Benjamin Franklin once said that the only things that were certain in life were death and taxes. This is good news for the US funeral industry, which conducts almost 2.5 million funerals every year, and is thought to be worth at least $20bn. These numbers are only going to increase, as the ageing population in the west will also lead to an increase in the annual death rate.
In the US, the UK, and across most of the west, you have two options when it comes to funerals- cremation or burial. Cremation is becoming increasingly popular in the US. In 1960, only 3.6% of all funerals were cremations, whereas this figure was nearly increased to 50% in 2015. This is because of a variety of factors, including the cost. The average cost of a basic cremation service is just $1,650 compared to between $7,000 and $10,000, for a burial.
If you are more concerned about having an environmentally friendly funeral, then an eco-burial could be the right option for you – and can also save you (or your family) a few hundred dollars. There are special green burial sites all over the US, where the deceased is buried in a biodegradable coffins, often without any kind of gravestone or marker.
A green funeral may sound like a strange idea to some, but this is nothing compared to the weird and wonderful burial rites from around the world. Check out the list below, and see if you fancy incorporating any of these ideas into your funeral service!
15. Dancing With The Dead
Famadihana is an unusual event, which takes place in the Madagascan highlands every year, between July and October. In Madagscar, there is a strong belief that death is not the end, and that the spirits of people who have died are in the animals, trees and birds, and even in the air around you. Madagascans also believe that their ancestors and family members are very bored, lying cold and alone in their graves, and so once a year, they are dug back up for famadihana (which translates literally as “turning the bones”), and everyone has a huge celebration, with music and dancing.
14. Body Burning In Flames On A Boat Sailing Down The River
Sadly, this dramatic and impressive burial rite is no longer carried out, although it could be argued that it was the inspiration for modern-day cremation. It is thought that Vikings were one of the first people for whom, the funeral pyre was an important part of the burial rite, and many of their most important warriors were set afloat in a favored longboat, with all their treasures, which was then lit on fire as it floated down the river or across the sea. The sea had huge significance to this exploring and marauding race, and even when bodies were burnt onshore, the ashes would often be floated out into the North Sea or the Baltic.
13. Coffins Hang, Suspended From Cave Walls
This is a tradition which is found in various areas throughout Asia, including China, the Philippines, and Indonesia. The most famous are the Hanging Coffins of Sagada, in the Philippines, where there are over 200 caskets suspended from the walls of caves, some of which, have been in place for 500 years. Elsewhere, such as along the Yangtze River in China, 2000-year-old coffins have been suspended high on the surrounding cliffs. The idea was that by using strong ropes and wires to lift the coffin higher up the cave wall or the cliff, family members were raising their deceased relative closer to the gods.
12. Human Remains Sent Into Space
This is a funeral option for the future, although several wealthy and well-known individuals have already seen their mortal remains sent into space. Once cremated, the ashes of those who have signed up for a space burial are loaded into a small spacecraft, which is then fired into orbit. Some will fall back into the atmosphere, burning up on re-entry, while others will continue in their earth orbit for years or even decades. Star Trek creator, Gene Roddenberry, and James Doohan, the actor who played Scotty in the same series, are among those who have already opted for the futuristic space burial – a natural choice for two men who spent their careers with their heads in the stars!
11. Corpses Are Left Out In The Open
There are lots of traditions and rituals in Native American funerals, and each tribe has their own superstitions and ceremonies in relation to death. Many tribes will often leave the body of the deceased out in the open, ostensibly to help the spirit find its way to the afterlife, but also unwittingly providing a meal for local predators. The Seminole people will often relocate their entire camp or village when someone dies, to keep away from the body and the bad spirits that might surround it, while the Navajo will refuse to use the name of the deceased person for a year after their death, as they believe it can recall their spirit from the afterlife.
10. Corpses Taken To Remote Locations For Scavengers To Feed
The Zoroastrians are an ancient tribe living in India, in the rural areas surrounding Mumbai. They believe that as soon as someone dies, their body becomes unclean, and that it represents the embodiment of evil. Naturally, they want to make sure this evil is kept as far away from their villages as possible, which has resulted in an unusual tradition, whereby the bodies of the deceased are taken to remote locations, and laid out in the open air, allowing predators and scavengers to pick them clean. They even build special towers, called dokhmas, which raise the bodies higher, and make it easy for scavenging birds like vultures, to get rid of the evil spirits.
9. Ashes Are Turned Into Diamond Rings
If you simply can’t bear to let your loved one go after their death, then you could always keep them very close by having their ashes turned into a diamond ring. Although it may sound macabre, the process is very simple, and an option that is becoming increasingly popular. The ashes are heated and then compressed for several weeks at 10,000 tons per square inch, forming a diamond crystal. Apparently, every diamond is different because of the differences in each person’s chemical composition, but most tend to have a slight yellow color. They look just like the real thing at first glance, and no-one need ever know where your treasured “diamond” ring really came from.
