Right after news outlets began reporting his death, I wrote something on my facebook account about "Obama burning in hell." It didn't really occur to me until this morning that I don't believe in hell, at least most of the time. Modern Pagan attitudes about the afterlife vary greatly, and are sometimes even non-existant.
One of the drawbacks (and a strength) to being a people "without a book" is that Pagans have very "lacking" views on the afterlife. This isn't a new thing either. The paganisms of antiquity were equally quiet. The Greek afterlife was a place of no joy or suffering (usually, there were some exceptions), it was just a place. Many of the Greek Mystery Traditions seemed to believe in reincarnation on this world, and a more joyous afterlife-you got to hang with Dionysus for instance. The Norse had different levels of expectation and the Celts seemed to believe in reincarnations, but they were also buried with their stuff suggesting "you can take it with you" and a life in another world.
As a Pagan I'm expected to believe in reincarnation, and I do for the most part. I'm not exactly sure how it works, but I believe in the immortality of the soul and I think it's likely that our souls return to this world over and over again. The waiting room between trips in Modern Paganism is generally referred to as "The Summerlands," and I'm hopeful that it's as pleasant as it sounds. Paganism has always been more concerned with this life, and not the next one. If reincarnation is real, it helps to explain a lot of weird thing that have happened in my life.
Every once in awhile I run into someone that I swear I've known forever, without that being possible. Usually it's a very intense experience with a lover or girlfriend. The attraction is instantaneous, and there's just this weird feeling of "knowing" that we both share. Usually those relationships burn out in a matter of weeks, but they have to have a root cause somewhere, and reincarnation has always made sense.
When I explain the idea of reincarnation at a Pagan 101 class I tend to talk about the world as a learning experience, an experience that takes a few trips to get the hang off. I assume that eventually you figure out the point of existence and merge with a higher consciousness, or find yourself at some sort of peace surrounded by loved ones. Part of me also thinks lives are a constant stream of whacky adventures, perhaps on different levels of existence. Maybe we get to be dragons at some point, or demons, or aliens, I don't know.
I'm guessing we come back as people most incarnations, but who's to say? Maybe someone likes to dress up like a pony and have sex because they were a horse in a past life? Perhaps my ex-girlfriend purred because she was a cat last time. I don't really know. Nobody does.
A part of me also believes that the afterlife is what you want it to be. I have trouble imagining my grandparents reincarnating and being apart. In my mind I don't really picture them in heaven, I just picture them holding each other staring into an eternal sunset arms wrapped around one another. That's probably what they would have wanted, so in my mind they got it. They weren't asking for 70 virgins or anything absurd, they only wanted to be together. I believe the gods are good, and that for really great people (and yeah I'm a homer here, but my grandparents really were) there are some rewards and exemptions.
Speaking of exemptions, Osama Bin Laden deserves a special place in the hell I don't believe in. Yeah, I don't believe in hell. The idea that a God up there is playing "cosmic score card" is rather ridiculous. So a four year old kid dies in a tragic accident and goes to hell because he stole some chapstick and didn't go to church? Yeah, no. That doesn't jive with me.
Of course there are people who truly deserve something like hell. Perhaps Bin Laden will be reincarnated as a bird and get swallowed by the Sarlac Pit (yeah, "Jedi" reference there, I'm a dork, what are you going to do?). I've read enough myth, the gods can be rather vengeful, and sometimes people deserve punishment. Maybe "hell" is the realization that you've absolutely disappointed your god or prophet. Maybe right now Bin Laden is having a conversation with Allah and Muhammed.
Bin Laden: I have served you O Allah, now I await my reward in paradise.
Allah: Reward? You've ruined my name. You've made billions of people hate me, how have you done my will?
Bin Laden: But I have just done what the Prophet instructed (looks imploring at Muhammed).
Muhammed: Where did you get the idea that I wanted you to kill thousands of innocent people? You disgust me.
Allah: Let's feed him bacon.
Bin Laden begins crying and continues crying through eternity.
One of the craziest things about death and the afterlife is that no one knows. People think they do, but there's no proof of anything. I have to believe in the soul, the world is too magickal for there to be nothing at the heart of it all, but what happens to it is anyone's guess. If the afterlife is what you make it, there are several thousand people poking Bin Laden right now with sticks.