Where Did Cremation Originate
What is cremation?
It is the process by which a body is reduced to its natural components through fire; in other words, cremation is the act of reducing a corpse to ashes. The term “cremation” comes from the Latin word “cremare”, meaning “to burn”. Cremation has been practiced in various forms throughout history for thousands of years and has been used by different cultures and religions around the world as a way to dispose of human remains.
In India, for example, Hindus traditionally cremate their dead with offerings of milk, ghee (clarified butter), coconut gratings and spices. The remains of the cremation are placed in an urn and stored temporarily in a shrine or temple.
The use of cremation in the United States became popular during the late nineteenth century when attitudes toward death moved away from traditional religious practices. Before this time, most Americans were buried in cemeteries near their churches. Although the first known cremation took place in America around 1876, it really wasn’t until after the Civil War that the practice started becoming popular – so much so that by 1916 there were approximately 40,000 people who had been cremated.
The modern method of cremation was introduced to this country by Dr. Julius LeMoyne (who also introduced America to embalming). Dr. Julius LeMoyne was the first to successfully use a crematory furnace that was designed for the reduction of human remains to ashes and oil.
Cremation became popular at the end of the 19th century among those who sought to do away with the trappings of a “traditional” funeral. Modern cremation practices gained popularity during the first half of the 20th century largely due to economic reasons and more available space for burials. This was especially prevalent as America began experiencing an increase in population, particularly during World War I.
Today, most states allow cremation as long as it is done in accordance with local and state laws and does not violate any religious customs/rules.
The Origin of Cremation:
Where did cremation first originate?
The origin of cremation is vague, and to some extent conjectural. It was certainly practiced in the Stone Age, but which culture developed it first is not certain. However, it was probably some time before 5000 BC when cremation became common among early societies. For example, the bodies of the dead were burned on a pyre along with wooded goods and domestic animals (whereas a corpse buried in the earth would only be followed by its grave goods). Cremation has been found at various archaeological sites where there are remains of human habitations from ancient times. There are cremation sites in China dating back over two thousand years (around 1500 BC) and in Mesopotamia from about 3000 BC. The modern Indian practice of cremation was well developed by 1000 BC, at least among Hindus; it later spread throughout Asia and the Mediterranean.
Cremation is found in almost all cultures engaged in burials at high latitudes, where there is a shorter summer season for agriculture. Cremation can be assumed to be one of the earliest of human funerary practices. It has been reported by archaeologists that important people (leaders, poets, etc. in the community) were given elaborate cremation burials. In China and Japan, there is also evidence that the first royal burials were cremations.
All early forms of burial; whether by cremation or inhumation (the “embalmed” bodies associated with most ancient mummies), are associated with an increased risk of bacterial contamination during decomposition as well as greater difficulty in observing the decomposition process itself. This led to a change in attitude, and also religious attitudes toward death, which became more important as cultures developed. While primitive man seemed to associate death with misfortune and danger, the idea of dying was little feared once a powerful priesthood developed and made it possible to keep corpses “clean.”
In most cultures, cremation began in the Bronze and Iron Age. By this time, the concept of the “incorruptible” body had been developed, but there is no way of knowing if it was based on actual knowledge or only applied to idealized bodies. In some cultures (for example ancient Egypt), the embalming process became more important than cremation.
“Burial by fire” has been a regular part of funerary rites since prehistoric times. Archaeologists have even discovered ancient cinder mounds used for cremation inside major Bronze and Iron age tombs in Central Europe and Russia. Cremation was probably prevalent in Europe between the Baltic and the Black sea by about 1000 BC and was practiced in ancient Greece at the beginning of the 6th century BC.
Cremation is still common practice today in many parts of the world, including much of the Western world. In North America, some 54.6 percent of bodies are cremated. Reasons given for this include that less land is required for a cremated body than a buried one, there is less chance of disease being transferred from burial to earth or groundwater, and it is more cost-effective.
Cremation as a religious practice:
Some religions and denominations have specific requirements relating to cremation, while others have no particular opinion on the practice. Some religions and denominations permit cremation, while others forbid it completely.
In Hinduism, cremation is seen as a way to ritually defuse “negative” karma from past lives. Because of this belief, most Hindus are cremated. Cremation is the last rite in the series of religious rites which begin with death, continue with performing the last rites (Shraddha), culminate in the cremation of the body (Antyeshti), and are followed by certain last rites that vary by region and caste of the decedent.
In many Christian denominations, only the cost of a burial service may be charged for cremation as opposed to a traditional burial, with the viewing and funeral usually a more open-casket affair. Most Christian denominations that currently (generally) forbid cremation have done so on the basis of belief in the resurrection of the body at the Second Coming. Some groups historically opposed to cremation by faith include Baptists, Latter Day Saint movement, Pentecostals and other Christians as well as some Orthodox Jews.
Most Greek Orthodox churches in the world permit cremation, however, some have a policy to not allow cremation by their members (e.g. the Russian Orthodox Church). The Russian Orthodox Church has a specific ex-communication for those who engage in this practice.
Many Muslims from different backgrounds have been known to be cremated even though it is against Islamic cultural norms because of either low cost, the disappearance of due to relatives poverty or loss of family members, etc.
Most of the Jewish community in Western society has come to forbid cremation, including Orthodox Jews and Reform Jews. By contrast, Conservative and Reformed Judaism have a long history of allowing cremation. As with Islam, some have argued that the prohibition is cultural or historical, while others believe that a religious rationale is necessary for the prohibition.
While a Cremation Mandala is commonly used during Tibetan Buddhist funeral services, the body is not cremated, but preserved instead through rituals called “Sky Burial”. After the body is washed and adorned with silk robes and jewelry, it is kept in a place called a “Tso-Khang” for one week. Family members offer Khatas to the body.
The Catholic Church has no explicit, official teaching on cremation. While it prefers the burial of the body, because of the belief that the body must be resurrected on the last day, cremation is acceptable, but only if it is not done to show a lack of faith in the resurrection. The Catholic Church developed a ritual for Christian funeral liturgy following the Second Vatican Council. This ritual clearly states that it is not permitted to bring religion into cremation service and it cannot be used as such. The Catholic Church allows cremation when required by civil law or in order to save lives in emergency situations.
Cremation is a very common practice in many parts of the world and has been for many centuries. The benefits of cremation are that it saves land, reduces the risk of disease, and is more cost-effective.
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