Studies of history are rarely psychological, and accounts of death most often chronicle what people consciously stated without questioning whether such statements truly reflected the depths of their emotions and fantasies. One can read countless narrations of medieval deathbed scenes. Do we assume that the dying individuals merely accepted death quietly, or may we question this appearance, discern the inspiration of faith in salvation, explore the language and imagery further to learn just how one might have conceived of death, the inevitability of decomposition, the thought that a beautiful bride might be consumed by maggots, or rot in Hell? If we read Victorian poets limning sexual intercourse with corpses, do we dismiss it as fashionable trope, banal necrophilic perversion, histrionic dramatics, or perhaps, wonder why someone might be sexually aroused by death and rotting women? When members of numerous cults bask in apocalyptic imagery and bathe in the joyful thought of being reborn in a purified world, does it not behoove us to delve into their psyches?

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