8. Strippers Perform At Funerals To Increase Attendance
China, the world of traditional funeral rites, and 21st century sex workers, have collided in a very unexpected way. A large crowd at a funeral is seen as an important mark of respect, and is important for the reputation of the deceased’s remaining family. In a bid to increase attendances, families have started hiring strippers to perform at the funeral, ensuring a good crowd, and also guaranteeing that things won’t get too gloomy and downhearted at the wake. Sadly, the Chinese authorities have promised to crack down on this 21st century funeral phenomenon, which could be over before it has had time to become an established tradition in its own right.
7. Wife Strangled At Funeral To Join The Deceased Husband
In the 19th century, a British missionary to Fiji was shocked by one the island’s grisly funeral traditions, which at that time, was still widely practiced. Upon the death of a tribal chief, or a man of some importance within the tribe, his wife would be strangled at his funeral so that she could be buried with him. Most of the women appeared to have accepted their fate, and indeed when the chief died, women of rank would often volunteer to be killed so that they could have a place at his side in the afterlife. Luckily for Fijian women, this particular burial rite no longer takes place.
6. Corpses Eaten By Tribemates
Cannibalism was once widespread among many tribes in Asia, Africa and the Americas, and it only seems logical that a funeral would be a good time for such tribes to enjoy a slap-up meal. The ritual eating of a member of your own tribe after their death, as opposed to killing a member of another tribe specifically to eat them, is called endocannibalism. It was practiced by the Fore tribe in Papua New Guinea, who would eat the brains of dead relatives, and the Rubuka people of West Africa, who believed that their chiefs could gain power by eating the flesh of children who had died of natural causes.
5. Buried At Sea
Burials at sea are still a popular option today, although you can’t just hire a boat and throw the coffin overboard. In both the US and the UK, you need to have special permission to carry out the ceremony, and there are strict rules about where and when the burial can be conducted. Historically, burials at sea were important for the health of the other sailors, as decomposing bodies could encourage the spread of disease. Royal Navy sailors were sewn into their hammocks before being dispatched overboard, with superstition dictating that the final stitch in the makeshift coffin also went through the nose.
4. Local Vultures Feed On Corpses (Sky Burial)
In Tibet, tradition dictates that the dead body of a deceased relative or tribal chief is nothing but an empty vessel, and that the spirit has already left this shell and moved on to its next reincarnation. The body, therefore, needs to be removed – and what better way to do that than to offer it to the local vultures? Tibetans call this ceremony a sky burial, as they believe that vultures are dakinis – their equivalent of angels – and that this offering will also protect the lives of animals that the vultures would have fed on if they weren’t already full of human flesh.
3. Fantasy Coffin Could Be The Porsche You Couldn’t Afford When Alive
If you want to experience a vibrant, colorful, and lively funeral atmosphere, then Ghana is the place to go. The creation of so-called fantasy coffins, shaped as anything from Coca Cola bottles to Porsche cars– depending on the interests and passions of the deceased – is a relatively recent tradition, which is mainly found in the Ghanaian capital, Accra. Fantasy coffins made by the best craftsmen can sell for thousands of dollars, and are considered works of art, rather than something to be buried in the ground. The colorful coffin sets the tone for a funeral that is more of a celebration of the life of the deceased, than a somber service mourning their death.
Sokushinbutsu is a very unusual burial rite, which was practiced by Buddhist monks in Northern Japan until the 19th century. The process starts with the monks eating a special diet for three years, ridding themselves of all body fat in the process. They would then drink a poisonous tea, which caused vomiting and fluid loss, before locking themselves in a tomb in the lotus position, with only an air tube and a bell for company. While he was still alive, the monk would ring the bell every day, and when the bell stopped ringing, the other monks knew it was time to remove their self-mummified colleague from his tomb. While hundreds attempted this process, it is thought about 16 to 24 managed to complete it successfully.
1. Wives Of Deceased Men Burn Themselves
Although it has now ceased almost completely, for many years, the Hindu practice of sati – when the wives of deceased men would burn themselves, or be burned on his funeral pyre – was a common event throughout India. The first recorded mention of the practice was around the year 400, and it continued for centuries until the British Raj outlawed sati, in 1829. It still continued, however, especially in rural areas, but became less common in the 20th century. Some women voluntarily burned themselves on the pyre, as they wished to show their womanly devotion to their husband, but in many cases the woman had to be forced.
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