Natural Burials Are Rising, and That’s Good for the Planet

Natural burials offer a greener alternative to traditional cemeteries, but Big Funeral is fighting back.


Even in death, Americans just can’t stop themselves from destroying the planet, according to new research.

Right now there are around 22,500 active cemeteries in the United States. These sanitized spaces, with bunches of flowers lain among neat rows of gravestones on manicured lawns, are so closely associated with the American idea of mourning that it’s difficult to imagine an alternative.

Yet the practice is deeply unsustainable. Every year, in laying their dead to rest, Americans bury approximately 73,000 kilometers of hardwood boards, 58,500 tons of steel, 1.5 million tons of concrete, and 3.1 million liters of formaldehyde. A typical four-hectare cemetery contains enough wood to construct 40 homes and sufficient volumes of embalming fluid to fill a backyard swimming pool. As the Baby Boomers start to die, these environmental impacts are only going to grow.

“People hate to think about it. They think, ‘I’m going to be embalmed, put in a vault, and have a nice, dry, quiet existence for my body,’ but that’s a total farce,” says Chris Coutts, an associate professor in the Department of Urban and Regional Planning at Florida State University. “The bodies quickly start to rot, and those fluids, if they’re in the body, find a way out of the vault and into the soil, and they can create a plume. It’s a concern if it migrates into water tables. The whole point of embalming fluid is that it doesn’t degrade, so it’s going to be around a long time.”

Coutts is the lead author of a new paper examining the benefits of a greener alternative to the traditional rituals of death: natural burial. While higher-density family vaults can reduce your environmental footprint compared to an individual burial, it’s still a high-impact way of shuffling off your mortal coil. Even cremation, which has doubled in popularity since 2000, leaves an environmental smudge on the Earth, thanks to its high energy consumption and the ensuing air pollution.

Increasingly, Coutts et al. have found, people are rejecting the lawn-park cemetery model, and instead choosing to commit their bodies to a wilder resting place. In most cases, this means eschewing traditional American funerary rites altogether and burying the body without chemicals in a biodegradable casket or a simple shroud. At its best, natural burial allows your death to leave almost no physical damage on the natural world, while helping to protect and conserve threatened landscapes for those still living.

One example is the 142-hectare Glendale Memorial Nature Preserve in Florida, a family farm located in an area full of endangered native longleaf pine and wiregrass. The plan for the cemetery called for 80 percent of the land to be restored and conserved as natural habitat, with around 28 hectares set aside for natural burials. Add-on items include coffins constructed from old bookshelves, while the conserved habitat is also available for recreational activities including hiking and camping. Telling ghost stories remains optional.

John and Bill Wilkerson, the brothers who run the business, say that the income they’ve generated from the burials has allowed them to resist the financial pressure to sell the land to developers—a proposition that was adamantly opposed by their late parents.

The lawn-park cemetery in America might feel like an inescapable ritual, but the idea is relatively recent, arising in the 19th century, as urban elites grew increasingly affluent. Rural cemeteries like Mount Auburn in Boston or Laurel Hill in Philadelphia were not only useful for memorializing the supposed importance of the deceased bourgeoisie, but also for providing their surviving relatives a pleasant getaway from increasingly crowded cities.

The practice of embalming grew popular around the time of the American Civil War, Coutts adds. “They needed to preserve and ship the bodies back to wherever they were going to be buried, and embalming became prevalent. It’s the common expected practice, but it’s really just people going through the motions: It’s what we’ve always done, it’s what we continue to do, but that’s changing,” he says.

This resource-intensive method of burial is far from universal across the globe. Muslim communities practice natural burial as a “basic religious obligation,” according to Coutts and his fellow authors, while in countries such as Australia, grave sites can be reused for new inhabitants after a certain amount of time has elapsed. In the Peruvian Amazon, before the arrival of Christian missionaries, bodies were lain among the buttress roots of large trees. Some Tibetans practice sky burials, placing the corpse on a mountain and allowing it to decompose gradually.

The first natural burial site in the U.S. was established in 1998 in South Carolina. There are now 162 natural-burial providers in the U.S., of which 99 are hybrid cemeteries, offering both natural and traditional burial. A further 54 offer exclusively natural burial, while nine are active conservation burial sites.

Yet America’s lucrative death-care industry is fighting back, determined to protect a billion-dollar market by perpetuating the idea that a resource-intensive funeral is the only guarantor of lasting peace. Indeed, hybrid burial sites are mostly a way for the sector to cash in on the growing popularity of natural burial, a form of greenwashing that offers little in the way of concrete benefits, says Joe Sehee, who founded the Green Burial Council, which certifies natural burial sites, in 2005.

“There were people who just didn’t like the idea [of natural burial],” Sehee says, “people within the industry, particularly people who liked the merchandise-based model of death care: chemical, casket, and vault companies.”

