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2003 Archive:
Ley Lines, Old Straight Tracks, and Earth Energies by Jeff Belanger
December 13, 2003

Dybbuk - Spiritual Possession and Jewish Folklore by Jeff Belanger
November 29, 2003

What to Look For in a Paranormal Group by Andrew D. Laird
November 24, 2003

Reincarnation: Thoughts, Aspects, and Musings by Lee Prosser
November 17, 2003

Inside the Psychic Mind of James Van Praagh by Jeff Belanger
November 15, 2003

Exploring Our Dreams by Jeff Belanger
November 1, 2003

Halloween 2003 - What Scares Us by Jeff Belanger
October 18, 2003

Supernatural Glossary by Brian Leffler, with contributions by the staff
October 13, 2003

L'Empire de la Morte by Jeff Belanger
October 4, 2003

Spell Casting and Green Witchcraft by Jeff Belanger
September 20, 2003

To Light a Candle by Lee Prosser
September 18, 2003

The Ghosts and Legends of Juneau's Alaskan Hotel by Jeff Belanger
September 6, 2003

A Glimpse of the Afterlife: Near-Death Experiences by Jeff Belanger
August 23, 2003

Gargoyles: Sacred Scarecrows by Jeff Belanger
August 9, 2003

Astral Travel Agents by Jeff Belanger
July 26, 2003

What's Your Sign? by Jeff Belanger
July 12, 2003

The Skeptic's View by Jeff Belanger
June 28, 2003

Mercy Brown, the Rhode Island Vampire by Jeff Belanger
June 16, 2003

It's in the Cards by Jeff Belanger
May 31, 2003

Exploring Satanism by Jeff Belanger
May 17, 2003

My First Ghost Hunt by Jeff Belanger
May 3, 2003

Leaps of Faith by Jeff Belanger
April 19, 2003

Sance - A Round Table Discussion by Jeff Belanger
April 5, 2003

Exorcism: Vanquishing Demons by Jeff Belanger
March 22, 2003

Do All Dogs Go to Heaven? by Jeff Belanger
March 8, 2003

Which Witch is Which? by Jeff Belanger
February 22, 2003

Being Psychic With Peter James by Jeff Belanger
February 8, 2003

Funeral Practices and the Afterlife by Jeff Belanger
January 25, 2003

Lawrenceville Library's Most Famous Headstone by Jeff Belanger
January 11, 2003

January 25, 2003

Funeral Practices and the Afterlife

By Jeff Belanger

Earlier this month, I attended the funeral of my wife's grandmother in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. She died at the age of 84 and certainly had a long, full life -- as the minister said at her service, "She was blessed to not only see the birth of her children's children, but some of her children's children's children as well."

I have attended a fair amount of funerals in my time -- three of my grandparents, some friends' family members, and unfortunately, some friends who died way too young -- and I think that some of the most compelling evidence of the existence of an afterlife comes from looking at the body of a loved one in an open-casket funeral. I knew my wife's grandmother for her last six years, and at the funeral I only saw an empty vessel. It amazed me how the body lying there didn't really look like the person I knew, and I think the reason for that is simple -- the body in the casket really wasn't the person I knew.

I believe that when we die, life-force, personality, and energy leave when the flesh and bones can no longer support it. I don't believe that life-force is something that can be destroyed.

Seeing our deceased off to the afterlife is a character trait that runs through every civilized culture throughout history. In fact, Encyclopedia Britannica defines the beginning of civilization itself when we started burying the dead. "It is the definition of the anthropologist that, in the evolution from ape-like kindred species, civilized man began to exist when he first buried his dead. This is the definition of homo sapiens -- wise man -- rational man -- thinking man."

Three common threads of the funeral are: a ceremonial act, a special place to put the dead, and some kind of memorial. Funeral customs began out of fear -- fear of the dead, fear that the deceased's spirit may come back if the physical body isn't disposed of in a respectful manor, and fear of appeasing the higher power that oversees daily lives.

