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Useful Notes / Funerals

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Ivy: Indonesians build these beautiful towers that they believe reach up to a spot between Heaven and Earth. There's singing and music, processions, and big feasts to celebrate the passing of their loved one's soul onto Heaven.
Zack: Wow, that's real different than the somber funerals we have.
Ivy: Well, different cultures see death differently.

Due to the Dead is an old trope. Very old. Based on archeological evidence, we have reason to believe that some form of it occurred as long as 300,000 years ago, as a practice among the Neanderthals.note 


Proper funerary rites are often deemed necessary to prevent the deceased from being Barred from the Afterlife and other evils, but what qualifies as "proper" varies widely. Cremation and burial are the most common, but such practices as exposing to the dead to vultures and other unusual methods are not unknown. Even slicing up the body has been done — as a means to free the soul from the body. This is often a time of danger, with the body being regarded as polluting.

Some traits are widely spread, though not universal.

  • The setting aside of cemeteries and locations for dealing with funerals. Mixing this with the affairs of the living means bringing in unchancy and unearthly elements to ordinary life.
  • The wearing of proper attire by the mourners. This generally is black — a sober color — or white, which is undyed and so simple. This is a mark of proper behavior, which of course is grieved. White is also the color of bone.
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  • Keening, wailing, or other loud cries of grief.
  • Grave goods. These are provisions made for the dead in the afterlife. Animals, and sometimes humans, would be killed. Sometimes other objects, such as pots, were broken or had a hole drilled in them to symbolically kill them as well.

See Funeral Episode for when this happens in fiction. If you're interested in finding the graves of people in Real Life, check out the website Find A Grave.



Although the stereotypical Viking funeral is pushing a burning boat out to sea with the dead mannote , plenty of archeological evidence points to burial. Large mounds were built to hold the dead man and his grave goods, which could include slaves, and a ship. These, however, were often burned on a pyre before burial.

Eurasian Steppe

Ancient peoples of the steppes — the Scythians and their relatives, Sarmatians and Sakas — used to bury their lords in earthen mounds. From Black Sea's western shores to central Siberia, they often contained an abundance of artifacts, giving us immeasurable knowledge about the material culture of these peoples (and, in case of so-called Pazyryk burials, even of tattoos they wore). As befitting horse nomads, quite a number of mounds contain a skeleton of a horse alongside the primary occupant. Sacrificial slaves and retainers have also been seen.


Christian practice is generally burial, normally facing east, because of belief in the resurrection of the body. Because cremation has been used historically to express disbelief in resurrection, it has been discouraged and even banned; nowadays most sects do not ban it because the use is not generally to express the disbelief. Grave goods are also not used. This is so prevalent that archeologists use burial ad orientum and lack of grave goods to determine whether a grave is Christian or pagan in times where either was possible (and observe that their findings grow much sparser as regions are Christianized and no grave goods are found).

Family graves (graves containing the remnants of the same family in many generations) are commonplace in many denominations. As the old, large cities in Europe are running out of cemetary land, cremation and burial of the ashes in an urn are today the norm in many countries. The old family family graves can contain dozens of urns of the family members.

"Burying the dead" is the seventh corporeal work of mercy, and there are, and have been, Christian charities for the purpose of providing such burials.

Suicides are a special case. While frequently a person who had lived an openly and notoriously sinful life could be denied a funeral and burial in Christian ground unless repentant before death, a suicide has not only committed a sin but, for obvious reasons, could not repent before death. It was, indeed, common practice to bury a suicide at night, at a crossroads, and put a stake through the corpse's heart to keep it from rising from the grave as an undead figure.


The body, in its coffin, is kept in the home, assuming the deceased is old enough for there to be junior people to pay respects to it. (Parents, for instance, cannot pay respects to an unmarried son, and he has neither wife nor children to do it, so his corpse must be kept in a funeral home.) Their descendents and daughters-in-law should wail and cry aloud. Offerings of incense and paper money are made. Once the wake is completed, the coffin is buried in the cemetary.

At one time, rich grave goods, sometimes including human sacrifice, were included. This was transformed into the offering of paper money and other such substitutes which could be magically activated for the dead to enjoy in the afterlife. Indeed, during the time of transition, writings urged the magical substitutes on the grounds that graverobbers could not steal the goods this way.

