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Why do we have funerals, and where did it all start?
In life, every moment counts: big and small, messy or planned. Surprising, emotional – even dangerous. Life is an accumulation of all kinds of individual moments. And that’s what makes it so special and worth celebrating.
Unless you've been lucky enough to have never lost somebody close to your heart - or indeed, if you happen to have been living under a rock for most of your life - you probably already know what a funeral is.
But where did this strange, often emotional ceremony celebrating the dead all start?
With its deeply religious and spiritual roots, the funeral ceremony has come in all different shapes and sizes, celebrating different beliefs throughout history and across cultures, most of which involved some form of afterlife.
We know the first burials might have taken place as long as 50,000 years ago.
Early humans buried their dead very deliberately in a cave, and it’s believed the remains were painted ceremonially before being positioned in their coffins, followed by a huge feast to celebrate those passed.
The Sumerians and Babylonians believed that the souls of the departed went to the underworld.
As a result, the dead were buried in the ground so they could have easy access to their “next home”. They were also buried with some belongings they might have needed in the afterlife, and various offerings to the gods.
Egyptian burial customs were basically the same, and if you’ve ever looked into Egyptian history then you might already know of the ancient pharaohs being mummified, then buried in coffins adorned in gold and filled with precious treasures and belongings.
As for the Greeks and Romans, this ancient culture believed the spirit left the body as a breath of air. The most important thing, then, was getting the body to the underworld as quickly as possible, so the spirit could get there safely.
The bodies of their dead, before being buried were anointed in oil, wrapped in a shroud, and a coin was placed under the tongue to be given to Charon, the ferryman of the river Styx - the boundary between our world and the underworld.
The Celtic people marked their burial sites with a stone.
Over the years, these stones built up into grave markers called cairns. The first, most fundamental version of gravestones as we know them today.
Hindu customs placed no importance on the body of the deceased, and often went through the process of cremation, where the body was bathed, wrapped in cloth and presented with offerings.
To many cultures in East and Southeast Asia, the spirits of the deceased were believed to have still held influence over the events of this world, and so they needed to be appeased, lest they become mischievous.
Like in Hinduism, these Asian cultures opted for cremation mostly, and enacted numerous ceremonies to ensure a good place in the afterlife.
Some of the world’s most famous and impressive ancient landmarks were built, at least in some part, as tombs or as vehicles for memorial.
The pyramids of Egypt, the Taj Mahal, the Terracotta Army of China, the Mausoleum, and the Roman catacombs were all ways to honour and enshrine the dead.
Nowadays, you don’t see kings erecting massive tombs to enshrine the dead – the Taj Mahal, built in the 1630s, was probably the last major project built as a tomb or mausoleum.
Instead, today’s funerals borrow some elements from the past - like burying the dead with their belongings - and move on from others - such as is the case with the rising popularity of non-religious funerals and alternative end-of-life ceremonies.
Today, there are boundless possibilities, with more ways than ever to send off or commemorate your deceased loved ones.
There are a slew of companies offering more interesting things to do with loved ones’ cremated remains, like pressing the ashes into a vinyl record of their favourite song, or mixing them with tattoo ink, giving you a custom tattoo in their honour.
In fantastic American fashion, an Alabama company even lets you put your loved ones’ ashes into the ammo of your choice, so you can blast them into the afterlife in a one-gun salute!
A little bit out there, alright, but you get the point. Anything is possible now, and that’s why we as FuturFaith Ministers have to be prepared for practically anything when it comes to funerals.
So far, we’ve taken a brief look at the facts around funerals, cremations and celebration of life ceremonies, but why do we celebrate somebody's life after they pass?
In life, every moment counts: big and small, messy or planned. Surprising, emotional – even dangerous.
Life is an accumulation of all kinds of individual moments. And that’s what makes it so special and worth celebrating.
After somebody passes away, it can leave family and friends feeling hopeless, lost, and often totally despondent. That's why we celebrate the lives of our loved ones.
The ceremony can be heavily influenced by the personality of the deceased, and it can be as happy and joyful an occasion as family and friends wish.
The celebrational aspect allows the bereaved to focus on and appreciate the life that was lived.
Would you like to understand how to fully prepare a Funeral ceremony, to learn the ideal layout and flow, and even find out more about all the new and interesting alternatives to funerals?
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