An Alternative Theology of Reburial


Life is a conjunction; a moment in time when the physical matter of the earth conjoins with the non-physical spiritual energy that permeates everything to form a living, sentient, conscious organism.

We can view this conjoining of two separate elements as a stream; the water as the spirit that flows and permeates everything around us and the stream bed as the physical, the atoms and molecules we know of through science etc. a living thing is like a pebble in that stream breaking through the surface of the water and forming ripples, eddies and swirls in the water. Our ripples meet with others, they swirl and break off and rejoin with yet more. Such is our life and the life of every other living thing on earth that we know of. When we die, the pebble rejoins the stream bed and those ripples we sent off around us into the world fade out to become part of that great flowing stream of spirit. The atoms that came together to form our physical being separate and flow back into the physical cycles of the earth. The flow of spirit that was part of us becomes a swirl or eddy in that stream of spirit. We ultimately return to where we came from.

We can view the body therefore as a means of bringing together the physical and the spiritual, a flashing moment of conjunction between two realms of existence, a point where they come together for a brief moment in time so as to become indelibly one.

Once that final link between the two has left; when the last spark of life has let them slip apart, they become lesser than the whole. People who work with the dead and the dying will often tell you that at the moment of death, 'something' has gone; that there is a noticeable change. Not as if they were asleep but a clear indication that the person is not as whole as they were moments before.

The purpose of funerary rites and ritual is primarily for the living; a chance for them to formally let go and be comforted that the loved ones have now returned to the earth and spirit. These rites also have an element of guiding the dead on, to ensure that this separation has happened and that the link between the physical and spirit has been truly released.

What of the remains? Do they hold the spirit of the dead? No. In my opinion they do not. They may retain an echo or an imprint, but the spirit has gone, the person has left and what remains is essentially a golem, a physical shadow of the person who once was. Perhaps it was this echo or memory held within the bones that our Neolithic ancestors were hoping to remain in touch with when they continued access and handling of the bones of the dead. Perhaps it was their way of remembering them, their lives and theirs stories. That being the case, our way of retaining and displaying human remains would not be entirely alien to them.

Turning to the retention and display of human remains of British provenance; I do not think it wrong to store them in suitable conditions with museum collections. I do think it inappropriate to treat them as objects to be used and abused for research or interest. These were once people, they once lived and breathed and laughed and loved. They should be treated with respect for that reason alone. These remains and any associated objects are our way of recalling their stories, their lives and forging the connection with them again. To our ancestors, the dead were important and formed part of a continuum of their existence. By learning all we can of the dead we allow ourselves to once again be part of that continuum. By simply insisting on burial without proper study we once again begin the process of cutting ourselves off from that continuum.

Some remains are of no scientific use, in those cases if the museums and archaeologists decide it appropriate, they can be reburied in an appropriate manner. Ultimately the decision should be made by the museums and archaeologists, their hand should not be forced by modern, and I stress that point; modern – pagans who insist on some very neo-pagan ideas about the Goddess, or who make baseless claims about how the remains are currently treated by both scientific persons and the public whilst the remains are on display.