Can dogs comprehend the meaning of death and do they grieve because of it?
Traditional Chinese funeral is an elaborate ceremony that involves a number of rites and rituals. However, the etiquette that needs to be followed during these ceremonies is worth noting.
By Rave Uno
The funeral or death ceremony is one of the most important rites of passage that virtually every human being has to go through. Funeral rites differ from country to country and from culture to culture, but all of them are unanimously aimed at ensuring that the soul of the deceased enters the afterlife without any hurdle. People have been following various funeral customs and practices from time immemorial, and we indeed have ample archaeological evidence to prove that certain patches of land served as cemeteries and that certain platforms were used particularly to carry out last rites on a person. Even today, there are a plethora of funeral rites and etiquette that cultures across the world follow, and it is indeed interesting to know that some of these are ages old, owing to the antiquity of the culture itself.
China is, without doubt, one of the oldest surviving civilizations of the world. People of today’s China value their age-old customs and traditions as much as they value advancements in technology and modernization. For the Chinese, the funeral rites are an important part, not only of their religious lives, but also social lives.
Chinese Funeral: Protocol to be Followed
Funeral rites occupy a very important place in the traditional Chinese society, and all the set rules and etiquette need to be very strictly followed. It is believed that the one who fails to adhere to the rules and etiquette of the funeral invites bad luck to his/her family. Traditionally, the Chinese people are known to host lavish funeral ceremonies for their deceased near and dear ones because elaborateness of the funeral ceremony determines the status of the family in the society. This Buzzle write-up features some of the important etiquette to be followed during a traditional Chinese funeral.
Colors to Wear
► Avoid wearing bright and colorful clothing, as such hues may symbolize moods, contrary to the one of mourning. Do not wear red; in China, it is associated with happiness.
► You can dress up in white clothes, but make sure that they are absolutely plain, with no designs at all. In fact, the deceased is also dressed up in a white robe.
► If the deceased lived up to the age of 80 or above, guests can wear a white attire bearing shades of pink or red. The Chinese believe that if a person dies at 80 or above, he/she lived life to the fullest, and had no desires left to be fulfilled. Therefore, such a death (if it is natural), calls for a celebration, and shades symbolizing happiness are acceptable to a certain extent.
During the Funeral
► The Chinese funeral involves a lot of rites which have to be completed properly. Traditionally, the period called “wake” precedes the actual funeral. Held either in the family home or local temple, this period lasts for several days, wherein family members and close friends are expected to bring flowers for the deceased.
► Though it is not customary, people generally also put banners with couplets about the deceased written on them, within the wreaths. Such a gesture shows that you are equally sad about the person’s death as his/her family.
► On the day of the funeral, all the guests are expected to give money in white envelopes (white is the color of mourning in Chinese culture) to the family members of the deceased. This can be directly handed over to one of the family members (or put into a donation box, if there is one), either on the day of the funeral or one day before.
► You can either write your name on the white envelope while you give the money or you can leave it blank; it is acceptable both ways.
► The amount that you may give varies, depending on the overall income of the family of the deceased, and also that of the guests. The amount of money also depends on the closeness of the grieving family with the guest.
► The minimum expected amount is 101 yuan (about $16), but there is no upper limit for the same. While enclosing money into the white envelope, ensure that you are donating in odd numbers.
► While the funeral is in progress, the members of the grieving family burn joss paper, also known as ghost money, to ensure safe passage of the deceased into the afterlife.
► Apart from joss paper, other miniature items such as houses, cars, televisions, utensils, etc., are also burned. It is believed that all these enter the afterlife with the deceased, so that he/she can lead a luxurious and a comfortable life, even after death.
After the Funeral
► Red, in Chinese culture, is the color of happiness. So, the distribution of red envelopes after funeral symbolizes the end of the period of mourning, and the beginning of a new start.
► As a marker of a fresh beginning, the guests are also made to consume a piece of sweet candy before leaving for their respective homes. Sometimes, the guests may also be presented with a handkerchief.
► It should be noted that the three items mentioned above viz., the envelope with a coin, the handkerchief, and the candy, should not be carried home by the guests. If done so, these items are believed to invite bad luck.
