from C R Taxon
[Worldbuilding] A Handful of Funerary Traditions
#WritingWonders is at it again, asking questions that push me over the character limit. Today's prompt asks how death is handled in my world, which is something I've thought about quite a lot.
I'll try to keep this post short-ish, though. I'll only discuss the funeral traditions of a few countries.
Being a full second world, the setting of OwtB contains many different funerary traditions. However, one trend that appears across the globe is to place the freshly deceased in a dark room or shroud them in dark fabric. This custom is so ubiquitous because spirits of shadow double as this world's psychopomps; holding a body in darkness is thought to help these spirits locate the souls of the departed and ease their journey to the afterlife.
(An opposing tradition—keeping the body brightly lit until everyone has a chance to say goodbye—is also common.)
Otherwise, funerary traditions in the current day look much, much different than they did a few hundred years ago. When the gods made themselves known and began to roam the earth, they disrupted just about everything, including the processes of mortal death and mourning. Many older traditions have been neglected in favor of ones that honor—or rebuke—specific gods. For example:
The Kyrdal Empire was founded by its eponymous demigod, Kyrdal, child of the fire god Oreth. Its royal family (along most of its upper class) are all descended from fire spirits. Descendents of fire spirits cannot be cremated; their bodies will not burn. So in Kyrdala, cremation is considered highly disrespectful all around. It's mostly reserved to further humiliate executed enemies of state.
Meanwhile, in Borali, cremation is one of only two legal methods of handling a dead body. While Kyrdal was founding her empire, Borali was busy suffering in the throes of a divine plague. Its people remain germophobic to a fault (or would, if they understood germ theory). Dead bodies are considered vectors of disease no matter how the person in question died. Borali's metropolitan capital, Rivermouth, employs a small fleet of mediums to watch for deaths that might otherwise go unnoticed and retrieve bodies before they can begin to rot in the hot, humid climate.
Aside from cremation, the only legal method of body disposal in Borali involves bringing bodies deep below the earth, far from occupied areas, where those same mediums can control the process of decay and keep the resulting rot spirits contained:
Bodies are interred in small alcoves dug into a stone wall. These alcoves are then shut and sealed with wax for a specific amount of time relative to how many other alcoves are currently occupied. Small holes between niches allow rot-spirits to move from one body to the next; because these spirits are constantly fed by new arrivals, they're healthy enough to break a body down in around 3-10 days. Bodies are retrieved after all risk of lingering rot-spirits has passed and the resulting bones are either ground or delivered whole to next of kin.
Not all cultures have adapted their funerals to the presence of gods. In many parts of Oxhar, bodies are simply shrouded for three days and then buried. Escian funerals involve long processions; mourners march the deceased to designated areas for various spirits to do with as they please.
Among the sleth, funeral traditions proliferate just like they do in human cultures. But sleth are faced with a problem those on land are not: people who die in the ocean do not stay put.
This is a particular problem for pelagic sleth, who are more likely to die somewhere out of sight than sleth who live in the populous shallows or in ocean floor communities. Given low visibility and the vastness of the ocean, it is often difficult to know with reasonable certainty the fate of any given sleth who has fallen out of touch.
Lost sleth bodies have a habit of washing ashore or being found by shallows-dwelling sleth. In preparation for this, most sleth pierce themselves with jewelry that identifies their ties to various clans, families, communities, and/or human nations. This jewelry, when found, is collected, bundled with a description of the body (if possible!) and displayed in public area of the nearest community. Descriptions of recently found bodies are also sung out during transoceanic news relays.
Given the flaws in this system, the sheer size of the ocean, the hunger of sharks, and the transient nature of many sleth, it is estimated that somewhere between 5 and 10% of all sleth funerals are held for people who have not actually died.
Sleth mourn death like any other people, but realities of ocean life have given them a sense of morbid humor about it. Some consider it a game to collect funerals; one apocryphal folk hero is said to have tricked various clans into throwing over two hundred funerals for them before they actually died—by which point nobody saw the point in throwing them another.
I need to stop
“I'll keep it short,” I said. “Short ish, anyway”.
But you see what you get? Eight hundred and something words. None of which bear any relevance whatsoever to the actual plot of Out with the Bathwater, but all of which have been very, very fun to consider.