Perhaps more sinister than this greenwashing are the attempts by the funeral industry to lobby for new regulations that will protect its economic position. There are very few federal laws around the handling of the dead, with states and local governments generally left in control. Around half of U.S. states regulate the amount of time that a body can remain un-embalmed, yet no states require a body to be buried in a coffin. Only a handful of states forbid bodies being buried outside of established cemeteries.

This loose legal framework bodes well for natural burial, and badly for Big Funeral. Correspondingly, the mainstream funeral industry has lobbied state governments to pass legislation protecting its share of the market, such as mandating embalming, only permitting burial in established cemeteries, and requiring the involvement of a licensed funeral director to perform tasks that could ordinarily have been performed by the next-of-kin. Restricting citizens’ freedom to access natural burial is bad for the environment, and could deter those who might have chosen this wilder option because it was cheaper than a traditional plot.

Coutts himself, after years of studying the benefits of a natural burial, sounds almost excited by the contribution he will be able to make to conservation from beyond the grave. “I’ve often just dreamed about walking out into the desert with a bottle of water and just sitting under a tree and waiting for it to come,” he says. “But that would be a luxury and it’s probably not feasible. I have it in my will that I want my body to be buried naturally in a conservation burial ground.”

Complete Article HERE!

Native American Burials: Trees and Scaffolds Illustrated


by Fritz Zimmerman

We may now pass to what may be called aerial sepulture proper, the most common examples of which are tree and scaffold burial, quite extensively practiced even at the present time. From what can be learned the choice of this mode depends greatly on the facilities present, where timber abounds, trees being used, if absent, scaffolds being employed.

From William J. Cleveland, of the Spotted Tail Agency, Nebraska, has been received a most interesting account of the mortuary customs of the Brulé or Teton Sioux, who belong to the Lakota alliance. They are called Sicaugu, in the Indian tongue Seechaugas, or the “burned thigh” people. The narrative is given in its entirety, not only on account of its careful attention to details, but from its known truthfulness of description. It relates to tree and scaffold burial.

Dakota Scaffold Burial.

Though some few of this tribe now lay their dead in rude boxes, either burying them when implements for digging can be had, or, when they have no means of making a grave, placing them on top of the ground on some hill or other slight elevation, yet this is done in imitation of the whites, and their general custom, as a people, probably does not differ in any essential way from that of their forefathers for many generations in the past. In disposing of the dead, they wrap the body tightly in blankets or robes (sometimes both) wind it all over with thongs made of the hide of some animal and place it reclining on the back at full length, either in the branches of some tree or on a scaffold made for the purpose. These scaffolds are about eight feet high and made by planting four forked sticks firmly in the ground, one at each corner and then placing others across on top, so as to form a floor on which the body is securely fastened. Sometimes more than one body is placed on the same scaffold, though generally a separate one is made for each occasion. These Indians being in all things most superstitious, attach a kind of sacredness to these scaffolds and all the materials used or about the dead. This superstition is in itself sufficient to prevent any of their own people from disturbing the dead, and for one of another nation to in any wise meddle with them is considered an offense not too severely punished by death.

The same feeling also prevents them from ever using old scaffolds or any of the wood which has been used about them, even for firewood, though the necessity may be very great, for fear some evil consequences will follow. It is also the custom, though not universally followed, when bodies have been for two years on the scaffolds to take them down and bury them under ground.

All the work about winding up the dead, building the scaffold, and placing the dead upon it is done by women only, who, after having finished their labor, return and bring the men, to show them where the body is placed, that they may be able to find it in future. Valuables of all kinds, such as weapons, ornaments, pipes, in short, whatever the deceased valued most highly while living, and locks of hair cut from the heads of the mourners at his death, are always bound up with the body. In case the dead was a man of importance, or if the family could afford it, even though he were not, one or several horses (generally, in the former case, those which the departed thought most of) are shot and placed under the scaffold. The idea in this is that the spirit of the horse will accompany and be of use to his spirit in the “happy hunting grounds,” or, as these people express it, “the spirit land.

When an Indian dies, and in some cases even before death occurs, the friends and relatives assemble at the lodge and begin crying over the departed or departing one. This consists in uttering the most heartrending, almost hideous wails and lamentations, in which all join until exhausted. Then the mourning ceases for a time until some one starts it again, when all join in as before and keep it up until unable to cry longer. This is kept up until the body is removed. This crying is done almost wholly by women, who gather in large numbers on such occasions, and among them a few who are professional mourners. These are generally old women and go whenever a person is expected to die, to take the leading part in the lamentations, knowing that they will be well paid at the distribution of goods which follows. As soon as death takes place, the body is dressed by the women in the best garments and blankets obtainable, new ones if they can be afforded. The crowd gathered near continue wailing piteously, and from time to time cut locks of hair from their own heads with knives, and throw them on the dead body. Those who wish to show their grief most strongly, cut themselves in various places, generally in the legs and arms, with their knives or pieces of flint, more commonly the latter, causing the blood to flow freely over their persons. This custom is followed to a less degree by the men.

