Funerary Rituals

Religion: Funerary Rituals

The aim of The Funerary Rituals project is to give insight to unique funerary practices from around the world.  Funerary practices play a significant role in all religions. More specifically, this page will examine the vast differences in the one thing every culture has in common- death, how and why the rituals are practices.

A few definitions to help understanding.

Ritual – A set of specific actions used to guide the practitioner through an event in which each step had significance.

Rite of passage – Can be broken down into general process. Separation, the participants are removed from the population. Liminal state, the participants exist outside of society. Essentially, these people are “dead.” After completion of the ritual, they are reincorporated back with their new status.

Communitas – the sense of connection and camaraderie experienced between the participants of a ritual

Sami people inhabit parts of northern Norway, Sweden, Finland, and Russia. Pre-Christian beliefs were polytheistic and animistic, believing that rocks, mountains, rivers, and everything on earth had spirits. They also believed in and had shamans.

The Japanese culture is intricate as it is vastly traditional, filled with cues and customs that have intrigued people for centuries. Tea ceremonies, kimono, and katana color the wondrous history of Japan’s past and still hold fast to these traditions over the long test of time.

The Tibetan culture located northeast of the Himalayas, follows the beliefs and practices of Vajrayana Buddhism which performs a sky burial, in which the deceased remains are eaten by vultures. The vultures are given the human flesh are believed to be Dakinis, or angels. Tibetans believe that by giving the body to these angles, that the deceased’s spirit is better able to reach the next world.

The Wari of the Brazilian Amazon once practiced endocannibalism, specifically mortuary cannibalism. Endocannibalism is the consumption of members of one’s own group. This was done as a form of utmost respect to those who had died. The Wari no longer take practice this ritual after Christian missionaries converted the tribes in the 1960’s. Today the Wari simply bury their deceased after waiting 3 days.

The ancient Hawaiians practiced several different traditional funerary rituals. Cave burial, monument burial, and sand/earth burials were most common. These different methods of burial were based on the life or family members of the deceased. For example, cremation was used as a form of punishment, water burials could have been tied to the family guardian spirit.

There is much to learn by studying religion and ritual, it’s the one thing unique to humans and ties all people together. Both religion and ritual has always been a part if human life yet it constantly changes.  Funerary rituals are the key link to a cultures understanding of the physical and spiritual world.

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