For more detail on the modern practices, see Chinese Funerary Customs


In Shinto, an oracle decreed that the appropriate funeral rites are performed by a Buddhist priest, which is normal nowadays. Cremation and the burial of the ashes in a family plot are the common form, though some people will choose to have their ashes scattered in one place and their family grave in another. Grave goods are generally flowers, pinwheels, or items that the deceased enjoyed in life left as offering and decoration at the grave both - alcohol and tobacco are common for this reason, and occasionally food items such as candy as well. (Stealing these from a grave or defacing a grave is generally considered a very taboo act and can result in everyone being barred from visiting the grave, or in criminal penalties as any other kind of theft/vandalism.)

In the Japanese Visual Kei and Heavy Metal subcultures, those who attend wakes and burials of other artists are expected to tone down their appearance and dress as formally as possible (even if said appearance is a lifestyle choice - someone with brightly dyed hair is expected to cut it as conservatively as possible and dye it black, or if this isn't possible due to upcoming work or events, to at least dye it a darker color or cover it). Anyone who knew the artist even as an acquaintance (and if the artist was famous enough, this includes fans as well) is usually expected to attend if at all possible, and if attendance is not possible, to send flowers and a card in their absence. Overly dramatic emotional displays are neither frowned upon nor demanded - it is very much "express how you truly feel" as a contrast to mainstream culture.

Within those subcultures there are also occasionally annual or occasional memorial events or shows (usually on an artist's birthdate or death date, sometimes both - for example, hide's are on his death date and birthdate both, while Munetaka Higuchi 's are usually on or around his death date). These are less formalized and other artists, whether performing or not, are generally encouraged to appear in their style rather than toned down as they would be for a funeral, and a more celebratory atmosphere of the artist's life and work exists. These are, obviously, public events and open to all where a wake or funeral might be more restricted for a less famous artist.


The normal Hindu practice is cremation, with the ashes scattered in the Ganges River - however, this isn't absolutely cast in iron, so if one can't make it to the Ganges, any water body will do - the only requirement is that it be not stagnant.

The reasons behind cremation are that, since Hindus believe in reincarnation, the next life will get a fresh body (no matter where the incarnation) so there is no need to keep an old body - it being little more than the "clothing" the soul wears and to be discarded once it is of no use. The second reason is that by burning the body to ash and pouring it into the water, it returns to the Earth from where it came, thus keeping all things in balance. Think of it like a transaction - you rented out some materials from the planet for your body, and once you've finished using it, the materials are returned to the original owner.

Mourners are normally expected to wear all white - though again, this isn't ironclad, and it differs from place to place. Conduct at the time of the funeral also varies from region to region, from grim, sombre events, to loud displays of lamentation and anguish, to loud and colourful processions with dancing, singing, rejoicing and much fanfare.

The last rites are usually completed within a day of death. The body is washed and wrapped in funerary linen (white if the dead person is a man or an unmarried [or widowed] woman, red if it is a woman whose husband is still alive, white or yellow if it is a child). The big toes are tied together with a string and a Tilak (a red, yellow or white mark - this normally depends on sect and caste, or just personal preference) is placed on the forehead. The funeral pyre is placed such that the feet are facing south.

The eldest son, or a male mourner (eldest in that family), or a Priest – whoever is designated as the lead mourner – then bathes himself before leading the cremation ceremony. He circles the dry wood pyre with the body, says a eulogy or recites a hymn, places sesame seeds or rice in the dead person's mouth (the toll to enter the Halls of the Dead), sprinkles the body and the pyre with clarified butter, then draws three lines, signifying Yamaraj (the God of Death), Kaala (the God of Time, He who devours all things) and the Dead. Prior to lighting the pyre, an earthen pot is filled with water, and the lead mourner circles the body with it, before lobbing the pot over his shoulder so it breaks near the head. Then the pyre is set ablaze. An optional last bit is to performing Kapala Kriya, or the ritual of piercing the burning skull with a stave (bamboo fire poker) to make a hole or break it, in order to release the soul.

All those who attend the cremation, and are exposed to the dead body or cremation smoke take a bath as soon as possible after the cremation, as the cremation ritual is considered unclean and polluting.

In some regions, the male relatives of the deceased shave their head and invite all friends and relatives, on the tenth or twelfth day, to eat a simple meal together in remembrance of the deceased. This day, in some communities, also marks a day when the poor and needy are offered food in memory of the dead.


