I had several ideas for the ‘B’ category. Bones, blood, boar, basil, bay laurel, Beltane. Then, on Saturday, I was talking with a lady about the subdivision where I lived and she mentioned that it used to be an old Native American reservation…or burial ground…or spiritual place.
Well, I have no idea if that’s true. The correlation that’s a little weird is that I live in a subdivision named after Native American tribes, but let’s be honest. The likelihood of that being true, and not just hearsay, is small. I researched as much as I could online and came up empty.
Still, the conversation got me thinking about the concept of burial, burial customs, funerals and graveyards. Ripe topics for Witches, Pagans and assorted ancestor-honorers, huh?
(Also: I meant to do many more cultures and societies, however, both those here took a couple of hours of reading + writing. It’s definitely a subject I hope to continually return to—talk about fascinating stuff!)
The Why: The Ancient Egyptians believed that people had a ka, or life force, and the ba, a set of spiritual characteristics unique to the individual. The ka was attached to the body, and needed it as a home–thus the offerings of food, drink and the process of mummification. Priests performed funeral rites to release the ba from the body. When combined, the ba and the ka formed the akh. (Note: I’ll be honest…I read on this subject for quiet a while and didn’t understand it all…so, any well-researched Kemetics are welcome to explicate in the comments.)
At first, Egyptians were buried in the desert sands. The arid conditions dried out the bodies and naturally mummified them. Soon, people began building mud structures on top of the graves (called mastabas). Eventually these lead to step pyramids and the iconic Great Pyramids of Giza. The pyramid building era lasted about a thousand years, from 2700 BCE to 1700 BCE. Afterwards, kings and nobility began to cut their tombs into rock faces (like The Valley of the Kings in Luxor). The hope was to prevent grave-robbers from thieving all the goods, alas…we all know how that turned out.
Besides the structures, the (wealthy) Egyptians had burial rituals that involved mummification, spells and magic. After elaborate rituals, the priests placed the body in decorated coffins, surrounded by offerings and goods for the person to take into the afterlife.
The Why: The Celts believed that there was a life beyond death. Souls moved beyond the body and into an afterlife, though historical details of this afterlife aren’t clear. It should be remembered that the Celtic people are a very large, very expansive grouping of tribes that at one point reached across the European continent. Beliefs and customs varied.
There is evidence for a variety of burial practices and customs across the Celtic world. Burial (inhumation) was common, as was cremation and even excarnation (where the bodies were left out in the elements). There is evidence that during some historical periods Celts expected the next life to be similar to this one, as they were buried with jewelry, food, beloved animals, chariots and martial gear.
How elaborate a funeral and tomb was largely depended on the social status of the dead. A person of high social standing might be celebrated with feasts, bards, elegies and even games–though it might not be an exact correspondence.
Tairis: Death and Burial (EXCELLENT article about Irish and Scottish burial customs…really, much better than any summaries I could put up here.)
ADF: The Afterlife, the Heroes and the Dead (Ian Corrigan)
Bountiful Celtic Burials (Archaelogy, 2003)
The Iron Age Celts (University of Texas at Austin)
Whew. Well. That was a lot of research and reading for, I’ll admit, still (very) limited understanding. However, I hope the resources linked will provide those interested with more avenues for information.