Friday, December 7, 2012

Fun Friday Facts #54: Funerals Edition

Okay, so I think I’ve already exhausted all my holiday Fun Facts options with Christmas, Santa Claus, Black Friday and Weird Christmas Traditions. I chose funerals on the advice of Sarah E. Melville because I really needed an idea, but also because the holidays make me want to kill someone.

Which is why I avoid them.

1) Human sacrifice was apparently pretty common in the ancient world, especially in “less civilized” parts of it like everywhere but Europe.  The inhabitants of pre-Christian Fiji believed that their souls, after death, would encounter a demon named Nangga-Nangga who would ask them if they’d been married. If they could prove that they had been, they would be allowed to move on to the afterlife, but if they couldn’t, they would be turned away. A woman who died would be buried with her husband’s beard in order to prove to the demon that she had been married. A dead man, however, would need to be accompanied by the ghost of his actual wife, who would be ritualistically strangled at the funeral and placed in the grave.

But wait, it gets more complicated. The Fijians believed that all spirits were the same age, and furthermore that the demon Nangga-Nangga was kind of gullible, so, often, instead of strangling the dead man’s wife, they would strangle his elderly mother or grandmother instead. She would pose as his wife when they encountered the demon, and so they would both journey into the afterlife together. This was considered more practical than strangling a young, able-bodied widow, especially if some other man had his eye on her. If this were the case, there might be a ritualistic fight between the widow’s brother (or other close male relative) and the potential suitor, in which it was common practice for the male relative to accept a bribe in order to throw the fight. 

If a man died while still a bachelor, and had no acceptable female relatives to be ritually strangled on his behalf, his spirit would be compelled to loiter around until a random woman died, so that he might implore her spirit to accompany him and pose as his wife in front of Nangga-Nangga.

This woman is not my grandmother.

2) Some groups in southern China, the Philippines and Indonesia use hanging coffins, which are coffins that are carved from a single piece of wood and suspended from a sheer cliff face. They’re balanced on natural projections in the rock, hung from beams, or sometimes tucked into small caves. The practice is said to keep animals from defiling the bodies of the dead, and to bring blessings to the soul of the deceased.

...and attract tourists. ~ Kok Leng, Maurice Yeo

3) Beginning in the 17th century and lasting until the dawn of the 20th century in Europe, people would hire “funeral mutes” to stand around at the funeral, looking sad. The funeral mute served as a symbolic champion of dead person, and usually took up a place near the door of the church during the service.


4) In ancient times, and still today in some cultures, professional mourners could be hired to weep, wail and generally grieve excessively at people’s funerals.

As depicted on this stele.

The practice was presumably intended to encourage others to express their grief.

5) Some of you are probably aware that you can now be buried in space. Sadly, they don’t just shoot your whole corpse into orbit, like they did with Spock in The Wrath of Khan. No, they just stick a sample (a sample!) of your cremains into a little tube and shoot that into orbit instead. Like, they can’t even shoot your entire cremains into orbit. What a rip-off.

The company that does this, Celestis, offers several packages, starting at the very reasonable price of $995. For $995, however, you have to come back. If you want to stay in orbit, that costs five grand.

You can send up to seven grams of yourself to space, or seven grams of yourself and seven grams of a loved one (costs triple). For $12,500, they’ll send your dead ass to the Moon, or, if you prefer, straight off into deep space.