Origins & History of Full Body Sea Burial

Full-body Sea burial is a unique and ancient funeral practice. Different cultures worldwide have practiced it for millennia, and it continues to be an option today. This article will explore the history of full-body burial at sea, including its origins, cultural significance, and evolution over time.

Historical Perspective of Full Body Sea Burials in different cultures

Full-body Burial in Greek culture

The practice of full-body burial at sea dates to ancient times and can be traced to various cultures around the world. One of the earliest recorded instances of full-body burial at sea is from ancient Greece, where it was believed that the sea god Poseidon controlled the waters.  He had the power to send souls safely to the afterlife. As a result, ancient Greeks buried their dead at sea, a practice that continued through the Roman period.

Full-body Burial in Viking Culture

Viking culture has a long and storied history of honoring their warriors who died in battle. In Viking society, warfare was an essential part of life, and warriors were highly regarded for their bravery, skill, and honor. A warrior’s death in battle was a noble and honorable way to die, and those who died in battle were believed to be destined for Valhalla, a grand hall ruled by the god Odin.

Viking Sea Burial Ship

According to Viking tradition, the sea was a powerful and unpredictable force that could transport the dead to their afterlife. The ocean also was a symbol of rebirth and renewal. The Vikings believed that the water would cleanse the deceased’s body and soul. For these reasons, full-body burial at sea became a common practice among the Vikings.

Elaborate Ceremonies

Viking funerals were elaborate and involved a complex series of rituals and customs. The deceased were placed in a wooden longship, along with their weapons and personal belongings, and set ablaze before being sent to sea. The burning of the ship was seen as a symbolic way to release the deceased’s soul and send them on their journey to Valhalla. The boat was left to drift out to sea, where it would eventually sink and become a permanent part of the ocean.

Specific Historical Account of one such Sea burial

Several written accounts of Viking sea burials provide some insight into the practice. One of the most famous accounts comes from the Viking saga of the funeral of the Norse chieftain, Hákon the Good. According to the tale, Hákon died in battle, and his body was placed in a ship along with his weapons and personal belongings. The vessel was then set on fire and pushed out to sea, where it eventually sank. The saga also describes the elaborate funeral feast that followed the burial, where Hákon’s followers drank to his memory and celebrated his life.

The practice of full-body burial at sea was not exclusive to the Vikings, but it was a significant part of their cultural and religious beliefs. Today, many people still honor the Viking tradition of full-body burial at sea to pay tribute to their loved ones who have passed away. While current regulations and environmental concerns may limit the practice, the tradition of full-body burial at sea remains a powerful and meaningful way to say goodbye to those we have lost.

Full-body Burial in Asian Culture

In Asia, countries like China and Japan commonly practiced full-body burial at sea. The Chinese believed this method-maintained harmony with nature and avoided disturbing the balance of the elements. They also thought that the sea had the power to purify the soul and wash away impurities, allowing the soul to ascend to heaven. In Japan, full body burial at sea was reserved for the nobility and samurai class, who believed the sea would cleanse and purify the body before it could be reunited with their ancestors.

Sea Burial in Asian Culture

Throughout history, full-body burial at sea has been observed in various cultures and regions, including many Asian cultures, such as those of China, Korea, and Japan. It is a practice that honors the dead and ensures a peaceful afterlife.

One reason for the practice of full-body burial at sea in Asia is the belief that water is a purifying element that can cleanse the soul of the deceased and ensure a smooth transition to the afterlife. In many Asian cultures, water is a symbol of rebirth and renewal, which makes it a fitting medium for a burial ceremony.

Chinese Traditions

In China, Full-body burial at sea has been practiced since ancient times, particularly by the ruling class and military elites. The practice was known as “hai mu,” which means “burial at sea,” and involved placing the deceased in a coffin or wooden box and setting it adrift at sea. The deceased’s soul would then be carried away by the tides and find its way to the afterlife.

Japanese Traditions

In Japan, full-body burial at sea has been practiced since the 8th century and is known as “hitsujun-sen.” This practice involves placing the deceased in a wooden coffin or casket, which is then placed on a ship and set adrift at sea. The Japanese then decorated the vessel with flowers and incense to make the journey to the afterlife peaceful and without obstacles.

Korean Traditions

In Korea, full-body burial at sea is also a traditional practice, and it is known as “haebyeong,” which means “burial at sea.” In this practice, the deceased is placed in a wooden coffin or casket, then set adrift at sea. This will allow the deceased’s soul to be carried away by the currents and find its way to the afterlife.

In summary, the practice of full-body burial at sea has traditionally been observed in many In Asian cultures, water can cleanse the deceased’s soul and ensure a peaceful transition to the afterlife. The practice is often associated with the ruling class and military elites, characterized by elaborate burial ceremonies that involve decorated ships and offerings to the deceased.

African Cultures

In some African cultures, full-body burial at sea was also a common practice. In West Africa, for example, the Dogon people would place their dead in a canoe and set them adrift on the river. The river would carry the soul to the afterlife, where it would be reunited with its ancestors.

The Dogon people are an ethnic group that resides in the central plateau region of Mali in West Africa. They have a rich and complex belief system with a unique understanding of the afterlife. According to Dogon’s beliefs, after death, the deceased’s soul is believed to travel to “the land of the dead,” where the deceased would be judged based on their deeds in life.

Summary of Full Body Sea Burial

In summary, full body burial at sea has a rich and diverse history, with origins tracing back millennia and present in worldwide cultures. While the reasons for practicing full-body burial at sea may vary, the belief that the sea can purify the soul and carry it safely to the afterlife is a common thread that runs through many of these cultural traditions.

We also have a great article regarding psychological issues related to full-body burial at sea.

We hope you enjoyed this article and now appreciate not only Full Body Sea Burial as well as Ash Scattering at Sea, which is by far more common. 

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