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funeral customs,rituals surrounding the death of a human being and the subsequent disposition of the corpse. Such rites may serve to mark the passage of a person from life into death, to secure the welfare of the dead, to comfort the living, and to protect the living from the dead. Disposal of the body may be by burialburial,
disposal of a corpse in a grave or tomb. The first evidence of deliberate burial was found in European caves of the Paleolithic period. Prehistoric discoveries include both individual and communal burials, the latter indicating that pits or ossuaries were unsealed for
..... Click the link for more information. , by conservation (see mummymummy,
dead human or animal body preserved by embalming or by unusual natural conditions. As a rule mummies are from ancient times. The word is of Arabic derivation and refers primarily to the burials found in Egypt, where the practice of mummification was perfected over the
..... Click the link for more information. ), by cremationcremation,
disposal of a corpse by fire. It is an ancient and widespread practice, second only to burial. It has been found among the tribes of the Pacific Northwest, among Northern Athapascan bands in Alaska, and among Canadian cultural groups.
..... Click the link for more information. , by exposure (see ParsisParsis
, religious community of India, practicing Zoroastrianism. The Parsis (numbering about 75,000) are concentrated in Maharashtra and Gujarat states, especially in Mumbai. Their ancestors migrated from Iran in the 8th cent. to avoid Muslim persecution.
..... Click the link for more information. ), or by other methods. Funeral ceremonies have certain common features: for example, the laying out of the corpse; the watching of the dead, of which the wakewake,
watch kept over a dead body, usually during the night preceding burial. Ancient peoples in various parts of the world observed the custom. As an ancient ritual, it was rooted in a concern that no person should be buried alive.
..... Click the link for more information. is a standard example; and the period of mourning with the accompanying ceremonies.
Disposition of the Corpse
Preparation of the corpse is usually most elaborate in the case of burial (see coffincoffin,
closed receptacle for a corpse. Its purpose is usually to protect and to aid preservation of the body, although in the past some have believed that it may confine the spirit of the deceased.
..... Click the link for more information. ; embalmingembalming
, practice of preserving the body after death by artificial means. The custom was prevalent among many ancient peoples and still survives in many cultures. It was highly developed in dynastic Egypt, where it was used for some 30 cent.
..... Click the link for more information. ), but it is a general practice to wash and clothe the body. Many of the observances connected with death recall the rites of passage associated with other life crises. The body is then taken to a resting place, sometimes only temporarily. It may be laid on a scaffold, to await later cremation, or it may be buried until the flesh has rotted away, after which the bones are exhumed for a second burial. Such secondary burials are quite common in traditional societies. All of these customs derive from a belief that the soul remains in this world for a brief period before departing for the next. Final disposition of the corpse implies final disposition of the soul, and the mourners have certain ritual obligations toward the deceased until then. In the past, the spirit of the deceased was regarded by certain peoples as potentially both harmful and helpful. Attempts to discourage it from returning and disturbing the living were made by placing near the corpse such foods and personal possessions as would help the spirit during its journey and equip it for the other world. As the social and economic status of the deceased was often reflected by the quality and quantity of their burial goods, the systematic analysis of funerary remains can provide archaeologists with an important means of investigating the social organization of an ancient culture.
Funeral customs have traditionally varied by religion. In Buddhism, death is prepared for through meditation, and death itself is viewed as a rebirth. Once dead, the body is washed, rituals are performed over it, a wake is held, and then it is typically cremated. Christian custom has changed from an earlier period where a funeral was treated as a joyous occasion to one where it is a time for mourning. In the Roman Catholic Church, the body is prepared for burial, usually by embalming; this is followed by a requiemrequiem
[Lat.,=rest], proper Mass for the souls of the dead, performed on All Souls' Day and at funerals. The reformation of Roman Catholic liturgy following the Second Vatican Council (see Vatican Council, Second) has modified the traditional requiem, and it is now called the
..... Click the link for more information. Mass and burial; additional Masses may be conducted periodically over the next year. Protestant churches usually hold one ceremony, followed by either burial (the usual form) or cremation. Hindu ceremonies are closely tied to a belief in reincarnation. Thus an elaborate set of rituals is conducted, mostly by relatives, to ensure a proper rebirth. Islamic ceremonies include washing and preparing the body, prayers, reading from the Qur'an, and placing the body on the right side facing Mecca for burial (cremation is not practiced). Early Judaism, with perhaps the simplest of all ceremonies, included a prayer service, washing the body and wrapping it in linen, followed by a funeral banquet.
See E. Bendann, Death Customs (1930, repr. 1969); R. Hertz, Death and the Right Hand (tr. 1960); R. W. Habenstein and W. M. Lamers, The History of American Funeral Directing (rev. ed. 1962) and Funeral Customs the World Over (rev. ed. 1963); R. Huntington and P. Metcalf, Celebrations of Death (1979).