Apr 15

Bury me not...

Richard III goes to his final resting place.

It's Maundy Thursday and here I am talking about Richard III. "Why?" You may ask.
Glad you did.

It is all about what we do with our dead. Jesus had a borrowed tomb not so much because they were expecting him to get out of it, but because in Jewish practice at the time his remains would have been allowed to rot for about a year and then the bones would be gathered up for re-burial in an ossuary. A not uncommon practice in places where land is at a premium and grave sites need to be reused.
Seems odd by most modern American standards, but its far from the only variety.

There is some evidence that Neanderthals buried their dead, complete with items from their life. This suggests they had some form of religious practice. A very intriguing notion to follow up on another time.
Tibetan Buddhist practice "sky burials" in which the corpse is left out on a platform to become food, representing the process of reincarnation. Native American tribes did so as well, but as a means to assure the spirit found its way out of the body.
The preferred method of dealing with a body in Hinduism, Jainism, and Sikhism is cremation. Something strictly forbidden by Islam and often frowned upon by Christians.
The Hapsburg royal family dismembered the body of the fallen and sent out the pieces to the family to be dealt with in different ways.
Some Asian cultures hang coffins off of cliff sides.
Cannibalism, especially ritualized, was often done for the most respected of both insiders and outsiders in some cultures.
We are all familiar with mummification as practiced by the Egyptians, but they were hardly the only ones. In fact, the rich in a society seem to get better treated in death than the poor, but then that was true when they were alive as well. They get buried in fancy tombs, chariots, even entire boats.
In many cultures if you were bad you could get buried in a way to punish you in the afterlife, like upside down or in unholy ground.

Modern technology has given us new options: burial in space, freeze-dried desiccation, cryopreseravtion, dissolution in acid, and donation to science. I even know of one artist who had his remains mixed into ink and had a posthumous publishing of his favorite work.

Whatever the method, people are very sensitive about the disposition of their dead. It is the hallmark of some cultures and the foundation of industries. (BTW, the mortuary industry in the US is a powerful force and has gotten numerous laws enacted designed, ultimately, to protect their industry to a ridiculous degree. I am going to give them the benefit of the doubt, however, and assume that they are doing it all to protect us from zombies.) It is a big deal.

In spite of what we have based so much of human culture on, disposal of the dead has far more to do with the living than anything else.

Leave a Reply