A body is seldom kept longer than one day as, besides the desire to get the dead out of sight, the fear that the disease which caused the death will communicate itself to others of the family causes them to hasten the disposition of it as soon as they are certain that death has actually taken place

Until the body is laid away the mourners eat nothing. After that is done, connected with which there seems to be no particular ceremony, the few women who attend to it return to the lodge and a distribution is made among them and others, not only of the remaining property of the deceased, but of all the possessions, even to the lodge itself of the family to which he belonged. This custom in some cases has been carried so far as to leave the rest of the family not only absolutely destitute but actually naked. After continuing in this condition for a time, they gradually reach the common level again by receiving gifts from various sources.

The received custom requires of women, near relatives of the dead, a strict observance of the ten days following the death, as follows: They are to rise at a very early hour and work unusually hard all day, joining in no feast, dance, game, or other diversion, eat but little, and retire late, that they may be deprived of the usual amount of sleep as of food. During this they never paint themselves, but at various times go to the top of some hill and bewail the dead in loud cries and lamentations for hours together. After the ten days have expired they paint themselves again and engage in the usual amusements of the people as before. The men are expected to mourn and fast for one day and then go on the war-path against some other tribe, or on some long journey alone. If he prefers, he can mourn and fast for two or more days and remain at home.

The custom of placing food at the scaffold also prevails to some extent. If but little is placed there it is understood to be for the spirit of the dead, and no one is allowed to touch it. If much is provided, it is done with the intention that those of the same sex and age as the deceased shall meet there and consume it. If the dead be a little girl, the young girls meet and eat what is provided; if it be a man, then men assemble for the same purpose. The relatives never mention the name of the dead.

Offering Food to the Dead.

Still another custom, though at the present day by no means generally followed, is still observed to some extent among them. This is called wanagee yuhapee, or “keeping the ghost.” A little of the hair from the head of the deceased being preserved is bound up in calico and articles of value until the roll is about two feet long and ten inches or more in diameter, when it is placed in a case made of hide handsomely ornamented with various designs in different colored paints. When the family is poor, however, they may substitute for this case blue or scarlet blanket or cloth. The roll is then swung lengthwise between two supports made of sticks, placed thus × in front of a lodge which has been set apart for the purpose. In this lodge are gathered presents of all kinds, which are given out when a sufficient quantity is obtained. It is often a year and sometimes several years before this distribution is made. During all this time the roll containing the hair of the deceased is left undisturbed in front of the lodge. The gifts as they are brought in are piled in the back part of the lodge, and are not to be touched until given out. No one but men and boys are admitted to the lodge unless it be a wife of the deceased, who may go in if necessary very early in the morning. The men sit inside, as they choose, to smoke, eat, and converse. As they smoke they empty the ashes from their pipes in the center of the lodge, and they, too, are left undisturbed until after the distribution. When they eat, a portion is always placed first under the roll outside for the spirit of the deceased. No one is allowed to take this unless a large quantity is so placed, in which case it may be eaten by any persons actually in need of food, even though strangers to the dead. When the proper time comes the friends of the deceased and all to whom presents are to be given are called together to the lodge and the things are given out by the man in charge. Generally this is some near relative of the departed. The roll is now undone and small locks of the hair distributed with the other presents, which ends the ceremony.

Sometimes this “keeping the ghost” is done several times, and it is then looked upon as a repetition of the burial or putting away of the dead. During all the time before the distribution of the hair, the lodge, as well as the roll, is looked upon as in a manner sacred, but after that ceremony it becomes common again and may be used for any ordinary purpose. No relative or near friend of the dead wishes to retain anything in his possession that belonged to him while living, or to see, hear, or own anything which will remind him of the departed. Indeed, the leading idea in all their burial customs in the laying away with the dead their most valuable possessions, the giving to others what is left of his and the family property, the refusal to mention his name, &c., is to put out of mind as soon and as effectual as possible the memory of the departed.

From what has been said, however, it will be seen that they believe each person to have a spirit which continues to live after the death of the body. They have no idea of a future life in the body, but believe that after death their spirits will meet and recognize the spirits of their departed friends in the spirit land. They deem it essential to their happiness here, however, to destroy as far as practicable their recollection of the dead. They frequently speak of death as a sleep, and of the dead as asleep or having gone to sleep at such a time. These customs are gradually losing their hold upon them, and are much less generally and strictly observed than formerly.

Depositing the Corpse.

A. Delano,66 mentions as follows an example of tree-burial which he noticed in Nebraska.

During the afternoon we passed a Sioux burying-ground, if I may be allowed to use an Irishism. In a hackberry tree, elevated about twenty feet from the ground, a kind of rack was made of broken tent poles, and the body (for there was but one) was placed upon it, wrapped in his blanket, and a tanned buffalo skin, with his tin cup, moccasins, and various things which he had used in life, were placed upon his body, for his use in the land of spirits.


Complete Article HERE!