► It is also customary for the grieving families to present their guests with a red-colored thread, while they leave for their homes. This thread is believed to ward away evil spirits, and so, it should be taken home by the guests and tied to their doorknobs.
The Funeral Procession
► Once the elaborate funeral ceremony is over, a funeral procession to the final resting place of the deceased, the crematorium or the cemetery, is held.
► For this, a special band is hired and loud music is played until the place is reached. Traditional Chinese culture believes that evil spirits can be kept away by means of loud music.
► The other mourners are allowed to wear any shades, except the bright and bold ones, and it is also customary for them to wear a cloth band on their arms that signifies that they are mourning the death of their loved one.
► The arm on which the band is worn depends on the gender of the deceased. If the deceased is a woman, the band is worn on the right sleeve, and vice versa.
► More often than not, professional mourners are also hired; however, this is not mandatory, and depends largely on the financial status of the grieving family.
► The coffin, in which the corpse is laid, is kept in a hearse decorated with funerary wreaths and flowers.
► The children of the deceased walk in the front row of the procession, carrying a large portrait of their mother/father. They are followed by other family members and guests.
► Whether the deceased is cremated or buried, depends on the personal preference of the deceased himself/herself and/or his/her family. Both these practices prevail in the traditional Chinese culture, and both are equally acceptable.
It is worth noting that in Chinese culture, the funeral customs and rites vary from person to person, depending on the social status of the deceased and/or also his/her position in the family. They also depend on the age, marital status, and the manner in which the person died. So, while you prepare yourself to attend a traditional Chinese funeral ceremony, ensure that you have considered all these things so that you can follow the appropriate etiquette once you get there.
Complete Article HERE!
First appearing during the Spring and Autumn Period (722-481BC), hanging coffin is a unique funeral and sacrifice custom of the minority groups in southern China. People put the bodies of their ancestors into wooden coffins that were later placed in caves of precipitous cliffsides.
Most coffins were made with one whole piece of wood into various shapes. It was said that the hanging coffins could prevent bodies from being taken by beasts and also bless the soul eternally.
Famous Hanging Coffin Sites :
While hanging coffins can be found in many places in China, the strange thing is all of them only existed for a certain period in history. Those in Wuyi Mountain are the first appear in China, as early as in the Zhou Dynasty (1027-777BC) while those in Gongxian County of Southwest china’s Sichuan province are the most recent, which also marked the end of the hanging coffin custom.
The mystery of hanging coffins
Why did the ancient people bury the dead in hanging coffins?
According to historical records, the Bo people believed “Coffins set high are considered auspicious. The higher they are the more propitious for the dead”. Also, after experiencing years of wars and natural disasters, the Bo people dreamed of going somewhere peaceful and quiet after their death. That is why they chose to rest their bodies on the precipices with the mountains and rivers around, all peaceful, beautiful and quiet. The Guyue people, on the other hand, held a high esteem for high mountains, and believed the higher the hanging coffin was placed; the better they could be protected.
How did the ancient people do it?
So how did the ancient people, including the Bo people and Guyue people, do it? This question once caused heated discussion among experts . Some believe the coffins were lowered down with ropes from the top of the mountain. Some ought the coffins were put in place with wooden stakes inserted into the cliff surface as artificial climbing aids. Others feel that earth ramps were the answer.
Cui Chen, a curator of the Yibin Museum, who examined the three different ways the coffins of the Bo people could have been put in place, has this to say:
“Earth ramps might have been used but experts discount this solution due to the amount of labor required, which would have been difficult in an underpopulated area. A timber scaffold supported on stakes in the cliff might have offered a plausible explanation but years of investigation have failed to find even a single stake hole. On balance the third option of lowering the coffins on ropes from above had always seemed feasible and now cultural specialists have found the telltale marks of the ropes which were used all these years ago. And so this part of the mystery of the hanging coffins has now been resolved.”
