10 extraordinary burial ceremonies from around the world

By James Michael Dorsey

Not all cultures believe in burying the dead in the ground. Here are 10 unique ceremonies from around the world.

THE MODERN DICTIONARY defines the word ‘burial’ as placing a body in the ground.

But burying the deceased was not always the case.

Just as primitive man has long worshiped the four elements of Earth, Sky, Water, and Fire, so too have these elements taken their place in burial practices as diverse as the different tribes of the earth.

The way mankind deals with its dead says a great deal about those left to carry on. Burial practices are windows to a culture that speak volumes about how it lives.

As we are told in Genesis, man comes from dust, and returns to it. We have found many different ways to return. Here are 10 that I found particularly fascinating:

Air Sacrifice – Mongolia

Lamas direct the entire ceremony, with their number determined by the social standing of the deceased. They decide the direction the entourage will travel with the body, to the specific day and time the ceremony can happen.

Mongolians believe in the return of the soul. Therefore the lamas pray and offer food to keep evil spirits away and to protect the remaining family. They also place blue stones in the dead persons bed to prevent evil spirits from entering it.

No one but a lama is allowed to touch the corpse, and a white silk veil is placed over the face. The naked body is flanked by men on the right side of the yurt while women are placed on the left. Both have their respective right or left hand placed under their heads, and are situated in the fetal position.

The family burns incense and leaves food out to feed all visiting spirits. When time comes to remove the body, it must be passed through a window or a hole cut in the wall to prevent evil from slipping in while the door is open.

The body is taken away from the village and laid on the open ground. A stone outline is placed around it, and then the village dogs that have been penned up and not fed for days are released to consume the remains. What is left goes to the local predators.

The stone outline remains as a reminder of the person. If any step of the ceremony is left out, no matter how trivial, bad karma is believed to ensue.

Sky Burial – Tibet

This is similar to the Mongolian ceremony. The deceased is dismembered by a rogyapa, or body breaker, and left outside away from any occupied dwellings to be consumed by nature.

To the western mind, this may seem barbaric, as it did to the Chinese who outlawed the practice after taking control of the country in the 1950s. But in Buddhist Tibet, it makes perfect sense. The ceremony represents the perfect Buddhist act, known as Jhator. The worthless body provides sustenance to the birds of prey that are the primary consumers of its flesh.

To a Buddhist, the body is but an empty shell, worthless after the spirit has departed. Most of the country is surrounded by snowy peaks, and the ground is too solid for traditional earth internment. Likewise, being mostly above the tree line, there is not enough fuel for cremation.

Pit Burial – Pacific Northwest Haida

Before white contact, the indigenous people of the American northwest coast, particularly the Haida, simply cast their dead into a large open pit behind the village.

Their flesh was left to the animals. But if one was a chief, shaman, or warrior, things were quite different.

The body was crushed with clubs until it fit into a small wooden box about the size of a piece of modern luggage. It was then fitted atop a totem pole in front of the longhouse of the man’s tribe where the various icons of the totem acted as guardians for the spirits’ journey to the next world.

Written history left to us by the first missionaries to the area all speak of an unbelievable stench at most of these villages. Today, this practice is outlawed.

Viking Burial – Scandinavia

We have all seen images of a Viking funeral with the body laid out on the deck of a dragon ship, floating into the sunset while warriors fire flaming arrows to ignite the pyre.

While very dramatic, burning a ship is quite expensive, and not very practical.

What we do know is most Vikings, being a sea faring people, were interred in large graves dug in the shape of a ship and lined with rocks. The person’s belongings and food were placed beside them. Men took their weapons to the next world, while women were laid to rest wearing their finest jewelry and accessories.

If the deceased was a nobleman or great warrior, his woman was passed from man to man in his tribe, who all made love to her (some would say raped) before strangling her, and placing her next to the body of her man. Thankfully this practice is now, for the most part, extinct.

Fire Burial – Bali

On the mostly Hindu Isle of Bali, fire is the vehicle to the next life. The body or Mayat is bathed and laid out on a table where food offerings are laid beside it for the journey.

Lanterns line the path to the persons hut to let people know he or she has passed, and act as a reminder of their life so they are not forgotten.

It is then interred in a mass grave with others from the same village who have passed on until it is deemed there are a sufficient number of bodies to hold a cremation.

