Created By: Arha on January 21, 2018 Last Edited By: Arha on January 28, 2018
Troped

CoinsForTheDead

A coin is placed with the dead to ensure their safe passage to the afterlife.

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In any culture, when a person dies there are always certain funeral rites to be upheld. Some bury their dead in wooden boxes, others cremate the remains and so on. One particularly ancient tradition is placing a coin or two with the deceased to ensure their safe passage to the afterlife. The general idea is that there is someone waiting to ferry their soul somewhere, but that this individual must be paid properly. If he is not satisfied, the soul cannot pass on and is stuck. Perhaps they become a ghost, perhaps they are stuck in limbo or perhaps they are damned outright.

However, more mundanely, the trope is often more about respect for the dead. Whether there is truly some sort of being requiring payment to carry the soul or even whether there is some kind of afterlife in the first place is generally not the point. Instead, it is simply intended to be a respectful gesture to the recently deceased. Naturally, the idea of taking said coins from a dead body is considered to be even worse than grave robbing.

See also Due to the Dead regarding other forms of respect towards dead bodies, even those of enemies. The Ferryman is often the one who takes the coins given to the dead.

Examples

Anime and Manga
  • In the episode of Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex "Automated Capitalism", Section 9 try to foil a communist assassin armed with a shotgun that shoots rolls of change, who wants to kill a reclusive mathematician who's been playing the stock markets. It turns out he was Dead All Along, having died some time ago with nobody to check up on him, so Togusa uses a few of the assassin's coins to cover his eyes as a mark of respect. The end of the episode shows...something...repaying the favour by improving Togusa's family investments dramatically, unbeknownst to him or his wife.

Comic Books
  • In The Sandman comics, Dream hears a story that his sister Death becomes mortal for one day every century so that she can experience the life of a mortal and gain empathy for living creatures. In the spinoff comic Death: Time of Your Life we see her spending her day as a mortal in the 1990s. At the end of the day the mortal version of Death dies, and a sorcerer who had been trying to capture her, (and, it's implied, end his own immortal life) places a pair of coins over her eyes in respect.
  • In a 1980s Batman comic, a serial killer is murdering Gotham's homeless by giving them two gold coins coated in poison. When they die, he then places the coins on their eyes.

Film- Animated

Film - Live Action
  • Clash of the Titans (1981). In order to reach Medusa, Perseus must cross the river Styx using the boat of the ferryman, Charon. His friend gives him a coin that he uses to pay Charon for the journey.
  • Troy: One scene has coins placed over a dead warrior's eyes before his funeral.
  • Nacho Libre opens with Brother Ignacio administering last rites to a man thought to have already died, then placing two coins over his eyes and covering him with a sheet. The man then wakes up and removes the sheet and turns his head to glare at Ignacio, causing the coins to fall to the floor.
  • In The Boondock Saints, the MacManus brothers place coins over the eyes of their execution victims.

Literature
  • In 'Salem's Lot, a man is digging a grave for a recently deceased child and getting increasingly uncomfortable. As he gets to the end and the sun is setting, he eventually begins digging down in a frenzy to give the dead boy some silver coins, but whether or not it would have worked, it is too late: The boy has risen as a vampire.
  • In American Gods Shadow receives a coin from an odd man who is actually a leprechaun. He places it in the grave of his deceased wife. Panicking, the leprechaun returns later because the coin he had given away was extremely important, but on hearing that it had already been given away he sadly resigns himself to his fate. As for the coin itself, it brings back Shadow's wife... as a zombie. Intelligent, but still very dead and slowly decaying.
  • Percy Jackson and the Olympians: Charon expects the dead that he ferries over to have a method of paying him:
    I don't suppose you have coins for passage. Normally, with adults, you see, I could charge your American Express, or add the ferry price to your last cable bill. But with children ... alas, you never die prepared. Suppose you'll have to take a seat for a few centuries.
  • Nero Wolfe: In The Black Mountain, the plot starts off with the death of one of Wolfe's old friends. Wolfe goes to the morgue to identify the body, then asks the coroner for permission to place two old coins on his friend's eyes (something he'd promised to do years ago).
  • In Mort, Death's apprentice wonders why his boss is not short of money to use as petty cash - then realises the coins come from all eras and they always come in matching pairs...