During the later years of the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644), the imperial army cruelly oppressed the ethnic minority peoples of Southwestern China Sichuan and Yunnan Provinces. In particular, the Duzhangman and Bo Peoples fell victims of massacre. To escape their oppression, the Bo migrated to new locations. They hid their real names and assimilated with other ethnic groups. Like their culture they have disappeared but their descendents are still here for they are a part of us.
How the Guyue people hung the coffins onto the Fairy-water Rocks of Longhushan (Dragon TigerMountain) remains a mystery, since the hanging coffins are so dangerously located. Over the years, it has taken on a mystic air. Some people say the coffins were hung up with the aid from the immortals in the heaven, while others say there are invaluable treasures within the caves. Longhushan Administration Bureau once offered a 300,000 yuan ($US 36298) reward for solving the mystery, but so far no one has won the reward.
She’s often depicted as the patron saint of murderers and narco-traffickers, and the Catholic Church condemns devotion to her as blasphemy. But Santa Muerte, or Saint Death, is a Mexican folk saint with a growing following across North America, particularly among the marginalized – transsexuals, immigrants, the poor.
The One God of the Near Eastern monotheisms— Judaism, Christianity, Islam—is both the creator and stern but loving father of humankind. He cares for his creation from birth to death and beyond. This is somewhat exceptional among world mythologies. Many creator gods are unbelievably remote in time and space: Maheo in the myths of the Cheyenne of the U.S. Great Plains existed before existence, and numerous creators are sky gods, such as Olorun, or “Sky,” in the myths of the Edo and Yoruba peoples of Nigeria.
Although most peoples of the world preferred to believe that creation had a purpose, sometimes it was incidental or even accidental. Qamaits, warrior goddess of the Bella Coola people of the Northwest coast of Canada, killed off the primeval giants who ruled the earth, making room for other life forms merely as a by-product. Coniraya, one of the oldest of Inca gods, could not help but create: His mere touch made everything burst into life.
Such creators often take scant interest in their creation. Qamaits seldom concerned herself with the earth once she had killed the giants and perhaps humans as well; her rare visits caused earthquakes, forest fires, and epidemics. Other creator gods withdraw once the act of creation is over, leaving subordinates in charge. In Ugandan myth, the creator, Katonda, left his deputies Kibuka (war) and Walumbe (death), along with others, to rule his new universe.
The War Gods
War and death are an obvious pairing. Almost no one embraces death willingly, unless seduced by the evil songs of Kipu-Tyttö, Finnish goddess of illness, into joining her in the underworld of Tuonela. To express most people’s sense of death as a battle lost, death is pictured in many myths as a warrior: Rudrani, the Hindu “red princess,” who brings plague and death, and gorges on blood shed in battle; and Llamo, Tibetan goddess of disease, riding across the world, clad in her victims’ skins, firing her poison arrows. Because warriors give protection too, the ancient Greeks were ushered out of life by a gentler psychopomp (soul guide) than in most mythologies, the warrior god Thanatos, brother of Sleep, who escorted the dead to the gates of the underworld.
If war and death seem obvious allies, war and life seem contradictions. Yet it is precisely on the patrons of war, and other gods and goddesses envisaged as warriors, that the business of human life often rests. In most mythologies, the divine energy of the gods is seen as the great motive force of the universe. This energy may be analogous to that of a storm or some other powerful natural force, as in Egypt where the desert wind was personified as the lion-headed goddess Sekhmet, who when angry became the Eye of Ra, a terrible war goddess who swept over the land, scorching the earth in her wake.
Just as human warriors are stronger and more active than most other people, war gods and goddesses generally embody pure energy: the Hindu goddess Durga is the anger of Shiva’s consort Parvati, just as Kartikeya (Skanda), Hindu god of armies, is the fierceness of Shiva himself. The divine vigor of these deities is barely contained: Sumerian Ninurta existed as power without form until his mother Ninhursaga confined it in the shape of an eagle-winged warrior. The same idea underlies the curious births of many war gods: Iranian Mithra, born from a rock; Greek Athene, springing from Zeus’s head; Kali, the Hindu death goddess, bursting from the forehead of Durga; and Kartikeya, born from the sparks that fell from Shiva’s eyes. They are eruptions into the universe of divine vitality.
