Funeral Rites Of Ancient Times Part II

Celtic WarriorIf understanding about other people can be gained from observing their lives, it almost certainly can also be gained by observing the way they treat death. Perhaps our ancestors understood this better than us, having death so intimately close to nearly every minute of their lives. Modern medicine was not there to resuscitate the injured and war was an accepted, if not encouraged expectation.

That’s not to say that highly skilled physicians were not available. Much consistent evidence has been discovered in Roman, African and Peruvian archeological finds that displays the practice of successful brain surgery. But, for most ancient people, accessibility to fast medical help simply did not exist. Life expectancy was low due to many factors, including accidents, war, disease and improper nutrition.

The Celts

It can be important to remember that the term “Celt” is a blanket name thrown over a vast area containing many different tribes from Brittany, France to what is now the modern day U.K. Variations of customs and practices are bound to occur. What is attempted in this article, is to focus on certain known details about specific findings and documented traditions. This leaves much for future archaeological discoveries, if not for the imagination.

Over time, tribe and geography, burial customs varied. Even the seasons had a role to play with how the departed were handled. Therefore, it may be more practical and accurate to explore the known similarities of the so-called Celts, including their belief in the underworld and the transmigration of the spirit, what the departed would need to take with them on their long journey.

If you lived in a tribal society and the land upon which you lived had limited resources, you were likely to come into conflict with and fight your neighbor at least once in your lifetime. And in Celtic society, women were not excluded from warfare. Just ask the Romans how they liked Queen Boudicca laying waste to their invading forces all over Briton in the year 60 BCE (before current era).

On top of the threat of war, life was much harder in many ways centuries ago. There was no indoor plumbing or electricity, no machinery for farming. Nearly everything was done by hand. People tended to wear out their bodies much more quickly without having the ease of modern conveniences. Death, for the Celts, was not an uncommon occurrence at an early age.

Like other civilizations, the Celts believed in an afterlife. Archeological digs have revealed that the dead were buried with tools, weapons and other provisions necessary for the long journey beyond the world of the living. The Celts loved to flash their wealth in beautiful works of jewelry, such as torcs. Fortunately for us, these works were left with their owners and we are able to see the quality of craft work that went into their making, obviously elevating the importance of their placement with the deceased.

One of the most important aspects about many Celtic funerals was that is was a celebration of the deceased’s life. In modern culture, the emphasis of a funeral is often placed on mourning. Very rarely does anyone create an environment rich with the celebration of their loved ones’ achievements, what they had learned and their positive qualities. But, in many Celtic traditions, a funeral celebration would last three days and three nights, during which there would be much feasting and remembering of the departed’s past deeds. What a wonderful approach to saying goodbye to a loved one.

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