Paranormal Science

How do different cultures deal with their dead?
Answered by Discovery Channel
  • Discovery Channel

    Discovery Channel

  1. Different cultures treat their dead in different ways. For example, Zoroastrians leave their dead for vultures to eat. Other cultures believe cremating the dead is best, and Western religions believe burial is the correct way to treat the dead. However, all these rites really aren't concerned with the dead; rather, they're a way to help the living come to terms with their loved ones' deaths. Similarly, memorializing the dead with tombstones may be a way to help the living hold onto their desire for immortality. After all, tombstones are physical evidence that someone really lived, and provide immortality by ensuring the deceased will always be remembered.

    Some American and European traditions regarding the dead likely began in Victorian times, such as stopping the clock in the room where someone dies to prevent bad luck. Traditions and superstitions also help people deal with the dead long after they're gone. It might be something living loved ones do, such as laying flowers on a grave -- or something they don't do. Aboriginal people believe that they should not show images or voice the names of those who have passed. The reason for this belief is that saying the dead person's name might recall and bother his or her spirit. Australian newspapers once would not even print the names of deceased, a far cry from the American tradition of running obituaries. The practice is largely ignored today in colonized areas of Australia, but in northern indigenous territory, most still refuse to name the dead out loud [source: Creative Spirits]. On the other hand, Asian-Americans might keep a photo or plaque in their homes and create a sort of shrine to the deceased person.

    Many of the ways cultures, such as Asian-Americans deal with their dead might seem strange to other people in the U.S. when we live in the same country, but are important to know for sensitivity's sake and for medical, educational or social professionals. Native Americans believe that the spirit never dies and often bury personal artifacts with the person who dies. They also might associate the dead loved one's spirit with a spirit from nature, such as a bird or plant. Some Jewish-Americans observe a period of three days following a funeral during which they do not receive visitors so they can lament. Islamists say a prayer for the dead on the 40th and 52nd day after he or she passed [source: National Association of School Psychologists].

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