Monday, September 28, 2015

Similiarities in Funeral and Death Beliefs by SpookyLady InSanDiego

Many cultures and religions share similar funeral and death beliefs. Here are some examples:

Placing items the person owned when they were alive in their grave, casket or tomb with them served to get them to or be of help to them in the next life. In some cases the objects were for the person’s soul to have when they are reincarnated in a new body.

Coins placed on the eyes of the dead or under the tongue was a pagan ritual. The coins served as payment to Charon, the skeletal ferryman who takes souls across the River Styx and into the Underworld. Legend has it Italian immigrants brought this tradition to the United States.
Another story about coins over the eyes was that the weight of the coins kept the deceased’s eyes closed.

Including the bodies of family members, slaves, livestock or pets into a grave or tomb in order to assist the person’s spirit in the afterlife. Ancient Egyptian royalty sometimes had their slaves buried alive with them in their tombs to serve them in the afterlife.

Some cultures dress their dead in traditional or ceremonial clothing, then cremate the body; this could be due to the expense of funerals or scarcity of burial sites. Items the person enjoyed in life, such as chewing gum, cigarettes, fruit or pictures of items they liked (cars, money, etc.) are burned along with the body.

At some points in history stacks of stones were placed on top of a burial site prevented animals from digging up bodily remains. These stacks are called cairns.

An Eastern European folk belief is that a person’s spirit cannot escape their grave if it is covered in stones.

An old funeral rite from the Scottish Highlands is to bury the deceased with a wooden plate resting on his chest. In the plate were placed a small amount of earth and salt, to represent the future of the deceased. The earth hinted that the body would decay and become one with the earth, while the salt represented the soul, which does not decay. This rite was known as “earth laid upon a corpse.”

I’ve been to funerals where the family and mourners of the deceased throw a handful of dirt onto the casket after it has been lowered into the ground; this symbolic gesture may reflect the Scottish tradition of earth laid on a corpse.

Vikings would incinerate the bodies of their dead in a stone ship, then place the remains in a burial mound called a tumulus. Weapons and other objects indicating the person’s status were buried with them; many times sacrificed slaves were included in a tumulus. Piles of stone and soil were laid on top of the grave and could form the shape of a Viking ship.

Many native American tribes created burial mounds for their dead. There are many in Ohio, my home state. One is in the shape of a large snake eating an egg. Not surprisingly, it’s called the Serpent Mound. When part of the mound was excavated for historical purposes, a number of arrowheads and shards of pottery were discovered.

 Have you ever visited a cemetery or graveyard and have seen small stones a grave?

It is a Jewish custom to leave pebbles on a grave to indicate a visit and respect given to the family of the deceased.

During the time of the Roman Empire, leaving coins on a grave was a way for military men to give their lost friends some spending money for their next life.

In more modern military cemeteries the coins left on a grave depend on how the visitor knew the deceased:

A penny lets the person’s family know that a visitor stopped by to pay their respect.

A nickel means the visitor and the deceased trained at boot camp together.

A dime means the visitor served with the deceased.

A quarter means the visitor was with the person when they died.

These are just a few of the traditions I’ve found from reading different books and web sites. Another great source of information is people: I ask people about their history and culture. It can be very interesting as well as informative. I’m always curious about why people do things. Maybe it’s because it’s their culture or religion. Maybe it’s a family tradition. This is a classic representation of oral history, one of the most prevalent forms of passing down stories and traditions, even in this very technological age.

Images found on Google.

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