The Neanderthals were the first to hold funeral services. We know from some of the burial sites that have been uncovered that they had very specific ways of burying their dead. For example, many were laid in an east/west direction to correspond with the rise and fall of the sun, others were laid in a fetal position -- the same position as in the womb, and in many burial sites there was an unusually high amount of pollen -- probably from being laid on or around flowers. The tradition of the funeral may be as old as 50,000 - 90,000 years.

From around 3000 B.C.E. until 1650 B.C.E., the ancient Egyptians were so pre-occupied with funerals and death that some of the great rulers spent their entire lives in preparation for their burial. The pyramids are, after all, giant tombs commemorating the lives of Egyptian pharaohs and noblemen. The ancient Egyptians held incredibly strong beliefs in an afterlife, so much so that the mummification process of a body could take up to 70 days to complete. When the mummification was complete, the body would be wrapped in fine linen before being placed in a sarcophagus.

At the actual burial, if the deceased was important enough, the family and servants of the deceased were expected to ingest poison and be buried near their master so they could continue their servitude in the afterlife. Buried with the dead would be treasure, food offerings, and everyday items such as grooming tools, bowls, cups, and furniture -- all to make the journey and the afterlife more comfortable.

If we fast-forward a few thousand years to the Viking era (789-1066 C.E.), we see that many ideas from ancient Egypt carried through to Viking burials. Vikings were Pagans who had a wide array of gods and spirits to call on for specific needs. Like the ancient Egyptians, a Viking warrior would be buried with his belongings, but he would also be buried with his weapons: sword, spear, battleaxe, and shield. Even the warrior's animals, such as his dog and horse, could be buried with him to help him on his way to Valhalla. Food and drink would also be supplied to satiate the deceased on their final journey. Some Viking graves were marked by a series of stones lined up in the shape of a boat over the grave. Some of the more wealthy and prestigious burials also included a funeral pyre set on top of a ship. The pyre would be lit and the blazing ship set off to sea -- a sight that must have been a dramatic and spectacular site to behold.

After the Viking era, the Catholic Church continued the trend of further simplifying the funeral and burial. Around 1440 C.E., the wake was introduced.  Originally, the wake was an all-night vigil of prayer and meditation. This tradition has some Celtic roots -- loved ones of the deceased would hover over the corpse to ensure evil sprits and monsters would not take the body before the deceased's spirit had a chance to move on. The wakes of Henry VI's day soon took a more lively turn and began to evolve into drunken parties, and the fallout was seen as scandalous.

Native Americans of the Great Plains felt the Earth was sacred and that placing a corpse into the Earth would not be proper. So the dead were dressed in their best garments, then placed into a fork of a tree, where the birds of prey could pick the bones clean. Once the flesh was gone, the bones would be gathered and then could be committed to the Earth.

Today, we still hold onto many of the same funeral practices as our ancestors did. We dress our recently deceased in their finest linen, we embalm the body to prevent rapid decay, we adorn the body with fresh flowers, we hold ceremonies to commemorate their lives, and we place them in cemeteries under a monument of some kind.

When you consider the last 50,000 years-plus, our funeral practices haven't changed or evolved that much. I believe this is because our understanding about death and the afterlife hasn't evolved either. We may no longer have the god of thunder, the god of rain, or the sun god anymore -- because science has explained to us what these natural events are -- but so far, no one has been able to really tell us what happens when we die. Our various religions all have an opinion on the matter, but most of us still have a skeptical corner in us that says, "I'm just not sure." 

2014 Haunted New England Wall Calendar by Jeff Belanger photography by Frank Grace
Check out the 2014 Haunted New England wall calendar by Jeff Belanger and photography by Frank Grace!

Paranormal Conferences and Lectures
Don't miss the following events and lectures:

Jeff Belanger and “The Bridgewater Triangle” at Dedham Community Theatre - April 6, 2014 9:00PM

The Spirits of the Mark Twain House - Hartford, Connecticut - April 12, 2014

Paracon Australia - East Maitland, New South Wales, Australia - May 10-12, 2014