The bodies are unearthed, cleaned, and stacked on an elaborate float, gloriously decorated by the entire village and adorned with flowers. The float is paraded through the village to the central square where it is consumed by flames, and marks the beginning of a massive feast to honor and remember the dead.

Spirit Offerings – Southeast Asia

Throughout most of Southeast Asia, people have been buried in the fields where they lived and worked. It is common to see large stone monuments in the middle of a pasture of cows or water buffalo.

The Vietnamese leave thick wads of counterfeit money under rocks on these monuments so the deceased can buy whatever they need on their way to the next life

In Cambodia and Thailand, wooden “spirit houses” sit in front of almost every hut from the poorest to the most elaborate estate. These are places where food and drink are left periodically for the souls of departed relatives to refuel when necessary. The offerings of both countries also ask the spirits of the relatives to watch over the lands and the families left behind.

Predator Burial – Maasai Tribe

The Maasai of East Africa are hereditary nomads who believe in a deity known as Enkai, but this is not a single being or entity.

It is a term that encompasses the earth, sky, and all that dwells below. It is a difficult concept for western minds that are more used to traditional religious beliefs than those of so-called primitive cultures.

Actual burial is reserved for chiefs as a sign of respect, while the common people are simply left outdoors for predators to dispose of, since Maasai believe dead bodies are harmful to the earth. To them when you are dead, you are simply gone. There is no after life.

Skull Burial – Kiribati

On the tiny island of Kiribati the deceased is laid out in their house for no less than three days and as long as twelve, depending on their status in the community. Friends and relatives make a pudding from the root of a local plant as an offering.

Several months after internment the body is exhumed and the skull removed, oiled, polished, and offered tobacco and food. After the remainder of the body is re-interred, traditional islanders keep the skull on a shelf in their home and believe the native god Nakaa welcomes the dead person’s spirit in the northern end of the islands.

Cave Burial – Hawaii

In the Hawaiian Islands, a traditional burial takes place in a cave where the body is bent into a fetal position with hands and feet tied to keep it that way, then covered with a tapa cloth made from the bark of a mulberry bush.

Sometimes the internal organs are removed and the cavity filled with salt to preserve it. The bones are considered sacred and believed to have diving power.

Many caves in Hawaii still contain these skeletons, particularly along the coast of Maui.
Ocean Burial

The open sea

Since most of our planet is covered with water, burial at sea has long been the accepted norm for mariners the world over.

By international law, the captain of any ship, regardless of size or nationality has the authority to conduct an official burial service at sea.

The traditional burial shroud is a burlap bag, being cheap and plentiful, and long in use to carry cargo. The deceased is sewn inside and is weighted with rocks or other heavy debris to keep it from floating.

If available, the flag of their nation covers the bag while a service is conducted on deck. The body is then slid from under the flag, and deposited in Davy Jones locker.

In olden days, the British navy mandated that the final stitch in the bag had to go through the deceased person’s lip, just to make sure they really were dead. (If they were still alive, having a needle passed through their skin would revive them).

It is quite possible that sea burial has been the main form of burial across the earth since before recorded history.

The Final Frontier

Today, if one has enough money, you can be launched into space aboard a private commercial satellite and a capsule containing your ashes will be in permanent orbit around the earth.

Perhaps this is the ultimate burial ceremony, or maybe the beginning of a whole new era in which man continues to find new and innovative ways to invoke spirits and provide a safe passage to whatever awaits us at the end of this life.

Any other death ceremonies you’ve encountered? Share your thoughts in the comments!

Complete Article HERE!

Happy Halloween!

It’s regrettable that in our culture there is only one day out of the whole year that we get to stare death in the face without flinching. In fact, we go out of our way to make a mockery of it. I know it’s a little schizophrenic, but there ya have it. I’m certain it’s possible to have a more integrated and less troubling appreciation of the great universal of life, but until then, I guess we’ll just have to settle for this one day for debunking death.

Enjoy the slideshow!

Strippers pole-dance to appease the dead

DRESSED in miniskirts barely covering their hips, the two girls took to the neon-lit stage and moved vigorously to the loud pumping pop music. Their job: to appease the wandering spirits.

As the temple facade in the background changed colour from the fireworks lighting up the Taiwanese night sky, the show climaxed with pole-dancing and striptease in front of an audience consisting of men, women and children.

