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Reply #193: It's not a joke -- it's the actual reason [View All]

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starroute Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Mon Jul-14-08 04:29 PM
Response to Reply #1
193. It's not a joke -- it's the actual reason
Edited on Mon Jul-14-08 04:31 PM by starroute
Most funeral customs have more to do with fear of the undead and their jealousy of the living -- or of the evil spirits that might emerge through the portal to the afterlife that a death opens -- than with anything like respect.

For example, we typically bury the bodies of the dead in a nice, deep hole with the heaviest stone we can find over their head to make sure they can't get out. Or else we burn them to dry ashes to make sure they won't regenerate.

Certain Jewish customs are even more explicit. Mirrors are covered over so that the souls of the living, which are considered to be present in their reflections, can't be seized by spirits. Doors are left unlocked so that no one in the house will have to open them and inadvertently invite in the undead.

The implication of the original Latin phrase "de mortuis nil nisi bonum dicendum est" (about the dead, nothing should be said unless it's something good) was not so much a directive to say good things about the dead as a suggestion that it was best to avoid saying anything at all -- because mentioning their names, as with any spirit, was all too likely to call them up and could lead to very bad results. (This is also why Egyptian pharaohs, Japanese emperors, and so forth, were referred to by different names after death than in life.) Or at worst, if you couldn't totally avoid mentioning the dead, you should at least say something flattering so they wouldn't get pissed and come trouble you.

Of course, these days saying nice things about the dead is far more likely to keep them around giving you a hard time forever -- see, for example, the case of Ronald Reagan. But the earlier mindset has been around since the Paleolithic, and it isn't going to change so easily.

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