Live Action TV
  • Game of Thrones evokes the spirit of this by placing stones colored like eyes over the eyes of important people as their bodies are prepared for a funeral and burial.
  • In the season 11 episode "Baby" of Supernatural, the way to defeat the Monster of the Week is to place a coin in his mouth. This reminds the undead creature that he is in fact dead and sends him back to his resting state.

Music
  • The Beatles refer to this practice in their Protest Song "Taxman", satirizing what they saw as the draconian tax laws of Great Britain. The last verse implied that the tax collector wouldn't shy away from getting his hands on the dead man's coins.
    "And my advice for those who die, Declare the pennies on your eyes."

Myth
  • Greek Mythology: The dead were traditionally buried with coins in their mouths so Charon would ferry them over the Styx, otherwise leaving them unable to move on. Orpheus paid for his passage with a song instead.

Video Games
  • In King's Quest VI: Heir Today, Gone Tomorrow, part of the very laborious, complex and difficult process for Alexander to safely make his way into the land of the dead and restore the princess's murdered parents involves finding a pair of coins on the eyes of a skeleton inside the labyrinth of the minotaur, and paying them to Charon in order to cross the river Styx. Unusually, Charon requires that Alexander place the coins under his own tongue in order to pass.
  • In Tales of Monkey Island, Guybrush needs to bequeath "the golden eyes of everlasting sleep", the two coins he was buried with, in order for The Ferryman to take him to the Crossroads, the pirate afterlife.
  • Touhou: In keeping with her job as The Ferryman, Komachi Onozuka wears a Chinese-style coin tied around her waist, and often throws them as projectiles.

Webcomics
  • In Yet Another Fantasy Gamer Comic, Baron Greyfort arranges to be buried with three coins instead of two. He argues with a goddess that since the funeral rites have not been properly observed, he cannot enter the afterlife, so that he can continue to watch over his family as a ghost.
  • In Slightly Damned Medians are buried with a coin that is used to pay Death for their passage across the river Styx. If they don't have one, or refuse to give it up like one greedy banker, they have to swim, which can take years. It's customary for the jakkai to place a coin in the ear of a dead loved one. After Sakido dies, Rhea puts a coin in her ear.

Web Original

Real Life
  • This has been at times a fairly common burial rite. However, unlike in popular culture where the coins are placed on the eyes, actual evidence for this is fairly rare. Instead, the coins were usually placed inside the mouth.

Community Feedback Replies: 22
  • January 21, 2018
    Chabal2
    • Greek Mythology: The dead were traditionally buried with coins in their mouths so Charon would ferry them over the Styx, otherwise leaving them unable to move on. Orpheus paid for his passage with a song instead.
    • Troy: One scene has coins placed over a dead warrior's eyes before his funeral.
    • Yet Another Fantasy Gamer Comic: Baron Greyfort arranges to be buried with three coins instead of two. He argues with a goddess that since the funeral rites have not been properly observed, he cannot enter the afterlife, so that he can continue to watch over his family as a ghost.
  • January 21, 2018
    FRizer
    See also The Ferryman
  • January 22, 2018
    eroock
    Music
    • The Beatles refer to this practice in their Protest Song "Taxman", satirizing what they saw as the draconian tax laws of Great Britain. The last verse implied that the tax collector wouldn't shy away from getting his hands on the dead man's coins.
      "And my advice for those who die, Declare the pennies on your eyes."
  • January 22, 2018
    foxley
    In a 1980s Batman comic, a serial killer is murdering Gotham's homeless by giving them two gold coins coated in poison. When they die, he then places the coins on their eyes.
  • January 22, 2018
    Bisected8
    • In the episode of Ghost In The Shell Stand Alone Complex "Automated Capitalism – ¥€$", Section 9 try to foil a communist assassin armed with a shotgun that shoots rolls of change, who wants to kill a reclusive mathematician who's been playing the stock markets. It turns out he was Dead All Along, having died some time ago with nobody to check up on him, so Togusa uses a few of the assassin's coins to cover his eyes as a mark of respect. The end of the episode shows...something...repaying the favour by improving Togusa's family investments dramatically, unbeknownst to him or his wife.
  • January 22, 2018
    Generality

