My beliefs on birth, death and rebirth is that they occur during your lifetime, taking you both through phases of your life and also through the Wheel of the Year from the recognition of death at Samhain to the bursting joy of life at Beltane. The death phases are not as drastic as they sound. Just as when the card number XIII for Death is drawn from the Tarot (or 'Book of Thoth' to some), it simply means the end of one phase of life for another: a time of rebirth and rediscovery. With every rebirth we face an opportunity, whether it's difficult and challenging or simply allows you to open your eyes to the splendour and good fortune at your feet. Everything presented to you in your life allows for some opportunity to learn and develop spiritually towards becoming the wise old crone. Where there is death in one aspect of your life, there is an opportunity for growth in another. For example: as sad and as unsettling as it was for me to leave my coven recently, it allowed for me to explore new ideas, spend more time with my friends and become excited about going to other open Pagan events and meeting new people.
THE WITCHES ASSOCIATION WITH DEATH
A witches relationship with death is a very healthy one. Our association with this balance of life is difficult for others to understand. As I've learned: witches are both dark and light - a balance, as nature itself is balanced. Whilst we create magick 'for the good of all' it does not meant that we, as human beings, are perfectly 'pure' though we strive to make a valuable and positive contribution to society - we do not claim to be perfect. We go by our own threefold law 'Do as thou wilt but harm ye none', understanding that whatever we send out we get back times three. Our perfection rests with nature itself, being close to the Goddess and moving with her cycles. The true nature of the witch is in her/his heart, and that speaks for any individual within any religion: there will always be a balance of light and dark characters within religious institutions because that is the balance of nature, it cannot be avoided. A person is to be judged by their actions, not by their words.
As others are often escaping from death, we embrace it. In many ways, we have no choice. Many witches see a spectre of a person before they die, and were/are often blamed for the death of that person. It's a difficult one to know what to do with - do you warn the person or just allow for nature to take care of itself and keep your mouth shut? Being associated with the owl, the 'harbinger of death', witches are often seen as much more frightening if they have the ability to see what the owl sees and choose not to say anything. Suspicion arises and doubts about the intentions of the witch are skewed with anothers' interpretation of death as something not to embrace but to run from. So we too are often ran from, misunderstood and mistrusted.
So if you see a crow, raven or owl, don't fear - least of all don't fear. See whether your perceptions change, whether a new door has opened or new paths have been created for you to walk if you choose.
WHAT HAPPENS TO WITCHES WHEN THEY DIE?As a generalisation, Wiccans believe that there is a place called the Summerland, where we bask skyclad (nude) for the rest of our days. Its made to sound like a Garden of Eden, and apart from its title, no-one can specifically tell you what exactly goes on there & I love the mystery of that. Having said that though, I'm not the biggest fan of summer - I actually prefer spring, and a little autumn here and there. So having summer automatically prescribed to me is hard to believe. I'd rather think of it as the Eternal Summer Holidays rather than just the Summerland.
It could, too, also depend on which pantheon you have the strongest link to. If I were to croak it Egyptian style, I would have to pass by the 42 gods in the final judgment where my heart is weighed up against a feather from Maat - and if it is at equal measure to my heart I will be allowed to enter the spirit world and live with the Goddess and God. If my heart's too heavy - a big scary beast eats me!
Some Pagans and Shamans also believe in having to pass through the River Styx to the underworld with the boatman Charon. Often, people left pennies on the eyes of the dead for the purpose of paying the boatman for the trip.
I've never heard of Wiccans being 'punished' in the afterlife for committing suicide, I don't believe that anything in particular happens - but then, it's a case of trying it out and see what happens! I don't honestly know what will happen when I die. If it's purely the end of it all and there's nothing else then that's fine. Given that I have a powerful connection to the Egyptian pantheon though, I would imagine it most likely that if I did 'pass through another stage' it would be via their Hall... which is terrifying, but sounds spectacular.