Make an Eco-Conscious Final Exit

“The Green Reaper” talks about her latest book

By Katie O’Reilly

You’re probably aware that your carbon footprint doesn’t end when you do, but did you know that we could build a new Golden Gate Bridge every year using the metals that leach into the ground from traditional caskets? Take into account all the concrete we bury and we could construct a new two-lane highway beneath it. Factor in the annual carbon emissions that result from cremation and you could drive to the moon and back. This all is according to Elizabeth Fournier, the one-woman operation behind Boring, Oregon’s Cornerstone Funeral Services. It’s located in a rehabbed goat farm and is also the first green funeral home in the Portland metropolitan area. Fournier, in fact, is more commonly known as the “Green Reaper.”

After all, she’s long been helping Oregonians bury their loved ones in ways that involve no metal caskets, concrete linings, or carcinogenic embalming fluids (the noxious chemicals that are released into the earth when the casket eventually biodegrades and the body decomposes). This often means lowering unembalmed bodies into their own backyards in Green Burial Council–certified biodegradable cedar caskets, or even no caskets at all. Fournier (pictured, right), an upbeat and big-hearted mortician who’s prone to statements like “All Grandma’s juicy goodness will go back into the permaculture of the land,” says her nickname was coined by a neighbor who saw her standing in yet another yard with a shovel, excavating a new plot. “It’s a lighthearted way of saying, ‘Yes, you’re the death lady, but you’re the eco death lady.’”

When the Green Reaper was eight, her mother and grandparents died. Not only did young Fournier spend a lot of time in funeral homes, but she also found herself drawn to the tranquility of cemeteries, and even kept a mock graveyard on her dresser. She also devoured National Geographic stories about various cultures’ death rituals and performed funerals for her friends’ pets. Fournier, who soon after going into the funeral industry observed that its progression has aligned with the regression of the planet, wrote about her passion for green death in 2017’s The Green Reaper: Memoirs of an Eco-Mortician. Following its release, she received countless calls and emails from readers who wanted to extend their environmentalism into their after-lives but weren’t sure how to legally go about not turning into toxic waste. “I got a lot of people asking, Can you just put all this information in one place?” Fournier says.

Similar to how Caitlin Doughty of “Ask a Mortician” fame has cracked open the secrets of the funeral industry in hopes of boosting western cultures’ acceptance of death and grieving, Fournier wrote The Green Burial Guidebook: Everything You Need to Plan an Affordable, Environmentally Friendly Burial (the paperback version of which came out in May from New World Library) as a resource to catalog all the natural burial choices available in North America, and to empower readers to make more environmentally friendly final choices—which also, she says, tend to be more cost-effective and psychologically satisfying. A true memoirist, Fournier draws on many of her own experiences to guide readers through everything from green burial planning and funeral basics to sea burials and body-composting options. And The Green Burial Guidebook exudes warmth and compassion—readers who are grieving or faced with their own mortality will likely find comfort in its pages.

After devouring The Green Burial Guidebook in one sitting, Sierra called up the Green Reaper to  discuss climate-conscious changes within the funeral industry and greener ways to go about dying.

Sierra: Who did you write this book for?

Elizabeth Fournier: My intended audience was people who’ve never heard of natural burial and want to know what the heck is going on, as well as people who keep hearing about it and think it’s a trend. I wanted to clarify that up until 150 years ago, in fact, most burials were inherently green—when someone died they were bathed, prepared, and placed in a wooden box. This changed dramatically during the Civil War. Suddenly, bodies had to be transported over long distances in large quantities, and so we started embalming to preserve them, which became common practice. Now, we have a very eco-conscious, DIY culture, and a lot of people are saying, Oh my God, death and dying is so expensive! I wrote this book to show that it doesn’t have to be, and to give people the tools to handle loved ones’ deaths themselves.

So, you’re a funeral director telling people they don’t necessarily need to have or pay for a traditional funeral. . . . Have you experienced any pushback from your own industry?

Not a lot, although there are certainly some people who find the whole green death concept a little outrageous, don’t see the profit-making angle, and think this is just a trend that’ll go away. And that’s discouraging, because our role as morticians is to provide options for people who are going through a horrible time. And of course, this isn’t a trend. What was just a trend is the traditional funeral industry. It’s experienced a lot of growth with the last 50 years, but before that—and especially before the Civil War—burial was far more natural.

There are presently more than 150 green burial sites in America, compared with just a handful a decade ago. Why do you think green burial is on the rise in the U.S.?

A lot of it has to do with today’s generation of end-of-life decision-makers. Baby Boomers, who were born between 1946 and 1964, started recycling and launched Earth Day and put a lot of ecological concerns on the world’s radar. They’ve walked the walk during life, and a lot of them are thinking that a green death wouldn’t be that bad. Baby Boomers are making choices for their parents too.

And again, there’s the issue of rising costs of death—the average American funeral now costs $8,000, and people are saying, How do we afford that?! So, cremation has become more popular. But while that helps you avoid the consequences of embalming fluid, we’ve now learned that cremation’s carbon footprint isn’t so fantastic. So, let’s push further.

