This is the first in a blog series about cremation. We want to explore why cremation became as popular as it has, the facts and myths of cremation, as well as our eye on what lays on the horizon for new ways for final disposition of our earthly remains.
Celebrations of Life Toronto serves bereaved families to plan meaningful, custom Celebrations of Life. Over 80% of our clients have had cremation for their loved one.
There is something about cremation and Celebrations of Life that go hand in hand. That something lays in eschewing the “traditional” way of doing things. Early conceptions of cremation were considered blasphemous by some, an indignity to the body. Religious institutions against cremation held fast for 50 years, advising congregants they were not good “insert religious denomination” if they desecrated the body. How could the body rise again for the second coming of Christ. Eventually, it is the people, not the institutions that drives change. Different denominations have finally taken a new stance on accepting cremation. I guess 72% of Canadians can't all be wrong, they thought.
First...What is cremation?
Cremation is a process that reduces the body to its base elements through a process in a cremation chamber (or retort) that exposes it to intense heat of 1400 - 2000 degrees Fahrenheit for a couple hours. What is left, which we commonly refer to as ashes, is in fact, mostly bone fragments. Anywhere between 3 to 9 pounds. After separating any metals, the bone fragments are cooled and then ground to produce an ash like substance.
Second...a brief, brief summary of Cremation in Ancient History.
While the history of cremation is long and varied in different parts of the world, it dates back to at least 17,000 years ago in Australia.
In the Neolithic period (12,000 - 6,500 years ago) is when cremation became evident in the Middle East and Europe.
Ancient Egyptians, famously the birthplace of embalming, prohibited cremation. Their theology believed the soul wandering the cosmos for 3000 years and must be able to recognize the body upon return. Semetic peoples widely adopted these beliefs.
The criticism of burial and cremation, depending on the ancient day, was a common way to attack competing cultures and religions. Associative images of fire sacrifice or human sacrifice would be evoked as part of the attack.
Hinduism not only allowed it but prescribed it. Jainism as well. Cremation in India from 1900 BCE is considered the foundation of Vedic civilization.
Cremation was common in Ancient Greece and Rome and considered burial archaic.
The rise of Christianisty brought an end to cremation in Europe. It was said to already be in decline. Influenced by its roots in Judaism, they had a belief in the resurrection of the body. Interestingly, tracking the advance of Christianity in Europe, has been done by anthropologists, by tracking the appearance of cemeteries.
Cremation looks very different nowadays with our controlled retorts and legislative rules.
Next time, we will look at a brief, brief summary of the Modern History of cremation.
After which, we can explore the many myths and misconceptions that currently surround cremation.