Saturday, October 2, 2010

Funeral Customs & Beliefs About Death

FYI- the latest audio download and PDF version of the 12/1/10 Watchtower, features this subject in the cover series.

the following info is from (pgs 4-5, of the 7/22/92 Awake!)

Easing the Burdens of Death
Funeral customs and burial practices vary greatly from country to country and from culture to culture. Governmental regulations may stipulate some procedures that must be followed. The most decisive factor, however, is usually the religious beliefs of the family and the community. “The study of death rites and customs illustrates impressively the relation between religious belief and popular practice in the presence of the dead,” states
The New Encyclopædia Britannica.

Consider a Hindu funeral in India. The body is prepared for cremation according to the rites of the particular sect. “Holy water,” preferably from the Ganges River, is sprinkled on the floor. A white sheet is then placed over this area, and the body is laid upon it. Sweet-smelling incense is burned in the belief that it will bring clean spirits to the area. Sandalwood paste and a red powder are applied to the face. The body is bathed and then covered with a white cloth over which flowers are strewed. The body is then carried with head forward on a bamboo stretcher to the burning ghat (place for cremation). There the stretcher is reversed to position the body with feet forward, toward the burning ghat, to indicate that it is looking ahead to future life. The funeral pyre is lit by the eldest son, for it is believed that only in this way will the “soul” of the deceased find peace. Afterward, the ashes are collected and consigned to one of India’s “holy” rivers.

In Papua New Guinea, it is customary for relatives to keep in close contact with the dead body, kissing it, crying over it, making it promises, and asking forgiveness for sins committed against the dead person. Mourning is intense, and the crooning of dirges adds to the sadness. It is the custom to have at least two lavish feasts sometime after the death to honor the “spirit” of the dead person and ward off any retribution it may bring.

In Africa, funeral practices and traditions lay emphasis on belief in the immortality of the soul. A need to appease the dead is felt, lest they wreak havoc on their relatives. A lot of money is spent and many sacrifices offered in hopes that the dead will show the living favor. Many believe in reincarnation, that the dead one will return either as an animal to be honored worshipfully or as another family member through a woman then pregnant. “Thus,” a report from Nigeria says, “special care is taken while dressing a corpse to ensure that everything is in shape. For instance, it is believed that if the hand of the dead person is not straight in the coffin, it will show up as a birth defect when the person reincarnates. Or a dead man who is not properly dressed will reincarnate as a madman.” Fear of the dead and their presumed control over the living are often factors in the conduct at African funerals.

In many parts of rural Greece, long and elaborate ceremonies also take place after a death. “During the five years that follow, female relatives of the deceased prepare and direct many memorial services,” notes Science magazine. “For the wives, mothers, and daughters, mourning becomes a defining role. They will visit the grave each night to light candles, clean the headstone, talk to the dead, sing lamentations, and weep. The perfect performance of these rituals, they believe, will help the soul of the loved one into heaven.” Eventually, the bones of the deceased are dug up and deposited in a common village vault.

Most funerals in Japan conform to Buddhist rites. After the body is washed and dressed, it is covered with a white sheet, and a knife is placed on the chest to ward off evil spirits. As candles and incense burn, a priest will recite sutras (passages from Buddhist canonical literature) at the bedside and give the deceased a posthumous Buddhist name for which, depending on the number of characters used, a large sum of money must be paid. The body is then placed in an unpainted wooden coffin. An all-night wake or a shorter half wake is held to mourn the dead and pray for the repose of the soul. As the priest recites sutras, mourners take turns burning a pinch of incense. Similar rites take place the following day during the funeral service before an altar upon which the coffin, a picture of the deceased, and other Buddhist ritual implements are placed. Cremation, required by law, then takes place. For some time thereafter, incense will be burned at intervals and a priest will recite sutras until it is believed that the soul has lost its influence over human affairs and melts into the ancestral soul of the universal nature.

This is a more humorous example on (pg 226 of the 1997 Yearbook) about some very unusual religious beliefs about death and "the afterlife" found in the Marshall Islands.

Where Are the Dead—Really?
Marshallese churches foster some very unusual beliefs. One day William Maddison, a Protestant deacon, tested Julian Aki: “In Philippians, Paul wrote that ‘every knee would bend to Christ, those in heaven, on the earth, and under the ground.’ My question is, ‘Who are those under the ground?’” (Philippians 2:10) When Brother Aki explained that they were the dead who would be resurrected, William was elated. He had been bothered by his church’s teaching that those “under the ground” were the ri menanui, “little people” who, according to Marshallese legend, came above ground only in the dead of night.
William immediately arranged for his family to study the Bible with Brother Aki, and he and his wife, Almina, were baptized together in 1966. He has served as an elder since 1983, and she has been a regular pioneer for 28 years, longer than anyone else in Micronesia.
Marshallese churches also teach that hell is a large iron pot in heaven where sinners are scalded in boiling water. Sailass Andrike, like many, believed this “death in heaven” doctrine. When he was shown from the Bible, however, that the dead return to dust, Sailass accepted the truth and was baptized in 1969. (Genesis 3:19) He was instrumental in obtaining land for a new Kingdom Hall, and he also became the first Marshallese translator. A congregation was formed in Majuro in 1967.