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The Past Unveiled: A Brief History of Cremation

Although cremation has gained popularity in recent years, it is hardly a new practice. In fact, historians date the earliest cremation ceremonies all the way back to the 8000 B.C. in China. The Chinese were not the only ones employing the method; cremation was widespread among the Vikings in Scandinavia, the Greeks in the Hellenic heyday, and among the Romans during the height of the Roman Empire.

So what happened to curb the popularity of the practice? Christianity. The idea that the body is sacred and made in God’s image permeated Europe, reaching far and wide. Additionally, the belief in resurrection with the second coming of Christ also posed a problem with cremation—if your body is not fully ready to be returned to life, you may not be able to partake of Judgment day.

While the spread of Christianity certainly had the effect of limiting cremations, it did not by any means eradicate them completely. In fact, some groups, such as the Freemasons and various other anarchic cohorts, used cremation as a way to protest the stringent rules and rituals put in place by the Catholic Church. How do you think the Catholic Church responded? By being even more strongly opposed to the burning of human remains.

What we now think of as “cremation” was not in practice until the late 1800s when the modern crematorium was devised. In that age of science and reform, cremation again gained ground as an efficient, hygienic way of burial, it was even sanctioned by Queen Victoria’s private surgeon.

In some parts of the world cremation is a matter of cost-efficiency and pragmatism, while in others it is a vital part of ritual and symbolic farewell. For example Switzerland, one of the countries consistently ranked as the happiest in the world, currently buries over three quarters of its deceased through cremation—an example of Westernized practicality. Meanwhile in India, Hindu practitioners use open-air cremation as a way to lead the dead into their next life, a fully functional ideology that allows for closure.

While it continues to grow in popularity, cremation still holds a certain mystery in our society, yet many seek to dispel the myths and embrace the facts—this is a viable, safe and effective way to say goodbye to your loved one. What do you think? Are there specific reasons why you would chose cremation over a standard burial? Or vice versa?

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