You write about being a kid who obsessively read about different cultures’ death rituals in National Geographic, and your book is peppered with insights about various internment practices and beliefs across the globe. Did any other cultures inspire you to become a funeral director who specializes in green death?

So many of them! In parts of the Philippines, for instance, they just make plain caskets out of a single piece of wood and hang them from cliffs; other Asian cultures leave bodies out for the vultures, and in places like India, many just do a funeral pyre. And then there are Viking funerals and other types of at-sea burials. All this stuff is pretty darn non-resource-intensive. And then take Sweden, where promession is legal. That’s when they actually cryogenically freeze-dry you in liquid nitrogen and put you on a vibrating table, which causes your body to disintegrate into particles, making you into a dry powder that can be interred in a biodegradable casket. Italians are using biodegradable seed pods to turn the dead into trees—their remains provide nutrients to a sapling planted above it, creating eco burial forests, rather than burial grounds.

But here in America, things are a bit more challenging—we still have reverence for the human body and human remains, so this idea of putting people in the soil, or watering plants with your remains, is very European. But, we’re getting there—there’s Jae Rhim Lee at Stanford, who developed the mushroom burial suit, a garment sewn with mushrooms whose spores help to detoxify and decompose the body, and Washington State University’s Urban Death Project, where you’re laid in a structure with chips to biodegrade, or as they say, recompose, and it works fantastically well. But, this all has to become palatable to the average person to talk about. Greenies are in the lead here.

“In parts of the Philippines they just make plain caskets out of a single piece of wood and hang them from cliffs; other Asian cultures leave bodies out for the vultures, and in places like India, many just do a funeral pyre. And then there are Viking funerals and other types of at-sea burials. All this stuff is pretty darn non-resource-intensive.”

Your book takes a very warm, open, and never morbid approach to the subject of death. Can you talk about societal comfort levels with death and how they affect the green burial movement?

We used to keep loved ones’ bodies in our homes for a while, but nowadays, funeral directors come and take them—our ethos is to just call the undertaker so we don’t have to think about or deal with any of the messy parts of death. But now people are realizing, partially thanks to the wonderful interwebs, that we have choices, and I think we’re slowly becoming more comfortable with death. A younger generation of funeral directors—the old man with the clammy hands is far from the norm nowadays—is trying to embrace more modern practices. Celebrations of life are becoming more popular, and I love the concept of the living funeral—if you know you’re gonna pass soon, rather than having a party when you’re dead, have it when you’re alive and can still enjoy being honored and listening to all the good things people say about you. People truly are embracing more choices. And when you consider Mother Nature and the drive to honor Earth as this gorgeous, loving place, you can engage in dialogue with people who’ve perhaps never talked much about death before.

What if someone wants to embrace green burial, but she lives somewhere like Manhattan and so can’t expect her loved ones to bury her in the backyard?

There’s certainly no perfect way to do it; it’s about shades of green. Consider that every state now has at least one cemetery that allows for natural burial, up from just a dozen nationwide a decade ago. It’s legal everywhere now; you just have to be diligent about calling the county and finding the often small cemeteries that don’t require a concrete grave liner. And plenty of companies are offering green burial caskets that use a basic liner, such as a wicker basket. But the movement goes beyond burial itself. Maybe you want to make sure your loved ones know you want local and organic food served at your reception and no cut flowers. Maybe you want to have guests carpool to your service, or you want to be buried in the sheets from your bed. There are all sorts of ways to approach green death. Like, on one hand you’re making a horrible choice if you insist on going into a mausoleum, but if it’s what best helps your family cope, then fantastic. Let’s find you some other ways to be part of the solution.

What’s next for you?

I’m working with someone right now to secure a place in Portland, Oregon, for an official green burial cemetery. I have to keep it under wraps right now but will be revealing more later in the year. It’s been a really fun process—we’re working to get community muralists to paint the wall behind it, and to find passionate underwriters, and to make this a really comfortable, beautiful place that will truly honor the people interred there. It’s been great to meet and talk to all the fantastic people who’ve come out of the woodwork to talk about how doing something good for the planet can really help grieving loved ones heal.

Complete Article HERE!

Sky Burial; Ancient Tradition of Iran’s Zoroastrians

Ancient Zoroastrians believed the dead body should be put in particular structures to be feasted upon by birds of prey, because the burial or burning of the corpses would cause water and soil to become dirty, which is forbidden in the ancient religion.

The burial traditions in historical periods are known through archaeological evidence and sacred texts like the Zoroastrians’ Avesta as well as Pahlavi texts.

With the recognition of the Zoroastrian religion in Iran, body burial was strictly prohibited and the only way to eliminate the corpses was to place the deceased in rows so their bodies would be feasted upon by birds of prey.

In a Zoroastrian religious text, which is a collection of religious rules and instructions, there are references to the ways to treat with the bodies of the dead. According to these texts, the dead should be put in structures known as dakhma to be feasted upon by birds of prey, because the burial or burning of the corpses would cause the sacred elements of water, soil, and fire to become dirty and it is forbidden to do so.