Unsurprisingly, therefore, a number of war gods are themselves creators, like the Mesopotamian Marduk, Mithra in ancient Iran, Min in Egypt, Vahagn in Armenian myth, Unkulunkulu of the Amazulu people of South Africa, and (inadvertently) Qamaits. Many more are deeply involved with the creative and intellectual growth of humankind, their myths saying something universal about the way civilizations develop. Except for the Greek Ares, portrayed as brawn without brain, the war gods are often great benefactors. Tools and weapons are the gifts of Gu, the blacksmith god of the Fon peoples of Dahomey, and of Ogun, venerated by the Yoruba as the power of iron. Craft-skills are bestowed by Greek Athene and Sumerian Ninurta, healing and medical skills by lion-headed Sekhmet and by Unkulunkulu, the Amazulu creator. Magical knowledge is the legacy of Norse Odin, prophecy of Baltic Svandovit. Justice and fair dealing are the province of Norse Tr and Roman Mars, sovereignty and rule of Celtic Medb, Germanic Teutatis, and both Mars and the Roman war goddess Bellona.
It is very often the war gods, too, who oversee the continuance of the human race, and indeed the ability of all living things to reproduce themselves. The myths say this in different ways. Several war gods and goddesses, notably the Greek Ares and the Celtic Medb, were notorious for their sexual appetites. Just as Ares coupled for preference with Aphrodite, so in Haitian voudun (voodoo), Ogoun enjoys sex with the love goddess Erzulie. The Mesopotamian Ishtar, goddess of sex, was in Assyria also the war goddess, to whom were offered the flayed skins and severed hands of prisoners.
This is less a commentary on the rape and pillage historically associated with invading armies than a reflection of a link between war gods and a broader notion of generation and fertility. Gu, in Dahomey, oversaw both fertility and war; Cihuacóatl, Great Goddess of the Aztecs, had charge of war and women’s fecundity. In particular instances, the link between war and fertility might arise from the war god’s dual role as sky and weather god, by analogy with the life-giving rain, as with Mars and Svandovit. Another line of development is represented by Hachiman, who began as aprotector of crops and children, came to protect the whole of Japan, and then became a war god.
Sex and Fertility
But war gods aside, a connection between sex/fertility and death is made in many mythologies from the most ancient past down to the present time. Nergal in Mesopotamia, embodied as a bull (a widespread symbol of virility), was notorious both for his sexual activity and also for dragging mortals off to the underworld; Sucellus, the “Good Striker,” in Celtic myth had a hammer which he used both to strike plenty from the ground and to hit dying people on the forehead to make death easier; Ghede, originally the Haitian god of love, was in later voudun belief amalgamated with Baron Samedi, the dancing god of death who was often questioned via blood sacrifice on questions of fertility.
This link between sex and/or fertility and death is epitomized by Hathor, originally a fierce blood-drinking Nubian war goddess who wore the same lion-headed form as Sekhmet. When introduced into Egypt, she became the cow of plenty whose milk was the food of the gods and kept them fecund. It was Hathor, too, who entertained the sun god Ra on his nightly voyage through the underworld, and also guided souls to the court of the judge of the dead, Osiris.
Life and death are two sides of the same coin: Innanna, Sumerian goddess of sex and fertility, is the twin sister of Ereshkigal, queen of the underworld. They are not two but one, a dual goddess, light and dark. Consider the Irish myths of the Daghdha. Wise, associated with magic, like the war gods he was master of arts and skills. But he was also the gluttonous god of abundance and of fertility, coupling with Boann, the spirit of the river Boyne, as well as his wife Dana, and with the war goddess the Morrigan (significantly on New Year’s Day). He wielded a huge club—with the knobbed end killing the living, the other restoring the dead to life.
