10 Unusual Death Rituals From Around The World

4. Zoroastrian Towers Of Silence

A tower of silence, or dakhma, is a funerary structure used by people of Zoroastrian faith. It is a practice of disposing of the dead by exposing the bodies to the Sun and vultures. According to Zoroastrian belief, the four elements (fire, water, earth, and air) are sacred and should not to be polluted by the disposal of the dead through cremation and burial. In order to avoid polluting these elements, Zoroastrians expose the corpses to scavenging animals.

The towers of silence are raised platforms with three concentric circles within them. The bodies of men are arranged on the outer circle, those of women in the middle circle, and those of children in the inner circle. The vultures can then come and eat their flesh. The remaining bones are left to be dried and bleached by the Sun before being deposited in an ossuary. These towers can be found both in Iran and India.[7]

3. Skull Burial

Kiribati is an island nation in the Pacific Ocean. In present times, its people practice mostly Christian burials, but this was not always the case. Before the 19th century, they practiced what is called the skull burial, in which they kept the skull at home so that the native god could welcome the deceased’s spirit to the afterlife. After someone died, their body would stay at home for three to 12 days for people to pay their respects. To make the body smell nice, they would burn leaves near it and put flowers in the corpse’s mouth, nose, and ears. They could also rub the body with coconut and other scented oils.

A few months after the body was buried, family members would dig up the grave and remove the skull, polish it, and display it in their home. The deceased’s widow or child would sleep and eat next to the skull and carry it with them wherever they went. They could also make necklaces out of the fallen teeth. After several years, they would rebury the skull.[8]

2. Hanging Coffins

People of the Igorot tribe of Mountain Province in Northern Philippines have been burying their dead in hanging coffins, nailed to the sides of cliff faces, for more than two millennia. They believe that moving the bodies of the dead higher up brings them closer to their ancestral spirits.

The corpses are buried in a fetal position, as the Igorot people believe that a person should leave the world the same way they entered it. Nowadays, younger generations adopt more modern and Christian ways of life, so this ancient ritual is slowly dying out.[9]

1. Sokushinbutsu

Many religions from around the world believe that an imperishable corpse conveys an ability to connect with a force beyond the physical realm. The Japanese Shingon monks of Yamagata took it a step further. Their practice of self-mummification, or sokushinbutsu, was believed to grant them access to Heaven, where they could live for a million years and protect humans on Earth. The process of mummifying themselves from inside out required utmost devotion and self-discipline.

The process of sokushinbutsu started off with the monk adopting a diet consisting of only tree roots, barks, nuts, berries, pine needles, and even stones. This diet helped eliminate any fat and muscle as well as bacteria from the body. It could last anywhere from 1,000 to 3,000 days. The monk would also drink the sap of the Chinese lacquer tree, which would render the body toxic to insect invaders after death. The monk continued with the meditation practice while drinking only small amounts of salinized water. As death approached, he would rest in a small, tightly cramped pine box, which would be buried. The corpse would then be unearthed after 1,000 days. If the body had stayed intact, it meant that the deceased had become sokushinbutsu. The body would then be dressed in robes and put in a temple for worship.

The whole process could take more than three years to complete. It is believed that 24 monks successfully mummified themselves between 1081 and 1903, but this ritual was criminalized in 1877.[10]

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