Why do we Bury our Dead?
Saturday, November 20, 2004 8:02:00 PM
- 1. Pragmatical.
- This is the most ancient motive, and it's hardly ever found in modern societies (though it might still dominate in some remaining tribes). The transcendent and the ordinary were so tightly intertwined in the life of ancient societies that death could hardly pretend to any special place among the other, not yet cognized phenomena. The burial rituals were regarded as commonplace actions with immanent tight causality. When placing a sword and a shield into a dead warrior's tomb, the ancient hardly felt themselves executing a ritual; it was rather a common action necessary to prepare the dead for future fights in the afterlife. The need for it was as obvious as a living warrior's need for ammunition.
- 2. Symbolical.
- Compared to the previous motive, the perception of ritual actions has changed from direct to indirect via symbols. It seems like the point of transition was the use of magical symbols (such as pentagrams) guarding the dead from demons. It's important that a pentagram, unlike a sword, is not a direct bearer of some force, but it rather signifies such a force. This transition is caused by delimitation between the transcendent and the ordinary: phenomena such as death are no more common components of everyday life, and it's only through symbols that interaction with them is now possible. Most modern rituals dealing with death seem to have originated under domination of this motive. The tombstone, coffin, burial and mourning in cultures based on Christianity or Judaism are symbols signifying the respect of the living for the dead and helping the souls to find peace. It is important that an individual realizes the meaning of the symbols. The causality is still strong because the nominal meaning of the symbols is regarded as their actual role (a pentagram is a real defense weapon).
- 3. Formal.
- The nominal value of the symbols is retained but their causal role is lost. Burial is still perceived as something done for the dead, but there is no clear understanding of how it helps the dead and what would happen if the ritual is neglected. I suspect that this motive is dominant for most of the modern population of Russia. It's worth noting that as an incentive, this motive can be no weaker or even stronger than the previous one: the loss of causal reward is compensated by the obsession to do everything properly.
- 4. Social.
- Like a fourth derivative, this motive is a product of further regression of the third one. Not only the alleged factual role of the symbols, but also their nominal value is lost. An individual no more thinks that the dead really need burying. The grief from the death of a close relative changes its central object, shifting from sympathizing the dead (“poor Yorick!”) to dealing with the loss by the living (“how can I live without Yorick?”); condolence becomes important. The living perform the burial not for the dead but rather for each other, projecting onto each other the retained from the previous stage and now self-sustaining need for proper execution of the ritual. A variation of this motive is when someone conducts the ritual not for another person, but in order to follow the ethical or formal laws of the society; I'd still call it the social motive because it's the incentive originates from the individual's socialization.
- I have no reasons to conduct burial rituals.
- The described classification of motives is fundamentally flawed (please comment).