Why do we revere the dead?
I have a theory. I think it is all rooted in superstition. We are terrified that our now dead relatives will come back and haunt us if we don’t give them a “proper burial”.
There are definite public health and sanitation issues for burying or burning our dead. A rotting corpse not only stinks, but it can attract all kinds of vermin and possibly be a source for disease. Not to mention the aesthetic issue of watching your once beloved husband slowly rot away. If he wasn’t so beloved, this process might actually be desirable, but I digress.
I personally think the funeral pyre is the way to go. It is thorough, makes for a great spectacle, and in the end, the wind and rain take care of the remains. Maybe a bone or two will remain, but again, the vermin will take care of most of those issues.
I get that we need to dispose of the dead. The scene in Monte Pythons “Holy Grail” comes to mind as I write this. “Bring out your dead, bring out your dead.” The crier calls out as three men fight with a cart full of plague victims.
But why the pomp and circumstances?
No matter what your religious beliefs, once a person dies, the body is an empty shell. It is not your body that rises to heavens, or is condemned to hell. It is the soul that no longer resides in that body that takes the trip, or makes its way into another body, or whatever your belief. I tend to think that this is our one shot. Therefore, dead is dead, and what you do with my body is none of my concern. I will touch on that later…the what to do with my body part.
Since the vast majority of us believe that the soul leaves the body, then why the ceremony.
I cannot help but picture our forefathers freaking out because they think uncle Max came back from the dead, and is now forever haunting them. But it wouldn’t be just one family, it would be a chain of events, a group of unrelated families connecting their individual haunting with the passing of a relative. Since I do not believe in ghosts, I can only imagine the process. The Ulrich clan loses an uncle. He was not well liked, and they just pitch him in the river when he dies. Shortly after, bad things start to happen. Shadows cast by the fire in the hearth look ghostly. They start to believe they are seeing the pissed off uncle. An uncle pissed because they did not take care of his lifeless body. Maybe they feel guilty, their conscious playing tricks on them because of the way the treated their departed relative.
The Ulrich clan talks to the Van Helsing clan, they too suffered a similar type of haunting. But they left grandma in the woods when she collapsed, and no one wanted to carry the old bag back to the homestead. Now they hear cackling in the night, and this year’s crops failed. At a market, the two perspective families tell their tale to those that will listen. Somewhere in the chain, another relative is discarded with the chamber pot, and guilty conscious connect the bad things that follow with yet another haunting by a pissed off dead relative!
So, when the next relative dies, even though they don’t much like them, they give the person a proper burial. Nothing in life changes, because they can still blame the spooks on the first callous disposal. But their conscience is clear, and they can sleep at night. As years pass into decades, and decades into centuries, we add more flourish, more opulence, more ceremony into the process of chunking our diseased loved ones into the ground. The level of grief adds to the willingness of the family to splurge, to raise their level of “respect”.