Hyrcanian Burial Practices

Hyrcanian Burial Practices

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In Cicero's Tusculan Disputations (book I, section XLV), he remarks:

It is customary with the Magi, to bury none of their order, unless they have been first torn by dogs. In Hyrcania, the people maintain dogs for public use, their nobles have their own: we know they have a good breed of dogs; but every one, according to his ability, provides himself with some, in order to be torn by them; and they hold that to be the best interment.

This doesn't pass the smell-test for me. Is there any indication, other than in Cicero's Tusculan Disputations, that this was actually a historical practice?

It sounded fantastical to me as well. However, looking into it, if Cicero's reporting is wrong, it probably isn't wrong by a lot.

"Magi" was the name used for followers of Zoroastrainisim, which was the state religion in Persia at the time. It isn't anymore of course, but the religion itself is still very much alive and kicking. Modern Parsis* in fact do hold a very similar funerary practice, although using carrion birds rather than dogs.

Parsi funerals begin in a way familiar to many faiths: prayers are chanted and mourners pay last respects.

But that's where the similarities end, says Khojeste Mistree, head of the Zoroastrian Studies Institute in Mumbai.

"We have an unusual method of disposal of the dead. The Parsi corpse is exposed to the rays of the sun, and the corpse is consumed or devoured by birds of prey - vultures, kites and crows," Mistree says.

For Zoroastrians, burying or cremating the dead is seen as polluting nature. So for centuries, the Parsis in Mumbai have relied on vultures to do the work - that is, until the entire population of vultures in the city vanished.

If I may speculate a bit, I know a lot of central Asian peoples have historically practiced exposure excarnation (as did a lot of the native peoples of North America). Zoroastrianism is thought to have evolved directly from Indo-Aryan religious practices at a time they were essentially fresh off the steppe (2nd Millenium BC), so it isn't entirely without precedent.

All modern practitioners across Asia seem to prefer to put the body on a high place so that its specifically birds that do the work. So its tempting to gig Cicero there. However, the structures Zoroastrians build for this purpose appear to have been developed long after Cicero, and Herodotus reported both birds and dogs used by Zoroastrians for this purpose as well.

* - As a famous example, Freddie Mercury's family was Parsi, and his funeral was officiated by a Zoroastrian priest. However his remains were cremated, not excarnated.

State Historic Preservation

When a departing kupuna was laid to rest there was never a doubt that their remains would empower their descendants until they themselves were reduced to earth. Some kupuna were covered by stacked stones while others were buried with no surface markers at all, frequently in sand dunes.

Remains of high chiefs or those kupuna of high honor often were interred at night to conceal their location from jealous rivals who might steal and degrade or otherwise use the spiritual power of the remains for personal gain.

Because of these cultural practices, ancestral bones can be found almost anywhere in Hawai’i today. Burial sites are often accidentally disturbed either by nature (high surf or erosion) or by human activity through projects that involve excavation.

If you discover a burial site: stop activity in the immediate area leave remains in place contact the State Department of Land and Natural Resources, Historic Preservation Division and your County Police Department. Reporting a burial site disturbance is required by law (Hawai’i Revised Statutes, Chapter 6E) and severe penalties could result when SHPD is not notified of such disturbance.

How Native Hawaiians View Death and Dying

About 63 percent of Hawaiians are Christian, according to Pew Research . Twenty-six percent of Hawaiians are not affiliated with any religious belief system. At a Christian funeral , the funeral is often at a church. Mourners bury the body in a casket and then share a meal.

Christian beliefs focus on one God and the afterlife &mdash good deeds in this life reward the deceased with eternal happiness.

Native Hawaiians worshipped many gods. Where the soul goes after death depends on the god a person worships. For example, those who worshipped the sun god went in the direction of the sun. Hawaiians who worshipped the moon god went in the direction of the moon.

Yet, some souls don&rsquot leave earth. These are wandering spirits, or laper , and the living fear them. Hawaiians can pray for the dead to stay away or return. Spirits can also help with revenge or protection. Some people worship them as unihipili, or household gods. These superstitions are still followed by many Hawaiians.

Top 10 Fascinating Funerals

Some people decide to pay their respects via drive-thru. Others hang coffins from cliffs. Despite the variety of their methods, the rituals are based in the same idea: communities want to remember and honor their dead.

