Short post about death rituals and a reason we do them

Christian Patterson
Underground Mall


One thing that really gets on my nerves for an unknown reason is the way people talk about death ritual.

Some people have the “death positive” view that you should clean the corpse, dress the corpse, hug it etc. and some people have a “death negative” view where you just like imagine the person moved away forever or something.

Both of these views are wrong. Or, they’re not wrong, per se, but they’re prescriptive diagnosis of something that should be understood descriptively.

If anything, death rituals are a cultural marker of the material and technology of a society. That’s why our earliest documentation of East Asian cultures is China (Han Chinese, or their progenitors) documenting the death rituals of other societies in the area. It’s because death ritual was one of the most tangible cultural markers determined by material progress.

Think about religion, or to a lesser extent philosophy in general, as a type of technology. This is one way to understand ideology: a system of ideas used for technology. One of the “selling points” as Buddhism spread throughout Asia, is it gave societies a tool to prepare corpses for any ritual and burial…Monks would do it for you! And Monks had their specific ways of death ritual, while other people may have done funerals, or things like them, in a different way, they were deemed useful for similar reasons.

There’s some people who have a very “Earth Mama” attitude about being death positive. As in, there’s people who think it’s wrong to not be in contact with the dead body in some way. But our attitudes about death and its ceremony are so informed by the way our society works, that it’s pointless to have a prescriptive view of it.

(ps this is literally the exact argument people make against prescriptive linguistics, but about death rituals instead)

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