You’ve Probably Never Heard of these Funeral Rites

mongolian funeral

 

While almost all of us are familiar with the traditional “Christian” style burial – and it is certainly the most frequently shown on our movies and TV shows – the truth of the matter is that our way is not necessarily the standard in other parts of the globe. There are some amazing (and to us probably bizarre) and unusual types of death and funeral rituals from other cultures around the world.

 

Every people has its own specific rites and rituals, many of them dating back thousands and thousands of years. Some share similar elements with other funerary traditions , but most rituals are quite a bit different than the rest – and some of them have elements that will shock and surprise you.

 

Below we highlight some of the world’s most interesting, unique, and distinct funeral rituals!

 

South Africa

 

Like most of the other African nations and African cultures, ancestors that have passed on are treated with a mixture of both fear and veneration – and funerals in South Africa are designed to show the utmost respect for those that have passed.

 

In South Africa, if someone dies inside of a home the windows of that property may be covered with ash, and all of the beds are to be removed from the dead person’s room so that mourners can enter the space. Some that are particularly traditional sacrifice a small animal in that space to appease the spirits that have gone before us, and most will wash the dirt and dust from their clothes and their bodies before they enter their own homes to avoid bringing in any bad luck.

 

Mongolia

 

Mongolia is probably most famous for their “sky burials”, essentially propping the body of a deceased loved one up on a high and unprotected place so that it can be exposed to the elements and consumed by wildlife. They share this ritual with those from Tibet, and it is a particularly Buddhist point of view that focuses on the needless nests of respecting a body after death as it is simply considered “luggage” in the perspective of Mongolians.

 

Other Mongolians do not share these similar Buddhist beliefs, but instead bury their dead in the ground in caskets that are covered in red and black paint. The grave is then surrounded with milk, rice, and clean sand to help expedite the spirits pathway to the afterlife.

 

Cambodia

 

Similar to those of the Mongolian culture, many Cambodians are Buddhists in their beliefs and are certain of the cycle of reincarnation. Traditional mourning and funeral rituals are not all that popular in Cambodia, as the Cambodian people (in general) believe that those that have passed are merely preparing themselves to be reborn and reincarnated all over again.

 

Some Cambodians will wear white to symbolize their mourning, where others may shave their heads to show respect and appreciation for those that have gone before us. Many Cambodian Buddhists believe that a Buddhist monk should be present at the moment of death, in an effort to help the new soul find its way while it prepares for its next incarnation.

 

At the end of the day, these rituals aren’t all that dissimilar from other rituals around the world when you get right down to the core of them. These death and funeral rituals, like all others, show a respect for those that have gone before us – if not a respect for the actual body itself, a respect for the soul and the memory of the person that has passed on.

 

Cultures all over the world throughout history have found interesting and creative ways to deal with the death, and it’s likely that there will be new traditions created in the future as well.

An Introduction to the Tradition of Handfasting

handfasting

Getting married is something that lovers from all walks of life do. The ceremonies surrounding the union are as unique as the couples hosting them. In Celtic and Pagan communities, for example, a ritual known as “handfasting” has been practiced for centuries. In fact, that’s where the modern world got the expression “tying the knot” when referring to a wedding.

Although seen as a relatively informal ceremony these days, handfasting can still be viewed as a binding agreement between a willing man and woman. Prior to weddings becoming a legally managed enterprise and a church-driven ritual, this type of simple ceremony was the most common way for couples to join themselves in sacred matrimony.

What Is Handfasting?

The concept of handfasting comes from the belief that married couples are eternally bound together in all matters. The ritual is merely a physical manifestation of that belief, involving a literal knot being tied between the betrothed. The “love knot” signified the joining of their lives, and is typically performed by an ordained minister after the vows and rings are exchanged.

And this is regarded as a rather “rational” form of commitment (as opposed to an emotional impulse) because it allows both parties to carefully assess the union for a period of time after the ceremony. The general timeline for a handfasting ritual is as follows:

  • The couple’s hands are bound together with various colored rope. The color of the rope (or cord) is going to vary, especially among practitioners of neo-paganism we’ve noticed.
  • The cord is then kept in an ornate box, protected from harm and containing within it the couple’s ceremonial vows.
  • In general, the box is then kept in a safe place for 1 year and 1 day.

At the end of the “cooling off” period, the couple then removes the vows from the box, considers the events of the past year and their feelings for each other, and then makes a final decision about the relationship. At that time, the binding can become legal with the help of a public official.  (The laws in most Western countries don’t permit a year-long marriage trial so that’s the reason for this final part of the process.)

While handfasting was previously accepted as a legal form of marriage, it is considered a complementary ritual today – more like a more formalized engagement. Others choose to work in the rite as part of their overall wedding service, especially those wanting to add more of a Celtic theme to their big day.

The Significance of the Handfasting Cord

The cords used in the average handfasting ceremony are not regular home center rope. Often hand-woven by the engaged couple or a family member just for the occasion, you can now even find services online that will create a custom one for your rite.  In most cases each cord needs to be at least 48 inches long, allowing the hands of both individuals to be bound. As previously mentioned, the various colors of cord are symbolic of different attributes. Some of the more common meanings:

  • Yellow – Charm, attraction, balance, and harmony
  • Green – Luck, fertility, beauty, and prosperity
  • Red – Love, courage, vigor, and passion
  • Blue – Longevity, strength, pride, and safe travels
  • Purple – Power, progress, vitality, and respect
  • Pink – Unity, honor, romance, and lightheartedness
  • White – Purity, serenity, peace, and loyalty
  • Black – Wisdom, success, vision, and empowerment
  • Brown – Skill development, nurturing, home protection, and talent acquisition
  • Orange – Encouragement, stimulation, attraction, and abundance
  • Gray – Neutrality, balance, cancelling, and return
  • Silver – Inspiration, protection, creativity, and adaptability
  • Gold – Longevity, prosperity, strength, and unity

Important to note is that witnesses must be present for this ceremony, if nothing more than to give accountability to the couple. Modern pagans and wiccans have really brought this old time practice back to the forefront, with unique, beautiful rituals that borrow from several ancient customs.