Funeral rituals vary tremendously. Whether in the same country or on opposite sides of the world, people find unique ways to send off their family and friends who have died. Here are 10 fascinating funerals found around the world.

In many ways, the United States is a land of convenience. Fast food chains sit on many street corners throughout the country so that anyone can drive through and grab a bite to eat, no matter their schedule. Some places in the US have taken this concept and applied it to rituals for the deceased. Parking is no issue, as you can view the body and sign the guest book without ever leaving your vehicle. It is truly a fascinating example of common North American burial practices mixed with America&rsquos culture of convenience.

People are scattered throughout the globe more than ever, and many people do not have enough disposable income on hand to drop money on a pricey plane ticket with little notice. That can make attending funerals difficult for family and friends who are thousands of miles away from the service of a loved one. Some are electing to stream funeral services as webcasts so that location does not get in the way of a person being present for the service, even if it is from the other side of the globe. Webcasting funeral services serves as an interesting mix of tradition and technology.

Some people are just dying to go out with a bang. Cremation fireworks make that possible in a new way. Some companies offer services where they pack cremated remains into firework shells and then launch them into the heavens, creating a stunning fireworks display over land or sea. The results are a vibrant, powerful testimony to anyone who led an exciting life and wished for the same kind of excitement during their funeral.

A traditional funeral ceremony on the South Pacific Island of Fiji can get really grim. When someone dies, those closest to the deceased are then killed too, often through strangulation. The idea is to ensure that the dead is surrounded by family and friends even after death. People would seek to kill female widows, in particular, believing that the god Ruvuyalo would kill the spirit of a man who was not accompanied by his wife. This murderous ritual has since been phased out in modern times on the island.

When many people think about coffins, they imagine a casket that rests deep underground. Some communities hold a different view: they believe that coffins need to be close to the sky so that their dead can be closer to heaven. You can see this practice in minority groups from the Philippines as well as southern parts of China, where the deceased are placed in coffins and then left suspended from the sides of cliffs.

In the Amazon rainforest, parts of the indigenous population go a step further than honoring and remembering their dead &ndash they eat them, too. Up until the 1960s, for example, a group called the Wari&rsquo would engage in mortuary cannibalism. They would eat their kin, anthropologists reported, as a way to emotionally detach from memories of those who pass. The group considered the act a respectful way to dispose of bodies. It was less cruel, to them, than leaving it to rot in the ground. Contact with outsiders eventually put a halt to the practice the Wari&rsquo needed food and medicine, which affluent outsiders would often withhold from participants in mortuary cannibalism.

The Tibetan funerary ritual called sky burial is a practice designed to dispose of remains while allowing a person&rsquos flesh to nourish living beings. In a sky burial, a person dissects a corpse and leaves it in the open, often on raised land like a hill or mountain. Carrion birds like vultures then descend on the corpse and consume its flesh. Remaining bones are later ground up and usually given to animals like hawks and crows.

Humans are carbon-based life forms. Due to that trait, bodies can be used to create a wide variety of things. Now, companies are using that fact to shake up burial practices &ndash it is possible, for example, to get a person&rsquos remains transformed into a diamond. A combination of heat and high pressure changes human ash into a shimmering jewel. This practice is not cheap. Customers looking to preserve a person&rsquos remains in the form of a large diamond could be set back around $25,000.

Aboriginal groups in Australia sometimes use trees in their funerary traditions. They take the deceased&rsquos body and place it in a tree. There, it is left to decompose. Months or even years later, members of the group retrieve remaining bones. These bones are painted with red ochre and placed in a decorated, hollowed-out log during a ceremony complete with dancing. Those involved in the ceremony transport the log containing the bones to the main camp and, after more singing and dancing, they leave it to endure the elements. That completes the burial cycle.

People who want their physical remains to leave the planet can opt for a space burial. Here, a company collects a tiny fraction of your cremated remains, packs it into small container made to withstand the demands of space travel, and sends it out into space. One problem with this practice is that, in many cases, the remains eventually return to earth. For a hefty price tag, you have the option of a more permanent placement: your remains can take a one-way trip to the moon.

The world is full of fascinating funeral rituals. Whether inspired by the trends of modern America or ancestral traditions dating back thousands of years, funerals help reveal how varied communities and their cultural practices can be.