Other Aspects of Gods and Goddesses
Some mythologies have vanished; some have gone on to become world faiths. One of the survivors is Hinduism, which expresses its philosophy of life and death in the myth of Shiva, a warrior of vast strength, the most powerful being in the universe, armed with invincible weapons (including a bow made from the rainbow and a trident of thunderbolts). Like many war gods, he was born oddly,
from a slit in a vast penis that appeared in the universe. (He is still honored in the form of a phallic stone column, the lingam.) At the same time, his titles include Kala (“Death”) and Nataraja (“Lord of the Dance”), because of the terrible dance he dances at the end of each cycle of the universe, when he opens his fearful third eye and unmakes the whole of creation. He is one of the three supreme deities: He destroys, Vishnu preserves, Brahma maintains balance. Together, they order the universe.Though many ancient mythologies explained how death came into the world, comparatively few promised a better life to come. Their underworlds were mostly gloomy places, into which the dead were thrust by hideous demons or fierce warrior-deities, and there either forgotten by their creator or made to stand trial before some dread underworld lord such as Osiris in Egypt or in Chinese Buddhist myth the Four Kings of Hell, who guard the Scrolls of Judgment in which all past lives are recorded. No wonder that many underworlds are filled with unhappy souls, like the spirits led by Gauna, death in the myths of the Bushmen of Botswana, who are so miserable in the world below that they keep trying to escape and take over the world above.
But several societies evolved myths of death and resurrection gods built on the analogy with plant life, which springs up and dies in an annual cycle. The Greeks told the story of Adonis, loved by both Aphrodite and the underworld goddess Persephone. When he was killed by a jealous Ares, scarlet anemones sprang up from drops of his blood. Zeus solved the rivalry between the goddesses by decreeing that Adonis should spend half his year with Aphrodite, half with Persephone in the underworld.
Death and resurrection gods form the background to the emergence in the Near East of mystery religions, so-called because only initiates knew their secrets. These extended the chance of a better hereafter beyond a close circle of special people, such as the pharaohs and nobles in Ancient Egypt afforded a kind of immortality by mummification; Greek heroes taken to the happy Isles of the Blest instead of gloomy Hades; and Norse warriors carried off the battlefield by Odin’s battle-maidens, the valkyries, to the everlasting feast in his mead-hall Vallhalla, whereas those who died in their beds were consigned to the dismal realm of the goddess Hel.
The mystery religions promised life after death to all believers. In Egypt, Aset (Isis), sister and consort of Osiris, by her magical skills reassembled the corpse of Osiris, after he was dismembered by his brother Set. However, the gods decreed that Osiris (perhaps because he could no longer function as a fertility deity, Aset having been unable to find his penis) should henceforth serve as judge of the dead in the underworld. From this evolved the Mysteries of Isis, a popular cult in Ptolemaic Egypt and Rome, from the first century B.C.E. to the fourth century C.E. At their initiation, devotees were told the secret name of the sun god Ra, which Isis won from him in order to revivify Osiris. They believed that knowing this name empowered them to conquer age and sickness, even death.
From Iran came the cult of the creator and war god Mithra who fought and killed the primeval bull, from whose blood and bone marrow sprang all vegetation. He eternally mediates on humankind’s behalf with his father, Ahura Mazda, the god of light, and combats the dark lord, Ahriman, the evil principle. This battle will end on Judgment Day with Mithra’s triumph. In ancient Rome, where he was known as Mithras, Mithra became the focus of a mystery religion practiced especially by soldiers. Initiation into his cult, as into that of Isis, was believed to ensure immortality. The cult never became widespread, partly because it was secret, partly because it was austere, but chiefly perhaps because it was closed to half the population—the women.
By contrast, Christianity spoke to both sexes. It outlasted both the Mysteries of Isis and those of Mithras, perhaps because the answer it gave to the question “What happens to me after death?” was the same for everyone, king or subject, master or slave, soldier or farmer, man or woman. Moreover, the bodily death and resurrection of Christ himself, prefiguring the triumph over death of all who believed in him, was said to have happened to a historical person within or almost within living memory, rather than to a god in some remote mythical time.
Complete Article HERE!
More than 500 years ago, when the Spanish Conquistadors landed in what is now Mexico, they encountered natives practicing a ritual that seemed to mock death.
It was a ritual the indigenous people had been practicing at least 3,000 years. A ritual the Spaniards would try unsuccessfully to eradicate.