Experiencing a vibrant resurgence and still traditionally rooted, handfasting is sure to become more mainstream among innovative couples from different walks of life seeking “something old” as they plan their big day.

Amazing Coming of Age Rituals

japanese coming of age

Amazing Coming of Age Rituals Around The World

 

One thing shared by many cultures around the globe: The transition from childhood to adulthood is important for both boys and girls. While different cultures express this remarkable moment differently, there is something nonetheless shared among all of them. The children themselves share a range of emotional responses, from absolute joy, to complete horror at an event they might perceive at the time as embarrassing.

 

This rite of passage can be expressed in a number of different ways. Then you have to consider that within a single culture, there can be also be differences between the genders. Taken as a whole, it is fascinating to see where these cultures share similarities, and where they divert sharply.

 

The Jewish Passage to Adulthood: Bar/Bat Mitzvah

Jewish boys celebrate their Bar Mitzvahs at the age of 13. Jewish girls celebrate their Bat Mitzvahs at the age of 12. This rite of passage establishes the commitment of a Jewish child to their faith. They must acknowledge that they will now be responsible for observing Jewish laws and traditions. Regardless of gender, the child is responsible for a good deal of work, in preparation for the big event. To celebrate their commitment to this work, and to celebrate the transition to adulthood, a large celebration is often held. Family and friends gather in great numbers to give gifts and praise, and to observe the ceremony that moves the child to the next stage of their life.

 

The Sateré-Mawé Passage To Adulthood: Bullet Ant Initiation

There is an indigenous tribe in the Brazilian Amazon known as the Sateré-Mawé. When young boys in this tribe turn thirteen, they mark this occasion with what is referred to as the Bullet Ant Initiation. The initiation involves taking numerous bullet ants, known for their brutal stings, and combining them with an herbal solution. The ants are then weaved into gloves, with their stingers pointing inwards. At this point, the boys will then wear the gloves for a period of 10 minutes. During this extremely painful period, even something as simple as crying out in pain will be seen as a sign of weakness. The boys are expected to wear the gloves several times, over the course of several months, before the ritual is considered finished.

 

The Hispanic Passage to Adulthood: Quinceanera

Throughout several parts of South and Central America, as well as in other countries which enjoy a large Hispanic population, young girls participate in a passage known as Quinceanera. This event occurs when the girls are fifteen years old. A Catholic mass is usually the first part of the occasion. During the mass, the young girl will renew the vows spoken at her baptism. The mass is meant to establish a profound foundation of the girl’s commitments to family and their faith. After this moment, the mass becomes a huge fiesta. Food and drink are served, gifts are given, and there is often dancing.

The American Passage to Adulthood: Sweet 16

For both young boys and young girls, turning 16 in the United States is a really big deal. This tradition is less rooted in a specific cultural background. Many different cultures throughout the United States mark a child turning sixteen as a significant occasion. Sometimes, a family’s religion will play a role in the proceedings. In other situations, a family may choose to combine a rite-of-passage from their culture/faith with the marking of the child’s sixteenth birthday. This is why this passage to adulthood is considered to be a little looser than some of the other passages highlighted here. Many children get to mark the occasion with a massive party, as well as gifts that are often considered to be extravagant. The Sweet 16 passage became something of a cultural phenomenon, thanks to the MTV show My Super Sweet 16.

girl's sweet 16

Khatam Al Koran Passage to Adulthood: Malaysia

Some Muslim girls throughout Malaysia mark their eleventh birthday as a very significant occasion. They may celebrate what is known as The Khatam Al Koran. Often held at the local mosque, this celebration indicates that the young girl in question has the ability to demonstrate their growing emotional maturity. This is expressed through a highly sacred ritual. In order to get ready for this ritual, many young girls will spend years getting ready to show what they have learned. They will review the Koran over and over again. On the big day, they will recite the final chapter before their family and other loved ones.

 

The Ethiopian Passage: Hamar Cow Jumping

Throughout Ethiopia, many young men choose a ceremony that proves they are ready for one of the most important rites of passage of their lives: marriage. In this ritual, a young man will strip off all of their clothes. Next, they will leap across a male cow that has been castrated. This effort must be completed four times in full. Through the efforts of this ritual, the Ethiopian man is indicating to those who attend that he is leaving his childhood behind. If they are successful in their efforts, they will become known as a Maza. This is the word used to describe the men who have passed the test successfully. After the ritual is successfully completed, the Maza may help to supervise other ceremonies along the region of Hamar.

 

The Japanese Passage: Seijin-no-Hi

For over twelve hundred years, this has been an important rite of passage for young Japanese men and women. Upon turning twenty, many Japanese youth will put on their very best traditional attire. They will then participate in a local ceremony at the city office in their area. With friends and family participating in the fun, the youth will receive gifts, and join a massive party. This is what is also known as the Coming of Age Festival. At this point in their lives, the men and women are now known as responsible, vital adults in their communities. This is also the age in which both men and women are allowed to not only vote, but to drink alcohol, as well.