Fengshui, the Location of a Tomb

Generally speaking, graves in China look like earth mounds (for marking), some of which are planted with trees (which symbolize the continuation of the dead). The location of a grave is selected according to fengshui, an ancient art related to the law and order of the universe and the power of nature.

Guilin’s Mount Yao is recognized as a place with great fengshui, and there is a mausoleum of a Jingjiang Prince and a cemetery nearby. That’s also why some hikers on Guilin’s Mount Yao can find a lot of graves on the mountains sides.

According to fengshui theory on burial, when the dead person is buried underground, an energy can form because of the combination of the dead spirit and the grave location. Then the energy can influence the whole family. For an imperial mausoleum, the location can influence the country’s fate. Almost all imperial mausoleums were built by mountains and rivers, based on really strict and complicated fengshui theory, which is impossible to describe thoroughly in several lines.

The fengshui system developed based on the elements of mathematics, geology, astronomy, astrology, physics, philosophy, psychology and intuition. Fengshui is widely used in traditional Chinese architecture, in the site selection and the layout of a building, a courtyard, and even a city.

In fact, not only graves, but every palace in China is built according to precise fengshui theory, especially the Forbidden City in Beijing and West Mausoleums of the Qing Dynasty. China has six fengshui cities, selected because of their precise layouts based on fengshui: Beijing, Tekesi Town (aka Eight Trigarams City) in Xinjiang, Kunming in Yunnan, Wenzhou in Zhejiang, Hengyang in Hunan, and Shenzhen in Guangdong. Of course, the layouts of these cities today are not the same as in the beginning when they were first designed.

Beijing harmonious to nature is the aim of fengshui theory. In laymen’s terms, fengshui mentions that everything is related to each other. There is a close relationship between one’s fate and the place he/she lives and works in, and the location of his/her ancestral graves. A good location and layout can make the owner fortunate.

The History of Funeral Traditions

The history of funeral traditions and rituals indicates that they have been an important part of how communities and individuals externalized grief for thousands of years. They are understood as an important means of taking care of the deceased, as well as those that are coping with the loss of someone they care for.

As a result, such rites and rituals are both extremely personal and extremely diverse- not only across cultures, but across time. Different communities in different contexts have found unique ways of organizing funeral rites that cater to their specific social values and beliefs, as well as the geographical spaces in which theses traditions have taken place.

Robin Hyde-Chambers of R-Hyde Chambers Funerals in the United Kingdom put together this interesting interactive timeline tracing the history of funeral rites as far back as 60, 000 B.C.E. The timeline shows us how funeral practices have developed since that time to become representative of unique cultural traditions. Including examples ranging from the earliest known attempts at mummification in Egypt in 3, 600 B.C.E. to the first celebration of Day of the Death by the Aztecs in 1, 500 B.C.E., we can see how the ways in which funeral traditions are practiced is incredibly diverse and unique amongst cultures.

It also becomes clear how such traditions have evolved over time to cater to new scientific understandings of death. For instance, you can see how the more recent examples of funeral traditions include practices such as biodegradable “Ecopods,” which reflect our global community’s growing urge to be aware of the welfare of our environment. Scroll through the timeline below, and get an idea of how funeral traditions have developed throughout history!

Funeral Traditions from Ireland: How the Irish Embrace Death

Funeral Traditions from Ireland – The Irish Wake

Scene from Waking Ned Devine

The tradition of holding a wake is one of the most ancient of our death rituals, first being cited in the Homeric war poem The Iliad . In Ireland, the wake tradition is believed to be a mixture of Paganism and Christianity. Up until the 19th century, with the development of modern cities and deathcare, an Irish wake started with women washing the deceased, dressing them in their finest clothing, and placing the body on a large table in the main room of the house with candles placed around it. The body would be wrapped in a shroud, tied and decorated with ribbon or flowers. The wake would last a few days during which the body would never be left alone.

Men would partake in smoking tobacco together to socialize and keep evil spirits away from the body.

Neighbors would visit the home of the deceased, welcomed by relatives, and expressed their sympathy by stating “I’m sorry for your trouble…”. Everyone was encouraged to touch the body, but it was not a solemn occasion.