“This is hard work but I need to make a living,” said 18 year-old En En, out of breath after stripping for the crowd during the recent religious festival.

En En had just earned Tw$3000 ($100) for her act, which began on stage, but ended as she mingled with the audience, letting men touch her for tips.

Folk religion in Taiwan is a unique mixture of the spiritual and the earthly, and one of its most remarkable manifestations is the practice of hiring showgirls to perform at festivals, weddings, and even funerals.

The girls work on “electronic flower cars” – specially designed trucks equipped with light and sound equipment that can become a stage, allowing them to travel to performances often held in smaller cities and rural areas.

“The groups attract crowds to our events and they perform for the gods and the spirits to seek blessings,” said Chen Chung-hsien, an official at Wu Fu Temple, a Taoist landmark in north Taiwan’s Taoyuan county.

“They have become part of our religion and folk culture.”

At 26, Chiang Pei-ying is already a veteran performer with nearly 20 years of experience, travelling across Taiwan with her father and two sisters for their family business to entertain audiences – both alive and dead.
TAIWAN-CULTURE-RELIGION

A dancer performs during a temple festival in northern Taiwan. Picture: AFP

Ms Chiang made her debut when she was in kindergarten because she liked singing and dancing on stage and has become a celebrity performer with her sisters, charging up to Tw$80,000 for a 20-minute show.

She said she enjoys her line of work, even if she has to deal with some odd requests from customers such as walking around coffins and singing for the deceased at funerals.

“I’ve watched this since I was little so it’s nothing peculiar for me. Performing for the dead is just like performing for the living people,” she said.

“They liked to sing when they were alive and their relatives thought they would have liked to have somebody sing for them in the end. For me, I get good tips and I hope I am accumulating good karma too.”

Other performers, however, make much less money and tend to be more discreet about their job, especially those who still do striptease despite risking arrest.

Stripping nude is rarely seen in public now because it is a criminal offence, but partial stripping is still performed at festivals, private parties and funerals, people in the business say.

“Some people like going to hostess clubs, so when they pass away their relatives arrange striptease to reflect their interests while they were alive,” said Chiang Wan-yuan, Pei-ying’s father and a 30-year veteran in the business.

It is difficult to imagine a similar show going on outside a European village church, and some local critics have dismissed the practice, which emerged in the 1970s, as shocking and vulgar.

Others, however, see it as a natural extension of a traditional folk culture lacking in the sharp separation of sex and religion often seen in other parts of the world.

Marc Moskowitz, an anthropologist at the University of South Carolina, said the practice evolved out of the special Chinese concept of “hot and noisy”, which brims with positive connotations.

“In traditional Chinese and contemporary Taiwanese culture this signifies that for an event to be fun or noteworthy it must be full of noise and crowds,” said Mr Moskowitz, who shot a documentary “Dancing for the Dead” in 2011.

He added most people who watched his work appeared to enjoy it and recognise this practice as an “interesting and unique cultural phenomenon,” which to his knowledge is only found in Taiwan.

“As I watched these performances I came to appreciate the idea of celebrating someone’s life to help assuage the feelings of grief,” he said.

Complete Article HERE!

Deathbed Visions and Escorts

by Thomas B West

Deathbed visions are apparitions; that is, appearances of ghostly beings to dying people near the time of their death. These beings are usually deceased family members or friends of the one who is dying. However, they can also be appearances of living people or of famous religious figures. Usually these visions are only seen and reported by the dying person, but caretakers and those attending dying people have also reported witnessing such apparitions. In the majority of these cases, the apparition came to either announce the imminent death of the individual or to help that person die. In the latter situation they act as escorts to dying people in the process of passing from this life to the next.

Visions at the time of death and announcements or omens of impending death, as well as escorts for the dead, are part of many cultures and religious traditions stretching back through antiquity. The religious motif of the soul making a journey from this life through death to another form of existence, whether it be reincarnation or to an eternal realm, is commonly found in many religions throughout history.