However, according to the researchers, even in Zoroastrian texts, there are indications that a significant number of people opposed the change in funeral practices, which resulted in penalties. Given that the time passed between the burial and the exhumation, only physical punishments were imposed on the perpetrators, which were practically subject to fines.

According to the findings, for a long time, it was generally thought that burial was more based on putting the corpse outdoor. But extensive scientific studies revealed that the Sassanids, in addition to the tradition of placing the body in the open air, used other burial practices. This can be interpreted in relation to religious communities within the Sassanid Empire and perhaps related to the class division of society in this era.

According to Samer Nazari, a graduate of archaeology at the Isfahan University of Art and his colleague, “the coexistence of religious communities including Christians, Jews, Manicheans, Buddhists and other religious sects in the Sassanid community is one of the main reasons for the diversity of burial practices in this era. At the end of the Shapur I era, the Zoroastrianism was the official religion of the country, but Manichean religion, along with other emerging sects should not be ignored. This comes as Buddhism was also spreading in the East, and Christianity and Judaism were expanding in the western regions.”

Prohibiting Burial of Corpses to Keep Water, Soil Clean

Based on the available information, it is not possible to attribute the burial practices specifically to a particular group, but according to the teachings of the Zoroastrian School, we are aware of the prohibition of burying bodies for the purpose of keeping water and soil clean. Thus, the most dominant burial method during the Sassanid era was to put the deceased body in a dakhma, or towers of silence.

The dakhmas or towers of silence were common until Pahlavi era (20th century). At the time of Pahlavi, the dakhmas were shut down and turned into a burial chamber. But some of the dakhmas are registered as national heritage with domestic and foreign tourists visiting them. The most famous Zoroastrian dakhma is in Yazd province.

Zoroastrian dakhma is known as tower of silence. This dakhma is located 15 km south-east of Yazd near the Safaeiyeh area and on a low-altitude mountain called the mountain of the dakhma.

Although there are Zoroastrian dakhmas in Tehran, Kerman, Sirjan, Isfahan, Taft, Ashkezar, Ardakan, Fars province, etc., the dakhmas of Yazd have more visitors as they are located in the religious capital of Zoroastrianism close to the city and other monuments.

Zoroastrian Dakhma or Tower of Silence

In the past, the site had two dakhmas, which, according to historical documents and Zoroastrian words, both were used for a period of six months. One of these structures is the Maneckji Limji Hataria dakhma, or the Great Maneckji, which is located on the left.

Maneckji, known as Maneckji Sahib, travelled to Iran during the reign of Naser al-Din Shah Qajar, as the representative of “the Association for the Improvement of the Zoroastrian Conditions in Iran,” in order to reduce the pressure on Zoroastrians. Zoroastrians still owe their existence to his efforts.

The second building is Golestan dakhma. During the Qajar period, the difficulty of passing through the mountainous road of the Maneckji caused problems for the burial of the corpses. That is why the Golestan dakhma was built in smaller dimensions. This dakhma could be seen 150 metres west of the Maneckji. The diameter of this dakhma is 25 metres and the height of the wall is 6 metres from the surface of the hill.

The inner surface of the Zoroastrian dakhmas is flat and rounded, all covered with large boulders and consists of three parts: feminine, masculine and childish. Perhaps it’s not bad to know that the end of the circle space, which is attached to the wall around the dakhma, is for the corpses of men, the middle part is for women and the inner circle is for children.

The bodies were placed on these slates according to their gender, and the birds of prey, especially vultures started to eat their flesh. After eating the flesh and becoming completely dry under the sun, the bones were poured into a well in the centre of the circle, called the bone well, to turn into dirt.

All burial practices from leaving the body inside the dakhma until its disappearance lasted about six months to one year. When the dead were placed inside the dakhma, it was customary to mourn, wearing white clothes for three days in ruined buildings next to the dakhmas known as “Khileh”.

Interestingly, in a documentary entitled “The Lovers Wind” made by the famous French director Albert Lamorisse in 1970, part of it was dedicated to the Zoroastrian dakhmas of Yazd. At that time, the dakhma was still open.

Complete Article HERE!

Men Less Likely to Prefer Palliative Care Treatment at End of Life

“If there is a ‘war’ on cancer, and treatments and hopes for cures are portrayed as ‘fights’ in media, then societal beliefs may push men, in particular, to fight the disease over receiving palliative care,”

The bad of the unintended consequences cannot outweigh, or be greater than, the intended good outcome.

By Leah Lawrence

A small study has found that men with cancer were less likely than women to prefer palliative care if informed that continued treatment would not be helpful.

“These findings, which could partially account for the observed gender disparities in end of life care, underscore the need for future interventions to promote palliative care services among men,” Fahad Saeed, MD, University of Rochester School of Medicine and Dentistry, and colleagues wrote in the Journal of Pain and Symptom Management.