A ritual known today as Dia de los Muertos, or Day of the Dead.
The ritual is celebrated in Mexico and certain parts of the United States. Although the ritual has since been merged with Catholic theology, it still maintains the basic principles of the Aztec ritual, such as the use of skulls.
Today, people don wooden skull masks called calacas and dance in honor of their deceased relatives. The wooden skulls are also placed on altars that are dedicated to the dead. Sugar skulls, made with the names of the dead person on the forehead, are eaten by a relative or friend, according to Mary J. Adrade, who has written three books on the ritual.
The Aztecs and other Meso-American civilizations kept skulls as trophies and displayed them during the ritual. The skulls were used to symbolize death and rebirth.
The skulls were used to honor the dead, whom the Aztecs and other Meso-American civilizations believed came back to visit during the monthlong ritual.
Unlike the Spaniards, who viewed death as the end of life, the natives viewed it as the continuation of life. Instead of fearing death, they embraced it. To them, life was a dream and only in death did they become truly awake.
“The pre-Hispanic people honored duality as being dynamic,” said Christina Gonzalez, senior lecturer on Hispanic issues at Arizona State University. “They didn’t separate death from pain, wealth from poverty like they did in Western cultures.”
However, the Spaniards considered the ritual to be sacrilegious. They perceived the indigenous people to be barbaric and pagan.
In their attempts to convert them to Catholicism, the Spaniards tried to kill the ritual.
But like the old Aztec spirits, the ritual refused to die.
To make the ritual more Christian, the Spaniards moved it so it coincided with All Saints’ Day and All Souls’ Day (Nov. 1 and 2), which is when it is celebrated today.
Previously it fell on the ninth month of the Aztec Solar Calendar, approximately the beginning of August, and was celebrated for the entire month. Festivities were presided over by the goddess Mictecacihuatl. The goddess, known as “Lady of the Dead,” was believed to have died at birth, Andrade said.
Today, Day of the Dead is celebrated in Mexico and in certain parts of the United States and Central America.
“It’s celebrated different depending on where you go,” Gonzalez said.
In rural Mexico, people visit the cemetery where their loved ones are buried. They decorate gravesites with marigold flowers and candles. They bring toys for dead children and bottles of tequila to adults. They sit on picnic blankets next to gravesites and eat the favorite food of their loved ones.
In Guadalupe, the ritual is celebrated much like it is in rural Mexico.
“Here the people spend the day in the cemetery,” said Esther Cota, the parish secretary at the Our Lady of Guadalupe Church. “The graves are decorated real pretty by the people.”
Complete Article HERE!
A Tasmanian exhibition of wearable paper art is exploring society’s unwillingness to talk about death.
Tasmanian artists are hoping to provoke important conversations about the end-of-life stage in an exhibition initiated by the palliative care sector.
Wynyard paper artist Ritchie Ares Dona creates his pieces from the pages of second-hand books.
“(I am) making a garment out of paper for a dead body,” he said.
His piece, called Eulogy, is being crafted from the heartfelt messages of Tasmanians who have lost loved ones.
“Some of them were writing letters as if the person were still living,” he said.
“Some of them are confessions.”
It is part of an exhibition to get underway in December called Paper Garments for the Grave.
Jenny Fuller from the Tasmanian Association for Hospice and Palliative Care hopes it provokes important conversations.
“(We’re) trying to get the community talking more comfortably about death and dying and end-of-life decision making,’ she said.
It was inspired by Melbourne designer Pia Interlandi, who helps people make real clothes for their own burials.
“Part of what I do is a ritual, and a moment that is deeply entwined in their lives. I feel really nervous,” she said.
Curator Kitty Taylor said the use of paper as a material had great significance.
“Paper is fragile, as is life, and we just really like those connections,” she said.
“And processes that we can do to paper to strengthen them, there’s a really nice analogy in that about life as well.
“Some are actually making their own garments, so as you can imagine that’d be quite an emotional experience.”
Complete Article HERE!
For more information about the exhibit visit the Burnie Arts & Function Centre, visit their website HERE!