5 interesting burial rituals throughout history

Burial rites and rituals differ drastically across the world. In some cultures, it’s believed the body must be colourfully painted to impress the gods and while in others a beach burial is chosen. There are also particular cultures that believe the body should be left as it is, so that the soul’s journey into new life isn't hindered.

Read on to discover five of the most unique burial rites, rituals and customs practiced throughout the world and the decades.


1. Cambodian funeral rituals

In Cambodian funeral rituals, it’s entirely up to the immediate family of the deceased to wash, dress and place the body of their loved one in a coffin. It’s believed that if the body is embalmed, or unnaturally altered in any way, this will have a negative impact on the soul’s rebirth.

After the deceased has spent three days in the coffin, the body is taken to a crematorium via a funeral procession. This procession will usually include family members, Buddhist monks and a priest. Mourners often shave their heads and wear white, which is the colour of mourning in Cambodia.

After cremation, the ashes will stay in a temple with monks who are said to help the souls begin their journey into a new life.


2. Burial rituals in Ancient Egypt

In Ancient Egypt, a range of different burial rituals existed, dependent almost solely on the wealth of the family.

The most expensive Ancient Egyptian burials involved the following steps:

  • An iron hook would remove the brain of the deceased through their nostrils. What could not be reached would be washed out with drugs.
  • The entire contents of the stomach are removed and washed out with palm wine and an infusion of spices, before being filled with a range of aromatic substances.
  • The body is covered for 70 days, washed, then wrapped in strips of linen made to stay with gum.
  • The body is returned to the family, who store it in a large, standing wooden coffin – shaped like a human body.


3. Ancient Greek death rituals

Customary ancient Greek death rituals involved three stages: the prothesis (laying out of the body), the ekphora (the funeral procession), and the burial of the body.

Before prothesis, the deceased would be washed, dressed and anointed with oil and placed on a high bed inside the house. Relatives and friends would then visit to pay respects and mourn.

The deceased would then be taken to the cemetery in a procession (the ekphora), to be buried.

The deceased was often not buried with an abundance of objects, but instead, their grave would be marked with lavish marble monuments, tombs and statues in remembrance.


4. Ancient Mayan death rituals

The Mayan's believed there were nine hells. They also believed that one of these hells, Mitnal, was ruled by a "death god" or "hunter of the dead" named Ah-Puch.

It was believed that if they cried loud enough while mourning a loved one, they would be able to scare Ah-Puch away from the soul of the deceased so he wouldn't take them to Mitnal.

Additionally, the Mayans painted the faces of their deceased loved ones with bright colours, in an effort to satisfy the gods, and ensure the recently departed soul would be allowed into heaven.


5. Beach burial or ‘surfers funeral’

In more modern times, we’ve seen another interesting burial ritual practised by many surfing groups around the world. When a surfer passes, their friends and family host a ‘paddle out’ or ‘surfers funeral’ for them. This involves paddling out on their boards at their loved one’s favourite surf beach.

The group forms a circle and throws leis and flowers into the circle as they all say something nice about the deceased. Sometimes, if the surfer is cremated, the ashes are even spread in the centre of the circle – provided permission has been gained from the relevant council.

The above are just some of the fascinating burial rituals practised, both currently and previously, by cultures and civilisations from around the globe.


While there have been many changes to the process of celebrating a life over the years, there is still consistent patterns such as the mourning process and the significance of commemorating the passing of a loved one – whether with a funeral, celebration or other event. Discover how planning ahead can be beneficial to soothing the mourning process as well as ensuring that your loved one is remembered respectfully.

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