Prior research had shown that men and those with low educational attainment are more likely to still be receiving “curative” treatments weeks prior to death and are less likely to undergo palliative care or hospice. With this study, Saeed and colleagues hypothesized that these two groups would be less favorably disposed toward palliative care.

To test this hypothesis, they used data from 383 patients that were gathered in the Values and Options in Cancer Care (VOICE) study. In this study, patients were asked about their preferences for palliative care if they had been informed by their oncologist that further treatment would not be helpful. Palliative care was explained to the patients as care intended to provide comfort and improve the quality of life but not to cure.

Included patients ranged in age from 22 to 90 years, and 55.1% were women. The majority of the patients had also attended college.

Almost 80% of patients reported that they definitely (45.2%) or possibly (33.9%) would desire palliative care if informed that further treatment would not be helpful.

Women were about three times more likely to prefer palliative care compared with men (odds ratio [OR] = 3.07; 95% CI, 1.80–5.23). These odds decreased slightly in sensitivity analyses that accounted for additional covariates and ordinal regression.

“These gender differences may be explained by gender differences in role socialization,” the researchers wrote. “Men and women adopt beliefs about gender roles that reflect prevailing social norms. These beliefs guide decisions about socially acceptable and unacceptable attitudes such as being stoic, fearless, less expressive of symptoms, and invulnerable.”

“If there is a ‘war’ on cancer, and treatments and hopes for cures are portrayed as ‘fights’ in media, then societal beliefs may push men, in particular, to fight the disease over receiving palliative care,” they continued.

In contrast, the data did not support a greater preference for palliative care among those with more education. Patients with a high school education or less and those with a college education had comparable preferences for palliative care.

“It is not very likely, therefore, that education disparities in end-of-life care can be explained by education differences in preferences for palliative care,” the researchers wrote.

In addition, the study showed that older adults were less likely than younger ones to prefer palliative treatment (OR = 0.54; 95% CI, 0.31–0.94). To explain this, the researchers suggested that older patients may have a lack of knowledge about palliative care.

“In a survey of patients across the adult age range, more than three-quarters of the sample had never heard of palliative care,” Saeed et al said.

Professional death coaches: A new type of doula

Two B.C. women Explore the sacred journey between life and death

Alison Moore and Sue Berlie


Death is no stranger to two Okanagan women, who have guided their loved ones through the unique journey.

What’s new, however, is their growing role in helping the wider community embrace a different kind of death experience.

“There’s a lot of paradigm shift(ing) happening right now, people want to talk about it,” said Sue Berlie, shamanic coach, death walker and psychopomp.

Berlie, alongside Alison Moore, a life-cycle celebrant and sacred passages doula are also both trained as home funeral guides through the Canadian Integrative Network for Death Education and Alternation (CINDEA). They are also facilitators of the Okanagan Death Cafe.

Celebrant Alison Moore

Death Cafes were created in 2004 and has spread around the world. The events offer unique opportunities for conversations about death, the dying process and preparation to be had. Through guided in-depth conversations with each other, participants find solace and a new understanding of a usually taboo subject. Currently, 6,588 Death Cafes have been hosted in 56 countries.

Berlie and Moore were drawn the worldwide Death Cafes because of their grassroots nature, and the high demand for people wanting to get more involved with the death and caring of their friends and family. They were also getting sick of the current “business” of dying.

“A lot of people want to die at home and aren’t given that opportunity, and when they do (die at home) we don’t let them lie there and have their friends and family come in where we can hold services … rather, the person dies and has been whisked off to a funeral home and everyone has been left there with a void,” Moore said.

Funerals cost somewhere between $1,000 to $12,000 according to Canadian Death Services Online , and B.C. currently has the highest rates for cremation in Canada.

Seventy per cent of North Americans prefer to die at home, and only seven per cent said they wanted to die in a hospice or palliative care home, in a survey conducted by Donna Wilson, at the University of Alberta. Wilson also teaches nursing and researches dying in Canada and the survey also found that 60 per cent of Canadians actually die in hospital and 10 per cent die in nursing homes.

Outside of religion, rituals to be held after death are lacking and that’s become a problem.

“People are having a deeper experience when helping and preparing for death, part of what we are excited about is helping people grieve well. You should die well and grieve well,” Moore said.

Moore’s education in the world of death and dying began when she found out she was expecting her first child and her best friend was diagnosed with stage four breast cancer.


“Here I was gestating life and my best friend was given three to six months to live. She ended up living on Elisabeth Kübler-Ross’ farm (a pioneer in near-death studies and author of On Death and Dying) and becoming one of the subjects in her book. She brought us on this journey of spiritual exploration with her,” Moore said.

Talking about death and dying hasn’t been difficult since that perspective-shifting experience. Now as a celebrant, Moore “marries and buries” people, guiding them through different life-changing experiences; the birth of a child, officiating marriages and officiating funerals.

Moore is now a certified death doula whose first guided her father through death.

