Honoring the dead is accomplished in a myriad of ways and degrees, depending on culture, religion, and present social perspective. Most cultures pay respects to their dead in the funeral event.
The Irish have the stereotypical ” wake ” , where they laugh , cry, and converse at length about the loved one’s life- good and bad.
The Jews sit ” shiva ” for the deceased. family and friends bring food. The close family sits and contemplates and prays, essentially to help the soul on it’s journey.
Buddhist Thais pour water over one hand of the deceased, then place him in a coffin. Candles and incense, maybe pictures of the dead, and
wreaths are placed in the coffin with him. Lights are suspended around the coffin. Monks arrive, to whom food is offered , in the name of the dead. Chants and prayers take place. Most often the cremation takes place three days after death. Within that time , family and friends visit, eat food, play games and honor the dead.
Hindu funerals differ slightly from one another, depending on economic, social stature, and locale. There are, however, basic aspects common in all Hindu funerals. Unmarried individuals may be buried. The deceased who were married are bathed with a mixture of water and sandalwood and dressed in clean cloth. Flowers, rose water, and incense enhance the beir. The Brahmans chant with the family. The oldest son is in charge of the cremation and the ashes are deposited into one of the holy rivers.
In both Hinduism and Buddhism, re-incarnation is the key belief.
For Muslims, the belief is that death is the end of life in this form, and then everlasting life on the other side. In prayers, there is hope that God’s mercy will help the deceased find peace and happiness. Burial is performed as quickly as possible , to forego the necessity of embalming. The body is bathed and dressed, unless he died in martyrdom. If martyrized, he is buried in the clothes he died in. The family and friends come to the funeral, but only the males may accompany the body to the burial.
New Orleans jazz funerals are particular to that city and rooted in African tradition. During the early 18th century, the brass band became a integral part of that tradition, meshing African culture with modern Christian elements.
Regardless of the spiritual beliefs, the need to celebrate and honor the dead has transcended time and geographical borders. The need to observe the dead is rooted in our desire to accept the reality, therefore, allowing us to move on. Other elements of celebrating the dead, in ritual, are to call on our Higher power, the Source, to take care of our loved one’s soul and to assist it on it’s journey to whatever afterlife energy source or place, we believe in.
In this , I believe , the wishes and hopes of the living are universal. The ritual of death may also shift us in the direction of understanding the mysterious, unknown , but inevitable cycle of life and death.
Dale Morrison [ Zvoruna ] 10/30/2006
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