Shamans from many native cultures were adept at journeying from the land of the living to the land of the dead and were thus able to act as guides for those who were dying. Hermes, the Greek god of travel, was also known as the Psychopompos, the one who guided the soul from this life to Hades, and the realm of dead. Certain religious traditions have elaborate rituals of instruction for the soul at the time of death. The Egyptian Book of the Dead and the coffin texts of ancient Egypt gave detailed instructions for the soul’s journey to the next life. Similarly, by use of the Bardo Thodol, or Tibetan Book of the Dead, Tibetan Buddhist monks have guided the souls of dying people through death to their next incarnation. In the Christian tradition it has been guardian angels that have acted as the soul’s guide to paradise. The ancient hymn, “In Paradisum,” invoking the angels to escort the soul to heaven, is still sung at twenty-first-century Roman Catholic funerals.

Christianity’s belief in resurrection and the concept of a communion of saints, that is, the continued involvement of the dead with the spiritual welfare of the living, is reflected in the historical accounts of deathbed visions in the West. Third-century legends about the life of the Virgin Mary recount Christ’s appearing to her to tell her of the approaching hour of her death and to lead her into glory. In the hagiography of many early Christian martyrs and saints, impending death is revealed by the visitation of Christ, Mary, or another saint who has come to accompany the dying into heaven. This tradition is carried over into early historical records. The eighth-century English historian Bede wrote of a dying nun who is visited by a recently deceased holy man telling her that she would die at dawn, and she did. Medieval texts such as the thirteenth-century Dialogue of Miracles by the German monk Caesarius of Heisterbach recount similar stories, but always within a theological framework.

In the seventeenth century treatises began to be published specifically on the phenomena of apparitions and ghosts. By the nineteenth century specific categories within this type of phenomena were being described. For instance, apparitions began to be distinguished between those seen by healthy people and those seen by the dying. It was noted that when the dead appeared to the living, it was usually to impart some information to them such as the location of a treasure, or the identity of a murderer. However, when an apparition was seen by a dying person, its intent was almost always to announce the impending death of that individual, and often to be an escort for that death.

Early in the twentieth century, the doctor James H. Hyslop of Columbia University, and later Sir William F. Barrett of the University of Dublin, researched the deathbed visions of dying people. They were particularly interested in what became known as the “Peak in Darien” cases. These were instances when dying persons saw an apparition of someone coming to escort them to the next world whom they thought to be still alive and could not have known that they had preceded them in death.

In 1961 the physician Karlis Osis published Deathbed Observations of Physicians and Nurses. In it he analyzed 640 questionnaires returned by physicians and nurses on their experience of observing over 35,000 deaths. Osis refers to the deathbed visions of dying people as hallucinations because they cannot be empirically verified. He categorized two types of hallucinations: visions that were nonhuman (i.e., nature or landscapes), and apparitions that were of people. His work confirmed previous research that the dying who see apparitions predominantly see deceased relatives or friends who are there to aid them in their transition to the next life. With the assistance of another physician, Erlandur Haraldsson, Osis conducted two more surveys of physicians and nurses: one in the United States and one in northern India. The results of these surveys confirmed Osis’s earlier research on deathbed hallucinations with the exception that there were more apparitions of religious figures in the Indian population.

These studies and the extensive literature on this subject confirm that throughout history and across cultures, dying people often experience apparitional hallucinations. What significance these deathbed visions have depends on the worldview with which one holds them. In this data those with religious or spiritual beliefs can find support for their beliefs. Parapsychological explanations such as telepathy or the doctrine of psychometry, whereby environments can hold emotional energy that is received by the subconscious of dying people, have all been advanced to explain apparitions at the time of death. The Jungian psychoanalyst Aniela Jaffe viewed apparitions, including those of dying people, as manifestations of Carl Jung’s transpersonal views of the psyche and, therefore, a validation of Jungian metapsychology. Indeed both the visions as well as the apparitional hallucinations described by Osis can be attributed to a number of medical causes, including lack of oxygen to the brain. Ultimately the research into the phenomenon of deathbed visions, while confirming that such events are common, offers no clear explanations.

Complete Article HERE!

