A Viking Funeral? Doubtful.

The ship burial of the Viking ruler Igor the Old in Kievan Rus by Heinrich Semiradzki (1845-1902).

The ship burial of the Viking ruler Igor the Old in Kievan Rus by Heinrich Semiradzki (1845-1902).

Jeff Conaway wants a Viking funeral, but — if you read the story linked here closely — you may learn that Conaway has some personal issues and he may not be touching reality on a regular basis. Funeral directors and the Environmental Protection Agency tremble at the thought of a Viking funeral, and the possibility that a funeral with a flaming boat is possible is highly unlikely. Why? Simply because of logistics and the law.

Most people, when they envision a Viking funeral, think of a hero lying in a boat, pushed out to sea, and the boat set aflame by a well-marked arrow. Within minutes, the boat and the body are burned to ash, symbolizing the Phoenix, where the hero’s spirit rises above the flames to live eternally.

First, this vision is scientifically impossible, as it would take more than a few minutes and a flame hotter than that caused by a quickly burning boat to disintegrate a body. Even in a normal crematory process, temperatures of 760° to 1150°C (1400° to 2100°F) are required for one to two hours to cremate a ‘normal’ body. Larger bodies take longer. the most damage that a few minutes on a burning boat could do is burn the flesh away, revealing bones and muscle tissue.

Further, it has become more difficult and expensive to conduct an ocean funeral — even one that does not include a flaming boat. Most requirements for a full-body burial at sea (not scattering ashes) include a shroud or biodegradable coffin, no embalming — which means the body must be buried at sea as soon as possible — and a toe tag in case the body accidentally washes up on shore one day in the near future. If a biodegradable coffin is used, it usually must be drilled with holes to allow water in and must be weighted with about four-hundredweight of iron chain or concrete to try to keep the coffin from floating in to shore somewhere.

Additionally, some religions do not favor a burial at sea, including the Catholic Church. Burial at sea in a casket or in an urn is approved for cases where the deceased expired in the sea, however, and the committal prayer number 406§4 is used in this case:

Lord God,
by the power of your Word
you stilled the chaos of the primeval seas,
you made the raging waters of the Flood subside,
and calmed the storm on the sea of Galilee.
As we commit the body (earthly remains)

of our brother (sister) N. to the deep,
grant him/her peace and tranquility
until that day when he/she

and all who believe in you
will be raised to the glory of new life
promised in the waters of baptism.

We ask this through Christ our Lord.
R. Amen.

Other religions might feel somewhat lenient about burials at sea, with consultation before the fact. The Anglican Communion, however, has detailed procedures for burial at sea, because many Anglican and other religious chaplains of the Royal Navy buried cremated remains of ex-Naval personnel at sea. The ship has to be stopped, and the body has to be sewn in sailcloth, together with two cannon balls for weight. Many Lutheran naval veterans and seamen also prefer to be buried at sea. In those cases either the casket or urn is set to sea, or ashes scattered. The procedure is similar as that with Anglican. Some parishes have specific consecrated sea areas, where ashes can be sprinkled.

California, with its long coastline, is the only U.S. State that does not permit full body burials at sea. The Environmental Protection Agency does carry regulations for full body burials at sea in the United States. Some of those requirements include a distance of at least three nautical miles from land and in water at least 600 feet deep. Certain areas, including east central Florida, the Dry Tortugas, Florida and west of Pensacola, Florida to the Mississippi River Delta, require water at least 1800 feet deep. Refer to the Code of Federal Regulations at 40 CFR 229.1 (PDF) for further details. Additionally, “all necessary measures shall be taken to ensure that the remains sink to the bottom rapidly and permanently.”

If you plan to dispose of a body illegally, read the information at Wikipedia about illegal disposal of bodies in water. According to that article, disposal in large lakes or oceans is more likely to hide the body, but a decomposing body can develop a strong positive buoyancy due to the decomposing gases being trapped underneath the skin. This may bring the body up to the surface, or at least increase the movement across the ocean floor due to wave actions. Many bodies have washed up at the shore (think about the caskets washed up on the Mississippi shore from New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina). Bodies have also been discovered in the nets or lines of fishermen, and occasionally, bodies are also discovered by divers.

Additionally, very cold water with little oxygen may preserve bodies, considering Margaret Hogg, the Wasdale Lady in the Lake in Wast Water lake in the Wasdale area. She was found after 8 years, with her body preserved like wax.

Viking funeral? Maybe symbolically, but the reality of sending a full body out to sea and setting it on fire to dispose of the body is somewhat mythical and impractical, most likely illegal and a tad bit egoistic.

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