The stars have fascinated mankind since the dawn of history, and many of the most ancient funeral rites take the movement of heavenly bodies into account. However it’s only very recently that it’s been possible for a person to find their final resting place among the stars. A company called Elysium Space and Celestis Inc. have begun offering a service where they will blast a “symbolic portion” of your loved ones ashes into space.
Back here on Earth, inhabitants of New Orleans often have what is known as a “jazz funeral”, a raucous affair that combines elements of traditional religious practice with the musical tradition of The Big Easy. The music starts off subdued, to mourn the death of the deceased, then becomes much more lively and joyous, to celebrate their life.
Here in the UK we are used to elegant and simple wooden coffins, but in Ghana in West Africa, coffin making is an altogether more expressive art form. Ghanaian fantasy coffins can be carved into any form, usually in line with the interests of the deceased. An aviation fanatic may be buried in a plane shaped coffin, or a gentleman who was fond of a refreshment in life may find his final resting place in a giant wooden beer bottle. The skills of these coffin artisans are seemingly as limitless as the whims of the deceased.
Zorastrianism is a religion originating in Iran that is now chiefly practiced in parts of India. Their religious beliefs place special significance on fire and Earth. They believe that human remains are ritually unclean, and as such it would be inappropriate to introduce them to the Earth by burial or by fire in cremation. Their solution is to expose the bodies to vultures on top of a Dakhma, or Tower of Silence.
In most parts of the world, continuing human development in the intervening centuries has disturbed ancient burial places. However in some remote areas, burial locations are remarkably well preserved and offer a fascinating glimpse into the past. One such place is Darghav, in North Ossetia, Russia. The town is surrounded by a huge number of well preserved tombs, crypts and necropolises.
Most western people are familiar with the Indonesian island Bali. It is regarded as one of the finest and most beautiful tourist destinations in the world. However they may be less familiar with the ancient Hindu culture there, and in particular their fascinating Balinese funeral rites. The dead are buried at first, but are later exhumed for a dramatic cremation attended by hundreds of people. The Balinese believe the soul of the deceased is not freed until the actual cremation service.
Burial at sea is a fairly familiar concept, but in America they are taking this to a new level. In the Neptune Memorial Reef, off the coast of Florida, relatives of the deceased can sign up to have their loved ones’ ashes incorporated into the structure of an underwater reef. These structures will provide a habitat for marine life for hundreds of years, and provide a fitting memorial for a deceased person who was ecologically minded in life.