10 Things Your Body Can Do After You Die

1. Get Married

Death is no obstacle when it comes to love in China. That’s because ghost marriage—the practice of setting up deceased relatives with suitable spouses, dead or alive—is still an option.
Ghost marriage first appeared in Chinese legends 2,000 years ago, and it’s been a staple of the culture ever since. At times, it was a way for spinsters to gain social acceptance after death. At other times, the ceremony honored dead sons by giving them living brides. In both cases, the marriages served a religious function by making the deceased happier in the afterlife.
While the practice of matchmaking for the dead waned during China’s Cultural Revolution in the late 1960s, officials report that ghost marriages are back on the rise. Today, the goal is often to give a deceased bachelor a wife—preferably one who has recently been laid to rest. But in a nation where men outnumber women in death as well as in life, the shortage of corpse brides has led to murder. In 2007, there were two widely reported cases of rural men killing prostitutes, housekeepers, and mentally ill women in order to sell their bodies as ghost wives. Worse, these crimes pay. According to The Washington Post and The London Times, one undertaker buys women’s bodies for more than $2,000 and sells them to prospective “in-laws” for nearly $5,000.

2. Unwind with a Few Friends

Today, most of us think of mummies as rare and valuable artifacts, but to the ancient Egyptians, they were as common as iPhones. So, where have all those mummies gone? Basically, they’ve been used up. Europeans and Middle Easterners spent centuries raiding ancient Egyptian tombs and turning the bandaged bodies into cheap commodities. For instance, mummy-based panaceas were once popular as quack medicine. In the 16th century, French King Francis I took a daily pinch of mummy to build strength, sort of like a particularly offensive multivitamin. Other mummies, mainly those of animals, became kindling in homes and steam engines. Meanwhile, human mummies frequently fell victim to Victorian social events. During the late 19th century, it was popular for wealthy families to host mummy-unwrapping parties, where the desecration of the dead was followed by cocktails and hors d’oeuvres.

3. Tour the Globe as a Scandalous Work of Art

Beginning in 1996 with the BODY WORLDS show in Japan, exhibits featuring artfully flayed human bodies have rocked the museum circuit. BODY WORLDS is now in its fourth incarnation, and competing shows, such as Bodies Revealed, are pulling in $30 million per year. The problem is, it’s not always clear where those bodies are coming from.
Dr. Gunther von Hagens, the man behind BODY WORLDS, has documented that his bodies were donated voluntarily to his organization. However, his largest competitor, Premier Entertainment, doesn’t have a well-established donation system. Premier maintains that its cadavers are unclaimed bodies from mainland China. And therein lies the concern. Activists and journalists believe “unclaimed bodies” is a euphemism for “executed political prisoners.”
The fear isn’t unfounded. In 2006, Canada commissioned a human rights report that found Chinese political prisoners were being killed so that their organs could be “donated” to transplant patients. And in February 2008, ABC News ran an exposé featuring a former employee from one of the Chinese companies that supplied corpses to Premier Entertainment. In the interview, he claimed that one-third of the bodies he processed were political prisoners. Not surprisingly, governments have started to take notice. In January 2008, the California State Assembly passed legislation requiring body exhibits to prove that all their corpses were willfully donated.

4. Fuel a City

Cremating a body uses up a lot of energy—and a lot of nonrenewable resources. So how do you give Grandma the send-off she wanted and protect the planet at the same time? Multitask. Some European crematoriums have figured out a way to replace conventional boilers by harnessing the heat produced in their fires, which can reach temperatures in excess of 1,832 degrees F. In fact, starting in 1997, the Swedish city of Helsingborg used local crematoriums to supply 10 percent of the heat for its homes.

5. Get Sold, Chop Shop-Style

Selling a stiff has always been a profitable venture. In the Middle Ages, grave robbers scoured cemeteries and sold whatever they could dig up to doctors and scientists. And while the business of selling cadavers and body parts in the United States is certainly cleaner now, it’s no less dubious.
Today, the system runs like this: Willed-body donation programs, often run by universities, match cadavers with the researchers who need them. But because dead bodies and body parts can’t be sold legally, the middlemen who supply these bodies charge large fees for “shipping and handling.” Shipping a full cadaver can bring in as much as $1,000, but if you divvy up a body into its component parts, you can make a fortune. A head can cost as much as $500; a knee, $650; and a disembodied torso, $5,000.
The truth is, there are never enough of these willed bodies to meet demand. And with that kind of money on the mortician’s table, corruption abounds. In the past few years, coroners have been busted stealing corneas, crematorium technicians have been caught lifting heads off bodies before they’re burned, and university employees at body donation programs have been found stealing cadavers. After UCLA’s willed-body program director was arrested for selling body parts in 2004, the State of California recommended outfitting corpses with bar code tattoos or tracking chips, like the kinds injected into dogs and cats. The hope is to make cadavers easier to inventory and track down when they disappear.