Stories were shared, and food and drink were consumed liberally. Men would partake in smoking tobacco together to socialize and keep evil spirits away from the body. Each male visitor was expected to take a puff of tobacco from a pipe that was left near, or sometimes on the body.

The Irish Wake today is comparable to other Christian funerals. However, people in Ireland typically believe that a funeral is a cause for a celebration of the life of the deceased.

Funeral Traditions from Ireland – Stopping Clocks, Opening Windows and Covering Mirrors

Stopping clocks, opening windows and covering mirrors are all part of the Irish Wake tradition , and similar rituals can be found in other cultures around the world.

All clocks are stopped at the time of death. This marks the time out of respect, and also prevents bad luck.

All the mirrors in the house are covered so the spirit of the deceased is not trapped inside.

All the windows in the house are opened so the spirit of the deceased can leave the home.

But be warned! Don’t stand between the spirit of the dead and the open window, or you will block their exit and be cursed!

Funeral Traditions from Ireland – Keening

In ancient Ireland, you weren’t supposed to cry until the preparation of the body was complete. Crying or wailing too soon was believed to attract evil spirits that would capture the soul of the deceased.

Once the preparation of the body was completed, a lead keener would begin. She would be the first woman to weep over the dead body and recite poetry. After she began, the other women would join in.

This tradition is rarely practiced at funerals today.

Funeral Traditions from Ireland – Sin Eater

A Sin Eater was a person who was tasked with eating the sins of the dead in order for the soul of the deceased to avoid damnation (fun fact: sin tastes a lot like chicken). In Ireland, the sin eater tradition was practiced up until the late 19th Century.

When a Sin Eater died, his soul would be carried to hell, weighted by the sins he had eaten throughout his life.

It is believed to be a folkloric ritual connected to the British Isles, with roots in early Chrisitanity. When someone died without being able to confess their sins, a Sin Eater would be called upon and given bread and ale that was either passed over the body, or eaten in front of the corpse. They would then say a short prayer and would essentially ‘eat’ the sins of the deceased, absorbing the sins into their own soul. This allowed for the soul of the dead to pass into heaven and rest in peace.

When a Sin Eater died, his soul would be carried to hell, weighted by the sins he had eaten throughout his life.

Funeral Traditions from Ireland – Funeral Procession

“Funeral of Mrs Pearse” via National Library of Ireland

After the wake is finished, the body is removed from the house and transferred to a local church for the funeral mass and burial. These traditions are quite similar to Christian funeral processions in the West.

The coffin is traditionally carried by 6 male pallbearers, who are often family. The body is either driven in a hearse or carried by the pallbearers at the front of the procession, with friends and family following behind. People in the streets will stop and allow the procession to go ahead of them out of respect.

Once at the church, there is the funeral mass that often lasts for around 45 minutes with the priest and loved ones speaking of the deceased. After this service is complete, the same procession will carry the coffin to the grave to be buried with a final prayer.

If the procession passes the house of the deceased, they will stop for a moment as a sign of respect.

People, Locations, Episodes

On this date, we celebrate the Black customs regarding cemeteries and funerals preserved through American slavery. One of the most direct and unaltered visual manifestations of African influence on the culture of Blacks in the United States is found in the social behaviors centered on funerals.

In many American rural graveyards across the south and many urban cemeteries in the north and far west, too, Blacks mark final resting places of loved ones in a distinctive manner. While standard markers or floral arrangements are used, the personal property of the deceased is often placed on top of the grave. This can range from a single emblematic item like a pitcher or vase, to an inventory of the dead person’s household goods. One can find clocks, cups, saucers, toothbrushes, marbles, piggy banks, and more.

Such material collections of honor contrast with the usual contemporary white-American ideal of a burial landscape. Such a collection establishes a connection to customs and practices known not only on southern plantations but also in West and Central Africa.

Black graves in Georgia were always decorated with the last article used by the departed, according to Documents from 1843. Historians traveling throughout Zaire in 1884 noted that natives mark the final resting places of their friends by decorating graves with such items as old cooking pots, made useless by penetrating them with holes. Another traveler in nearby Gabon observed over or near the graves of the rich are built small huts, where mourners laid the common articles used by them in their life pieces of cookery, knives, and sometimes a table.