Islam mandates burial underground with the head pointing toward the Qibla, i.e. the direction of the Kaaba in Mecca from wherever you're standing. Much as burial pointing to the east is indicative of Christian burial, burial in the direction of the Qibla is indicative of a Muslim graveyard—if anything, more indicative, since the Qibla is so precisely defined and rarely a cardinal direction. It also mandates that the body be washed and wrapped in a plain white shroud as soon as possible—immediately after death is best—with the actual placement in a coffin (if any) and burial to take place no more than a few days after—preferably the same day, although this isn't always possible. Prior to burial, the body is taken to the mosque for noon or afternoon prayers, where a short (2-3 minutes) additional prayer called Salat al-Janazah ("Funeral Prayer") is added to the usual prayer for that time. This prayer is a collective obligation for the community; as long as a few people perform it, the obligation is relieved. Typically the imam/sheikh/whatever gives a short speech—no more than five minutes—just before the body is buried; there is a cultural custom that the deceased's close relatives take at least a symbolic part in the burial. Placement of grave goods is generally understood to be discouraged for being too similar to sacrifice and thus ancestor worship (you only sacrifice to God).

Some ulema (Islamic scholars) say that Islam requires that graves be completely unmarked. Other ulema say that those ulema are full of shit, and that a small indication of who is buried may be necessary to facilitate the commendable custom of visiting the graves of relatives and ancestors. All agree, however, that markers must be small and unobtrusive—no tombs, mausoleums, columns, or what have you—or, for that matter, headstones as understood in the West. A low, flat bit of stone—that is all.

Most ulema agree that although the community is collectively obliged to give condolences to the bereaved, it is forbidden from gathering to do so—so no memorial services, wakes, or other such events. Thus the families have a quasi-open house for a few days—generally the three-day period of mourning—with a few people at a time trickling in and out to pay their respects. The bereaved are forbidden to prepare food for those coming to give condolences; the community is expected to bring food to them. Finally, wailing, shrieking, breaking things, and other violent displays of grief are also strictly forbidden; Islamic grieving is supposed to be quiet, reflective, and dignified.


In Zoroastrianism, the dead body is unclean and polluting. It can not therefore be either burned or buried, because that would sacrilegiously taint fire or earth. The body is therefore exposed on a Tower of Silence, so that vultures may eat it.

Tibetan Sky Burial

In Tibet, it is believed that one's body upon death is merely trapping the soul on Earth. So the body is taken to a mountain and cut into pieces for vultures to eat, who in turn carry the soul to the afterlife.


In Soviet Russia and certain other countries of the Soviet bloc, special burial rites were created to replace those of the displaced religions. The most common was cremation; the Communists stimulated its use due to the fact that it's un-Christian, to express disbelief in the "priests' myths". An upgraded version of cremation was burying the urn in some special place of honor, like the Kremlin Wall Necropolis in the USSR. It was reserved for important dignitaries. Finally, the most glorious leaders were interred in mausoleums, after undergoing a special mummification process that preserved their life-like appearance.


Kevura (burial) is to take place as soon as possible after death according to the Torah, even for executed criminals. It can be delayed to allow distant relatives to travel, but is rarely postponed beyond seventy-two hours. A chevra kadisha (burial society) will prepare the deceased for burial in a process called taharah: the body is washed, symbolically purified, dried, dressed, wrapped in a prayer shawl with a fringe removed, and placed in an unembellished casket (unless the deceased is a civilian who lived in Israel, whose body shall be placed into the grave without a casket). From then until burial, watchers will sit with the casket and recite prayers.

When the pallbearers bring the casket to the grave, they stop seven times for the rabbi to recite Psalm 91. Jewish teachings state that one of the greatest mitzvah a person can perform for another is to bury their corpse, as it is the one act that cannot be repaid. Therefore, the attending mourners will all place three shovelfuls of dirt into the grave, the first with the back side of the shovel, and then plant the shovel into the exhumed dirt for another to take.

Following burial is the shiva (from the Hebrew shiv'ah lit. "seven"), wherein first-degree family members spend seven days mourning the deceased, but shiva will end prematurely for the first day of a holiday, even if that holiday begins the night of the burial. During shiva, the mourners will not perform many activities, including the conducting of business (unless one is, for example, a medical professional or holder of public office). Prayer services will be conducted in the facility where shiva is held (traditionally the family home). The rending of garments worn over the heart (keriah) is traditional, but Conservative and Reform Jews may substitute a symbolically-torn black ribbon.