6 week online course

May 4, 11, 18, 25 & 1, 8 June 2022 7:30- 9:30 pm GMT

PLEASE NOTE: All classes will also be recorded and archived for students who cannot make that time

Taught interactively via Zoom to a small class by Morbid Anatomy Founder Joanna Ebenstein

Death is the great mystery of human life. Today, we tend to view death through the lens of science and rationalism. Our ancestors, however, experienced death as part of a rich, invisible world with its own personalities and terrains, with eloquent myths explaining the origin of mortality and what happens to our souls when the body dies. These world views—or cosmovisions–were replete with their own dedicated gods and goddesses; psychopomps who oversaw the journey through liminal space from the realm of the living to the realm of the dead; rites of passage to contain and define the journey; and detailed descriptions of the places where the souls of the dead traveled to when the stage of embodiment came to an end.

In this six week class–comprised of lavishly illustrated lectures, suggested readings, homework prompts and class discussions and presentations–Morbid Anatomy founder Joanna Ebenstein will lead students in a deep dive into the fascinating ways our ancestors understood and imagined death and its personages and terrains, with an eye towards commonalities, and how these ideas live on today in religion, psychology, and a renewed interest in the occult and the invisible realms.

Along the way, we will examine the differing ways in which matriarchal and patriarchal cultures viewed death, the roots of “good” and “evil,” death in cultures of balanced complementary duality instead of binary opposition, the ways in which dominant Christian beliefs differs from most cosmologies around the world, and Jungian notions of symbols and mythologies of death and the dead.

For a final project, students will create their very own death deity, psychopomp, or map of geographies of life and death. Students will also have an opportunity to give a class presentation on a death cosmology or deity of their choice, perhaps one from their own ancestral heritage.

CLASS STRUCTURE (order of topics subject to change)

Week One

  • Introduction
  • Death and Mythology
  • Ways to understand mythology
  • Myths of how death is enters the world
  • The Soul in a variety of traditions
  • Good, evil, and complementary duality in various cosmovisions
  • Life, Death, Rebirth: Fertility and Sexuality

Week two

The Journey: moving from the land of the living to the land of the dead

  • Pyschopomps: Guides to the journey
  • Messengers, arbiters, and angels of death
  • Liminal Spaces/inbetween realms
  • The Veil: That which separates the realms
  • Times when the veil is thin: visiting the dead

Week Three

  • Geographies of the dead
  • The Upperworld
  • Heaven, Hell, Purgatory
  • The Cosmic or World Tree

Week Four

  • Deities of the Dead
  • Staying in touch with the dead: Ancestor veneration, cadaver traditions, and Spiritualism

Week Five

  • Presentations

Week Six

  • Present final Projects


Freya: Norse goddess of love and fertility, associated with sex, lust, beauty, sorcery, gold, war, and death.

Joanna Ebenstein is a Brooklyn-based writer, curator, photographer and graphic designer. She is the creator of the Morbid Anatomy blog, library and event series, and was cofounder (with Tracy Hurley Martin) and creative director of the recently shuttered Morbid Anatomy Museum in Brooklyn. Her books include Death: A Graveside Companion, The Anatomical Venus and The Morbid Anatomy Anthology (with Colin Dickey). Her work has been covered by The New York Times, The New Yorker, The Guardian, The Financial Times, Wall Street Journal, Wired, National Geographic, The Atlantic, New York Magazine, Los Angeles Times, Newsweek and more. You can see her Tedx talk—Death as You’ve Never Seen it Before—here.

May 4th 2021 7:30 pm - 9:00 pm

£80 - £90