“It was very interesting being on the inside, as a daughter, and being the person that was trying to hold space for the person I was caring for — it was an extraordinary experience. We are trained to focus on the person we are caring for, providing them with a beautiful quality of life and death. We are of service to the path that the person is taking, and it is a sacred one.”

Berlie, a psychopomp (a guide of souls to the place of the dead) takes a different spiritual journey in her work. There is no general scenario, as she works on a case by case basis. She can be there during a death, after, or if asked by a family member or the person who is dead to ensure their spirit is not trapped. Berlie also facilitates conversations, ceremonies and rituals. Berlie calls it dreaming themselves into their next life.

“It will always depend on what people believe, you have to stay within their beliefs, you cannot introduce anything. It is about them and what they want,” Berlie said. “Dreaming into what is next, is more of a conversation and I see that with the more Death Cafe’s we hold, the more people become open to other things and they start to explore within themselves wondering “well maybe my body doesn’t just shut down and that’s it for my spirit.””

Sue Berlie

Berlie works alongside spirit guides, spirit animals and the realms to help spirits continue onto the journey of what is next.

Her work began when she was 18 years-old and her best friend died suddenly in a car accident.

“He stood there clear as day and talked to me the night he died— I later went to a psychic 30 years later and she said “Oh who is that over your left shoulder? You have a bright gold orb hovering there, he hasn’t left your side.” It was my friend and he didn’t realize he was dead. He is my spirit guide and I believe he helps me in my work.”

Berlie later volunteered at a hospice and found she was not able to help people in their last stage of life in the way she felt compelled to. She changed her career in order to strengthen her ability as a psychopomp by becoming a shamanic practitioner, and certified death walker. Shamanic practitioners are healers who move into an altered state of consciousness to access a hidden reality in the spirit realms with the purpose of bringing back healing, power and information.

As a death walker Berlie accompanies people as the go onto their journey towards death, nurturing, enhancing and strengthening the capacity of the person about to die. While providing legal and practical knowledge to them and the family.

The next Okanagan Death Cafe series has yet to be scheduled but the women have decided to host them bi-monthly instead of annually to accommodate and continue the conversations around death and dying.

“What I would like to see and what is beginning in these dialogues on death and dying is, that people are opening up to the fact that the one thing we know when we are born is that we are going to die. We need to start embracing in our daily lives, because each day is a gift,” Alison Moore said.

For more information, or to find a Death Cafe near you please visit

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A 2000-Year-Old Mummified ‘Sleeping Beauty’ Has Been Found Buried With a Mirror

Who was she?


Archaeologists in southern Siberia have unearthed a remarkable find – the mummified remains of a woman, carefully adorned in silk and buried with riches. Miraculously, her resting place was unscathed after being underwater for many years.

The team spotted the grave on the bank of the Yenisei River upstream of a giant dam – in a region that had been periodically underwater for decades.

She’s been nicknamed “sleeping beauty”, and was probably buried sometime in around the first century CE, archaeologists from St Petersburg’s Institute for the History of Material Culture believe.

Her burial place is near the Sayano-Shushenskaya Dam, which powers a hydroelectric power plant, and had been underwater for a great deal of time since the 1980s, when the reservoir began to be filled.

But her burial was unusual – she was laid to rest in a stone coffin – which is how her remains managed to survive being flooded.

“The mummy of a young woman was found inside a grave at the burial ground Terezin on the shore of a water reservoir. The lower part of the body is well-preserved,” explained archaeologist Marina Kilunovskaya of the Institute to Russian news agency TASS.

“It is not a classical mummy, though. The grave remained tightly sealed under the stone cover all along. The body underwent natural mummification.”

The waters recede every May and June, which allows archaeologists a short period of time to access the archaeological sites that were covered by the reservoir. They opened the tomb in May this year.

Inside, the burial was exceptionally well preserved. Soft tissues, skin, clothing and even grave goods were all found intact.

And the clothing and grave goods hint that the lady was a nomadic Hun, young and highly regarded by her people, possibly a noble.

“On the mummy are what we believe to be silk clothes, a beaded belt with a jet buckle, apparently with a pattern,” the Institute’s deputy director, Natalya Solovieva, told The Siberian Times.

“Near the head was found a round wooden box covered with birch-bark in which lay a Chinese mirror in a felt case.”

There were also two vessels buried with her, one of which was a typical Hun vase, both containing a funeral meal, and on her chest was a pouch of pine nuts. Ceramic utensils in the grave were typical of Hun burial practices, the archaeologists said.

Accidental mummification is not uncommon.

Ötzi the Iceman‘s body dehydrated, mummified by the ice of the glacier in which it resided for 5,000 years. The Gebelein mummies were naturally mummified by the heat, salinity and dryness of the Egyptian desert.

Bodies have even been found accidentally mummified by their copper grave goods.

Further work will need to be undertaken to determine exactly how the Sleeping Beauty was so well preserved. It’s also expected that analysis of her body and grave goods will reveal a lot about her culture, and her own life in particular.

The artefacts and body have been removed from the grave, and restoration experts have already started work to preserve them for posterity.

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