6. Become a Soviet Tourist Attraction

Russian revolutionary Vladimir Lenin wanted to be buried in his family plot. But when Lenin died in 1924, Joseph Stalin insisted on putting his corpse on public display in Red Square, creating a secular, Communist relic. Consequently, an organization called the Research Institute for Biological Structures was formed to keep Lenin’s body from decay. The Institute was no joke, as some of the Soviet Union’s most brilliant minds spent more than 25 years working and living on site to perfect the Soviet system of corpse preservation. Scientists today still use their method, which involves a carefully controlled climate, a twice-weekly regimen of dusting and lubrication, and semi-annual dips in a secret blend of 11 herbs and chemicals. Unlike bodies, however, fame can’t last forever. The popularity of the tomb is dwindling, and the Russian government is now considering giving Lenin the burial he always wanted.

7. Snuggle Up with Your Stalker

When a beautiful young woman named Elena Hoyos died from tuberculosis in Florida in 1931, her life as a misused object of desire began. Her admirer, a local X-ray technician who called himself Count Carl von Cosel, paid for Hoyos to be embalmed and buried in a mausoleum above ground. Then, in 1933, the crafty Count stole Elena’s body and hid it in his home. During the next seven years, he worked to preserve her corpse, replacing her flesh as it decayed with hanger wires, molded wax, and plaster of Paris. He even slept beside Elena’s body in bed—that is, until her family discovered her there. In the ensuing media circus, more than 6,000 people filed through the funeral home to view Elena before she was put to rest. Her family buried her in an unmarked grave so that von Cosel couldn’t find her, but that didn’t stop his obsession. Von Cosel wrote about Elena for pulp fiction magazines and sold postcards of her likeness until he was found dead in his home in 1952. Near his body was a life-size wax dummy made to look just like Elena.

8. Not Spread an Epidemic

In the aftermath of natural disasters such as tsunamis, floods, and hurricanes, it’s common for the bodies of victims to be buried or burned en masse as soon as possible. Supposedly, this prevents the spread of disease. But according to the World Health Organization (WHO), dead bodies have been getting a bad rap. It turns out that the victims of natural disasters are no more likely to harbor infectious diseases than the general population. Plus, most pathogens can’t survive long in a corpse. Taken together, the WHO says there’s no way that cadavers are to blame for post-disaster outbreaks. So what is? The fault seems to lie with the living or, more specifically, their living conditions. After a disaster, people often end up in crowded refugee camps with poor sanitation. For epidemic diseases, that’s akin to an all-you-can-eat buffet.

9. Stand Trial

In 897 CE, Pope Stephen VI accused former Pope Formosus of perjury and violation of church canon. The problem was that Pope Formosus had died nine months earlier. Stephen worked around this little detail by exhuming the dead pope’s body, dressing it in full papal regalia, and putting it on trial. He then proceeded to serve as chief prosecutor as he angrily cross-examined the corpse. The spectacle was about as ludicrous as you’d imagine. In fact, Pope Stephen appeared so thoroughly insane that a group of concerned citizens launched a successful assassination plot against him. The next year, one of Pope Stephen’s successors reversed Formosus’ conviction, ordering his body reburied with full honors.

10. Stave Off Freezer Burn

At cryonics facilities around the globe, the dead aren’t frozen anymore. The reason? Freezer burn. As with steaks and green beans, freezing a human body damages tissues, largely because cells burst as the water in them solidifies and expands. In the early days of cryonics, the theory was that future medical technology would be able to fix this damage, along with curing whatever illness killed the patient in the first place.
Realizing that straight freezing isn’t the best option, today’s scientists have made significant advances in cryonics. Using a process called vitrification, the water in the body is now replaced with an anti-freezing agent. The body is then stored at cold temperatures, but no ice forms. In 2005, researchers vitrified a rabbit kidney and successfully brought it back to complete functionality—a big step in cryonics research. (It may help in organ transplants someday, too.) But science has yet to prove that an entire body can be revived. Even worse, some vitrified bodies have developed large cracks in places where cracks don’t belong. Until those kinks get worked out, the hope of being revived in the future will remain a dream.

Complete Article HERE!