Three Common Funeral Customs

The history of funeral services for humans varies from race and religious beliefs. Every culture has a ritual to follow for their dead and the burial. All have three things in common that include the funeral rites or ceremonies, a sacred place for the body, and the memorial of the dead.

Many of the current rituals are formed from historical practices. The modern day practices include mourning clothing, gatherings of the family and friends of the deceased, floral offerings to the family and friends of the deceased, and funeral music.

Some funeral customs include wakes that are considered a means of having hope life returns to the dead with the gathering of the mourners. Lighting of candles is another means to protect the living from the spirits of the deceased or evil spirits that supposedly gather at the funeral or ceremonies. Ringing of bells from the medieval era is sometimes used in hopes of keeping evil spirits away when the consecrated bell is rung throughout various times of the services.

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Some individuals will fire rifles over the deceased that mimics ancient tribal practices who threw spears into the air to scare off spirits that may hover over the dead body. This custom is still used in military funerals or wartime veterans as well as firefighters or police officers in honor of their services during the funeral procedures prior to burial.

Some religions hold funeral customs that sprinkle holy water on the body of deceased to protect it from supposed demons and evil spirits. The Catholic religion still uses this process while it has been altered slightly to bless the deceased and hope to purify the body before entering the Kingdom of Heaven.

The offering of floral arrangements that was originally used to gain favor with the spirits of the deceased are currently used to show compassion to the family and friends of the deceased. The funeral music originally was designed to please the spirits with the ancient chants has been replaced with soothing and pleasant music during the viewing, wakes, and visitation of the deceased. The music helps to create a mood of tranquility and comfort as well as solemn environment for the mourners.

The role of fear in death has been a long time tradition passed over the generations. This is traced by researchers back to primitive man who lived in constant fear of natural occurrences such as weather changes. Man then moved to believing in a higher being or power that dictated life and death. The belief there was good and bad spirits lead to the creations of charms, rituals, and ceremonies for the dead to quiet the spirits.

As funeral customs for the deceased evolved over the centuries, different groups would retain some of the original traditions while others would alter the traditions to meet the current beliefs that had changed over the years.

An example of an ancient belief is role religion plays in the funeral. The Polynesian term “tabu” is an expressed view if a person or thing touches the dead then it was to be shunned or set apart away from all others. The English calls this same process “defilement”. Both concepts believe the dead body is not to be touched and considered bad or taboo. In the Hebrew belief, the deceased was unclean, which meant anyone that touched the dead was considered unclean.

This thought was based on a Biblical scripture from Numbers 5:2 that stated anyone who touched the dead was to be sent from the camp so they did not make the rest of the camp unclean in the presence of where the Lord dwelled.

This tradition is expressed in ancient Persian scriptures where it was stated that anyone who were exposed to the dead was considered powerless in the hand, tongue, and mind. The belief lead many believing the evil spirits caused this to happen.

Today the beliefs are generally the same about how the body is to be revered and honored. However, the fears have dissipated to a smaller degree. The sacredness of the dead is still one of the traditional funeral customs to be held sacred.

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