    Film- Animated

    Video Games
    • In Kings Quest VI Heir Today Gone Tomorrow, part of the very laborious, complex and difficult process for Alexander to safely make his way into the land of the dead and restore the princess's murdered parents involves finding a pair of coins on the eyes of a skeleton inside the labyrinth of the minotaur, and paying them to Charon in order to cross the river Styx. Unusually, Charon requires that Alexander place the coins under his own tongue in order to pass.
    • In Tales Of Monkey Island, Guybrush needs to bequeath "the golden eyes of everlasting sleep", the two coins he was buried with, in order for The Ferryman to take him to the Crossroads, the pirate afterlife.
  • January 22, 2018
    zarpaulus
    • In Slightly Damned Medians are buried with a coin that is used to pay Death for their passage across the river Styx. If they don't have one, or refuse to give it up like one greedy banker, they have to swim.
  • January 22, 2018
    Kaiseror
    Slightly Damned: Those who are given a coin when they die can pay Death for a ride across the river Styx otherwise you'll have to swim across which can take a few years, it's customary for the jakkai to place a coin in the ear of a dead loved one which come back after Sakido dies, Rhea puts a coin in her ear.
  • January 22, 2018
    Arha
    The markup for the money signs in Automated Capitalism don't appear to work, so I'm just going to cut those out.
  • January 22, 2018
    Prime32
  • January 22, 2018
    maxwellsilver
    • Nacho Libre opens with Brother Ignacio administering last rites to a man thought to have already died, then placing two coins over his eyes and covering him with a sheet. The man then wakes up and removes the sheet and turns his head to glare at Ignacio, causing the coins to fall to the floor.
  • January 22, 2018
    Arha
    I've tweaked the description upon seeing the examples provided. If anyone has further suggestions, please let me know.
  • January 23, 2018
    Arivne
    This isn't necessarily restricted to the dead.

    Film - Live Action
    • Clash Of The Titans 1981. In order to reach Medusa's island, Perseus must cross the river Styx using the boat of the ferryman, Charon. His friend gives him a coin that he uses to pay Charon for the journey.
  • January 23, 2018
    Malady
    Literature.Percy Jackson And The Olympians: Charon expects the dead that he ferries over to have a method of paying him:
    I don't suppose you have coins for passage. Normally, with adults, you see, I could charge your American Express, or add the ferry price to your last cable bill. But with children ... alas, you never die prepared. Suppose you'll have to take a seat for a few centuries.
  • January 23, 2018
    Antigone3
    Nero Wolfe: In The Black Mountain, the plot starts off with the death of one of Wolfe's old friends. Wolfe goes to the morgue to identify the body, then asks the coroner for permission to place two old coins on his friend's eyes (something he'd promised to do years ago).
  • January 23, 2018
    MazeMaker
  • January 24, 2018
    Astaroth
    In Epic Rap Battles Of History: Thor vs Zeus, Thor references the role of this custom in Greek Mythology with one of his lyrics:
  • January 24, 2018
    AgProv
    In Mort, Death's apprentice wonders why his boss is not short of money to use as petty cash - then realises the coins come from all eras and they always come in matching pairs...
  • January 24, 2018
    TheWanderer
    Comic Books
    • In the Sandman comics, Dream hears a story that his sister Death becomes mortal for one day every century so that she can experience the life of a mortal and gain empathy for living creatures. In the spinoff comic Death: Time of Your Life we see her spending her day as a mortal in the 1990s. At the end of the day the mortal version of Death dies, and a sorcerer who had been trying to capture her, (and, it's implied, end his own immortal life) places a pair of coins over her eyes in respect.

    Live Action TV
    • Game Of Thrones evokes the spirit of this by placing stones colored like eyes over the eyes of important people as their bodies are prepared for a funeral and burial.
  • January 24, 2018
    Arha
    Five hats and lots of examples. Will launch tomorrow if there are no objections. I think it's three days minimum here, right?
  • January 24, 2018
    AndreaTx
    • In the season 11 episode "Baby" of Supernatural, the way to defeat the Monster Of The Week is to place a coin in his mouth. This reminds the undead creature that he is in fact dead and sends him back to his resting state.
  • January 28, 2018
    LB7979
    EDIT:

    Never mind, I just realised this page actually is launched already.
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