For most of US history, our relationship with death was more intimate than it is today. Americans often died at home and remained there until burial, where they were washed, wrapped in shrouds, and laid out on boards while the family made preparations for a funeral feast and an at-home funeral. In addition to family, women known as “Layers Out of the Dead,” helped take care of the immediate tasks following a death. This homespun approach to death largely persisted until the Civil War, when embalming, hospitals and eventually funeral directors changed the way we dealt with our deceased. But now, with home funerals and even green burials slowly regaining acceptance, a new generation of “Layers Out of the Dead,” are emerging.
At rest in the fields. "Celebrating childhood's end" at Eloise Woods Community Natural Burial Park, in Cedar Creek, Texas. [more inside]
Guardians of the Corpse Ways is a thorough one-stop resource for all of your canine Underworld mythological needs. Why did countless cultures associate dogs with the realm of the dead? Here's a tiny sample: "The essence of the hellhound is his intermediary position - at the border of this world and next, between life and death, hope and fear, and also (given its pairing with the dog of life) between good and evil. For this role, the dog is perfectly suited, being the domestic species par excellence, the tamed carnivore who stands midway between animal and human, savagery and civilization, nature and culture . 'The growl of the hellhound is yet another expression of this liminal position, for the growl is a halfway station between articulate speech and silence. It is a speech filled with emotion and power, but utterly lacking in reason. Like death itself, the hellhound speaks, but does not listen; acts, but never reflects or reconsiders. Driven by hunger and greed, he is insatiable and his growl is eternal in duration. In the last analysis, the hellhound is the moment of death, the great crossing over, the ultimate turning point.' " [more inside]
What do you get when your funeral director is a former women's magazine writer who describes herself as "a Kundalini-yoga-practicing Buddhist Presbyterian on the board of Brooklyn Heights Synagogue"? It's Amy Cunningham's blog The Inspired Funeral, chronicling trends, products, history, music and ideas related to all sorts of grieving traditions. (From this NYT article about boomers gravitating towards greener burials and funerals.) [more inside]
"After two to three hours, the body is transformed into a sterile coffee-colored liquid the consistency of motor oil that can be safely poured down the drain, alongside a dry bone residue similar in appearance to cremated remains." GOOD magazine: The emergence of the sustainable death industry.
Pablo Neruda's Body Will Be Exhumed For Autopsy [bbc.co.uk] "A judge in Chile has ordered the exhumation of the remains of the poet Pablo Neruda, as part of an inquest into his death in 1973."
"We want to eat, not be eaten by our food, right?"[TED]. Artist/MIT graduate Jae Rhim Lee's current project explores the possibility of, and interest in ecologically responsible interment. She is currently cultivating personalized Infinity Mushrooms, which in combination with the Mushroom Death Suit will promote postmortem mycological growth, and more importantly intimacy with and acceptance of the physical realities of decomposition as vehicles toward death acceptance. [more inside]
'Doritos Creator Dead, to be Buried with Chips.' Arch West, a former Frito-Lay executive and creator of Doritos, will be buried with the chips that made him famous.
Holy Smoke - "The process of having cremated ash placed in live ammunition begins when you contact us. You tell us what type of hunting or shooting that the decedent practiced and we can help you decide what will best suit your needs....1 Pound of ash is enough to produce 250 shotshells."
Crossbones Graveyard (YT) is a disused graveyard in Southwark, London. Lying outside the old city walls, it became the last resting place for 15,000 paupers and prostitutes (the latter known as the 'Winchester Geese' because they were licensed by the Bishop of Winchester). The history of Crossbones is being rediscovered by local playwright John Constable, and is becoming a place of pilgrimage to remember the outcasts in London society (audio/slide). A ritual is held there every Halloween.
8 Unconvential Ways to Be "Buried." We've all heard about strange practices surrounding the remains of the deceased, but even I (who am morbid to a fault) hadn't been aware of half of these.
God's Waiting Room is a British documentary about the daily struggles of Haji Taslim Funerals, the first European Muslim Funeral Directors, and how they work to honor the requirements of ancient faith while cutting through the red tape of modern death. [more inside]
Thanatorama [flash] You died this morning. Are you interested in what comes next? Webdocumentaire.
A German consortium has announced its plan to build the world's largest structure - a 578m-high "Giant Pyramid" where for €700 anyone can get a burial spot.
Cult leader proves his divinity by being buried alive and resurrecting himself. Except for the resurrecting bit. Good show for trying though
Capsula Mundi is an Italian project to promote ecological burial. Alternatively, those who prefer the sea can become reefs. A Swedish company has come up with a freezing method. [Via Aeiou and MoFi.]
A new way to go How would you like to get to the next world: burial, cremation, or alkaline hydrolysis?
African fantasy coffins are produced by the Ga and other tribes of the Ghana coast to confer the status of travel and luxury goods upon the deceased. The coffins themselves are incredibly detailed works of art that range from miniature Mercedes automobiles and cellphones to giant fish and Coke cans. What would you like to be buried in?