In early American slavery, funeral customs were one of the few areas of Black life into which slave owners tended not to intrude. Despite the massive conversion of Africans to Christian faiths, they retained many of their former rituals associated with the respect of the dead. Placing personal items on graves is more than an emotional gesture. One resident of the Georgia Sea Islands testified, “Spirits need these [things] same as the man. Then the spirit rests and don’t wander.” In addition to personal objects, some Black graves in the South are decorated with white seashells and pebbles, suggesting the watering environment at the bottom of either the ocean or a lake or river.

Such material items are not associated with the Christian belief of salvation they are more likely signs of the remembrance of African custom. In South Carolina, nearly 40 percent of all slaves imported between 1733 and 1807 were from the Kongo-speaking region their world of the dead is known to be underground yet underwater. This place is the realm of the Bakula, creatures whose white color marks them as deceased. Shells and stones signal the boundary of this realm, which can only be reached by penetrating beneath the two physical barriers. Their whiteness remembers that in Central Africa white, not Black, is the color of death.

Also found in Black cemeteries are pipes driven into burial mounds to serve as speaking tubes that may allow communication with the deceased and mirrors that are said to catch the flashing light of the spirit and hold it there. These same customs are found in burial sites in the Bay Area of California. When given the opportunity, any person will carry a heartfelt custom and tradition from place to place as essential cultural property.

An Encyclopedia of African American Christian Heritage
by Marvin Andrew McMickle
Judson Press, Copyright 2002
ISBN 0-817014-02-0

African American Funeral Practices Through History

African American funeral practices date back to the arrival of African slaves in America in the 1600s. Slaves were not permitted to gather to conduct their funeral rituals for fear that they would conspire and revolt. Instead, they were buried at night with no ceremony and laid in unmarked graves in non-crop producing grounds. At the same time, slaves were responsible for the preparation of family gatherings following the plantation owner’s death.

It was only with the introduction of Christianity that slaves were gradually allowed to meet for religious services and funerals. Slave owners were reportedly shocked at the behavior of slaves at these events. They were jubilant and happy as they celebrated the homegoing of their loved ones.

The Civil War and the end of slavery transformed the nature of African American funerals. African American soldiers and civilians became responsible for removing the dead from the battlefields, digging graves, maintaining cemeteries, and keeping death records. They also assisted military doctors in embalming, done in order to preserve the bodies of killed union soldiers and ship them back home. That is how African Americans gained the necessary knowledge for working within the funeral industry.

During the Jim Crow period, further segregations helped African American funeral business to thrive. African Americans had to rely on black funeral directors to give the deceased family members respectful burials. In the early 1900s, African American churches began to form Burial Societies that assisted congregations in planning funeral services. Burial Societies collected money from church members to pay for their graves, coffins, and funerals.

Funeral homes, known as funeral parlors, were among the first businesses set up by African Americans after the abolition of slavery. Working at funeral homes attracted African Americans looking for economic opportunities. Black funeral directors became respected community leaders across the segregated United States. Located in converted ground floors of private homes, funeral parlors were true family endeavors with women and children often helping with the business.

Chinese Funeral Rites for Elders

The funeral of an elder must be conducted according to the person’s age and status and must be carried out completely. Even if the funeral will cause the family of the deceased to go into debt, the funeral must be carried out according to custom.

The family will begin preparation for a funeral before death. A casket is usually ordered by family members while the person is still on his or her deathbed. An undertaker will oversee all of the funeral rites.

At home, the deceased’s family will cover statues of deities with red paper and the mirrors within the house will be removed. This is largely a superstitious practice, as the Chinese have traditionally believed that a person who sees the reflection of the casket in the mirror will experience another death in his or her family. White cloth is hung in doorways of the home, and a gong is placed at the entrance. If the deceased is male, the gong is placed on the left side. For females, it is placed on the right side.

Before the body is placed inside the casket, it is cleaned and dusted with talc. Then the body is dressed in the deceased’s best clothing, and all of the other clothing is burned. According to tradition, a body should never be dressed in red because it could turn the deceased into a ghost.

Period of Mourning

The funeral ceremony lasts 49 days, but the first 7 are the most important. Prayers are said once a week, but the number of ceremonies held depends upon the financial wealth of the family. Even though the funeral rites end, mourning continues for the family for 100 more days.

Watch the video: 25 Unbelievable Burial Practices That Actually Exist (August 2022).