7 Unusual Rituals Around Death


Here are some unusual rituals around death that come from different cultures. Each one demonstrates different understandings of the spirit worlds. 

1. Exorcising evil spirits from the grave

Land is getting harder to find in Korea so the traditional practice of burying deceased people in mounds on mountains is being replaced by shared burial sites. There are requirements to keeping the spirits of the deceased safe so a shaman usually performs a ritual to exorcise evil spirits from the grave site before placing the coffin. Next, the oldest male mourner takes a deep bow and stands on top of the coffin and tramps down the earth as it is thrown in the grave. Finally the grave is completed with a mound of soil and covered with a sword. 

(Source 1 and 2)

2. Reading to the dead

In Tibet, The Tibetan Book of the Dead has traditionally been used to guide the dead while in a state between death and their next rebirth. It is usually read as the person is dying and in the days after they are dead. 

The main text begins “Hey! Noble One...Now the time has come for you to seek the way. Just as your breath stops, the clear light of the first (...) will dawn as previously described to you by your teacher. Your outer breath stops and you experience reality stark and vivid like space, your immaculate naked awareness dawning clear and void without horizon or centre. At that instant, you yourself must recognise it as yourself, you must stay with that experience."

This text is read to the dead, to help the spirit reach the best possible realm in their next life. The book continues, “Choose your continent for rebirth...Using your clairvoyance, enter a womb in a place where Buddhism has spread. Caution is required, for even if you are reborn magically in a heap of dung, you would get the notion that impure mass smelled delicious and you would be reborn in it by the force of your attraction. Therefore you should not adhere to whatever appearance occurs, and you must discount any signs that trigger attachment or aversion. Then choose a good womb...as the child of a holy man, an adept, or of a clan with impeccable Buddhist lineage."


3. Keeping the body until a new son is born

The Mustangese have this practice, when a man dies without a son or grandson, the man's body is enclosed in the walls of his house until a male heir is born. After the birth, the body of the deceased is moved to a hill where the body can be traded to the demons in return for a long life for the newborn boy. 


4. Ritual for people who die harbouring a grudge

The Banyankole tribe of Uganda hold a special ritual for people who die harbouring a grudge against someone before their death. The body of the grudge-holder is buried with objects to occupy the grumpy spirits, so they have no interest in haunting the victims of their grudges. The objects can include crafts, musical equipment, games, farming implements, jewellery, even a bible and books and anything else that’ll ensure the grumpy dead is not left idle.


5. Ritual Cleansing

Some Africans believe that anyone or anything that comes into contact with the dead is unclean or polluted. Cleansing rituals might start before burial and again about seven days or more after the funeral (Macmillan Encyclopedia of Death and Dying). Ritual cleansing may include:

  • Ritual cleansing of the dead before burial. For example, in the Ashanti tribe of Ghana, the oldest woman washes the body three times, dries and dresses it.

  • Items that touched the deceased, including bedding and clothes, are washed.

  • Things the deceased used, such as chairs and utensils, are put away until the local traditional period of mourning is over.

  • The dead's clothing is bundled and stored until mourning ends, then the items are given to family members or burned.

  • After a time, according to community custom, the house and family members undergo a cleansing, usually involving herbs, to remove misfortune and "darkness."

An animal may be sacrificed at the time of the ritual cleansing of the home and family and again about a month later to put the dead's soul to rest.


6. Widow burning (Sati)

Sati (also called suttee) is the practice among some Hindu communities, where a recently widowed woman either voluntarily or by use of force or coercion commits suicide as a result of her husband's death. The most known form of sati is when a woman burns to death on her husband's funeral pyre, however, other forms of sati exist, including being buried alive with the husband's corpse and drowning.

The term sati comes from the original name of the goddess Sati, also known as Dakshayani. Sati self-immolated because she was unable to bear her father Daksha's humiliation of her (living) husband Shiva.  Sati as practice is first mentioned in 510 CCE, when a stele commemorating such an incident was erected at Eran, an ancient city in the modern state of Madhya Pradesh.  The custom began to grow in popularity as evidenced by the number of stones placed to commemorate satis, particularly in southern India and amongst the higher castes of Indian society, despite the fact that the Brahmins originally condemned the practice (Auboyer 2002). 


7. Dressing the deceased in the widow's underwear

In Africa, the Buganda tribe has a quaint tradition reserved for deceased spouses. When a spouse dies, the corpse is buried wearing the underwear of the surviving spouse. “If the deceased is a man, his wife dresses him up in her underwear, while saying out loud to him that he has gone to the grave with his wife. Similarly, a man does the same when his wife dies.” This death ritual deceives the ghost of the dead spouse, convincing him/her that they’ve been buried with their living spouse. As a result, they’ll not torment the living spouse for sex at night.


Do you know of any other unusual death rituals or beliefs from around the world? Let us know in the comments below:


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