Yesterday, I was asked by a foreign friend to do a post about funerals. I asked why and she said she hadn’t ever been to one. I instantly wondered many things all at once.
If they don’t have funerals, what do they do with their dead? How do they commemorate the lives of their loved (or unloved) ones? Do they have to meet special qualifications to have a funeral? Do pets get funerals? Are funerals strictly religious ceremonies? Why does funeral contain the word “fun”? Why is death such an uncomfortable topic? That’s when I realized I was getting sidetracked and I had a perfect new post idea.
Jumping right in, I did a little research about funerals and discovered a few very cool things:
- The first evidence of a “funeral” was discovered in the 1800’s by french anthropologists. Said “funeral” was performed around 60,000 BC, neanderthal had placed their deceased in a hole in the ground, putting flowers and animal bones atop their bodies. This is interesting because it shows that they both had a respect for the deceased (leaving gifts of animal bones and foliage) and an empathetic grasp on life and it’s end, even though they are regarded as extremely primitive beings.
- About 56,000 years later, the Egyptians started mummifying their dead to preserve them for their travels into the afterlife. Certain methods of mummification were used depending on your social rank/status in the community. An interesting point because they also left jewelry and weapons with the dead to aide them in this supposed “afterlife”. It makes you wonder what the “undesirables” were left with for their afterlife.
- About 2500 years later, (we’re looking at about 1550 BC now) the Chinese started worshiping their fallen ancestors, also pointing you to believe that there is an afterlife and in the afterlife you had some sort of control over the lives of the living.
- During 800 BC, the Greek started burning the bodies of their dead on pyres. Introducing the concept of cremation.
- Around 400-500 AD the rite of Sati was invoked and later banned. (Though there have been instances of Sati recorded up to the 1980’s). This, to me, is the most interesting way to show respect for the dead. It is almost as if saying that you cannot live without your spouse because life without them wouldn’t be worth living.
I personally think it’s a barbaric. However, my opinions are moot in matters that I do not understand.
- 600 AD, Cemeteries begin to pop up in Europe.
- Fast forward to 900 AD, Viking funerals weren’t as intense as the movies would have you believe. Yes, sometimes they were buried in their ships, but they weren’t set to sea and set ablaze. They were buried with goods they could use in their afterlife, ranging from food, weapons, armor, to even their living slaves. (Yikes!)
- 1380, the use of the word “casket” was coined. It was originally a term used for jewelry boxes, but became a slang term/euphemism for a box containing the a corpse.
- In 1500 AD, the Aztecs were very big on “passage of life” rites. Your rank in society greatly influenced the way you were laid to rest. Wealthy and noblemen had all kinds of earthly treasures accompany them as well as their (sometimes still living) slaves and wives, so that they could serve them in the next life. They also performed human sacrifices at funeral ceremonies to mimic their belief in how the sun came to be. (That’s another interesting story for another time.) Children who died were believed to automatically go to a type of paradise and were buried near the villages crops to signify their eternal blessings in the afterlife.
- In 1784, Roman Emperor Joseph II decided it would be a great idea to establish burial plans before death. This included payment plans for burial services and your casket. He also thought that reusable caskets were a good idea; let’s bury this once living being in a beautifully adorned box and then take it away after the family leaves so that their loved one can get a face full of dirt for all eternity. How monetarily efficient! Right-o! (Does this show lack of respect for the dead? What do you think?)
- In the 1860’s, during the civil war, the United States began embalming their fallen.
- In 1909, the first motorized hearse became available for public use which allowed the funeral procession to become a rite. (Interesting how having a parade follow a lifeless body is normal, right?)
- 1997 became the year that you could officially get your cremated remains blasted off into space to orbit the Earth forever, or be turned into a star, or whatever happens out there in the cold void.
- In the year 2000, eco-friendly, biodegradable caskets became available for public consumption, further perpetuating the idea that we are biodegradable matter belonging to the soil of the Earth.
In conclusion, I still think funerals are very uncomfortable situations. At least there are many ways to offer your respect for the dead as far as corpse disposal is concerned.
I still have many questions regarding the practices of certain cultures death-rites, but I now have a considerable chunk of interesting information to temporarily soothe my curiosity. PLEASE, correct me if I’ve made any mistakes here. 🙂