I often get questions regarding eco-friendly funerals, and after writing my new book Morbid Magic: Death Spirituality and Culture from Around the World revealing the many ways we humans have ritualistically and physically given our loved ones their final send-off into the afterlife, I’m not surprised that we’re starting to see a strong rise in bringing back the eco-friendly death traditions of old. Modern Pagans, particularly, are keen on not wanting to harm Mother Nature via today’s eco-unfriendly funeral industry. So, can it be done? Yes…but it takes some planning, and as a mortuary professional, here are some insider tips on things to think about.
First, come to terms with the fact that you really only have two options: burial and cremation. The world has changed over the past centuries and millennia, and there are zoning and environmental laws in place that prevent you from leaving mom’s corpse in a hole in the ground in the backyard well as from setting dad’s cadaver out to sea on a longboat that’ll be shot with flaming arrows from the shore. Once you accept you have only two options, you can make a plan within those parameters.
Non-embalmed, casket-less burial is the best option. Many cultures throughout history, in some shape or form, had a strong belief in becoming one with nature again wherein our decomposing bodies nourish the earth. Most mortuaries don’t allow this. People don’t ask for it often, so it’s not readily available, and it directly impedes the major profit avenues of funeral homes: embalming and caskets. If embalmed, the ultra-carcinogenic cocktail of chemicals pumped into your cadaver will eventually seep out and leak into the ground, effectively making your grave a toxic superfund site. Even without embalming, though, most cemeteries don’t allow direct, natural burial without a casket because it’ll be more expensive for them to do groundskeeping, but if you do your research ahead of time, you’ll find select funeral homes and cemeteries where no-embalming, casket-less burials are allowed and can be arranged.
Cremation is notorious for the massive fossil fuels used to burn up the body and the toxic dental mercury that gets released into the atmosphere. Moreover, the “ashes” you get back are really just inorganic ground-up bones that survived the fire, and so they do nothing to nourish the earth if scattered or buried with tree seeds. However, they can possibly help re-build a coral reef, thus allowing your “ashes” to contribute positively to the environment, but, again, only select mortuaries provide this option.
Having an eco-friendly funeral as a Pagan can be done, but it takes a lot of pre-planning. Most (though not all) mortuaries won’t advertise or offer eco-friendly services because they aren’t profitable. So, start your research well before in your living years, and if you’re curious for more alternatives, check out Morbid Magic: Death Spirituality and Culture from Around the World for even more ideas.
Our thanks to Tomás for his guest post! For more from Tomás Prower, read his article, “Why We Fear Death.”