This is a paper I wrote a few years back and I thought it might be of interest to some. I became interested when I first moved to South Carolina and stayed with a family that went through the process and had a pagan service as well. I hear it was the talk of the small community.
Green burial is not a new concept. Many find the thought of touching or preparing a dead body scary, or think that emotionally they will not be able to handle it. But, in reality, it wasn’t that long ago that burying your own dead was the common practice. Death, although unwelcome, was familiar. People died at home and the family of the deceased prepared the body, laid it out in the parlor, and sat with their loved one. Friends and family came to pay their respects and offer comfort. The grave was hand dug, usually in a family cemetery or somewhere on the property. A member of the family or a local minister said the proper words, and the body was placed in its final resting place. This was a normal part of the cycle of life; the original green burial, which is sometimes called a woodland burial.
This all began to change during the Civil War when people began to turn over the responsibility of their deceased loved ones to the undertaker. Soldiers were dying far from home and someone had to be paid to bring the body back to their family. The families of the dead soldiers were upset because it could, and often did, take several weeks for the bodies of their loved ones to be returned to them from the battle field. This left the bodies severely decomposed and in many cases unrecognizable. The practice of embalming, the use of formaldehyde, emerged during this time (often occurring right on the battlefield) to help preserve the body for the trip home.
The first "funeral director" was likely just a cabinetmaker. He built the caskets and learned how to embalm a body to accommodate the need that arose from the war. Today the funeral industry generates $27 billion a year. A figure from the National Funeral Directors Association estimate the cost of a conventional funeral to be about $6500.00 and does not include the price of a cemetery plot. The cost of a funeral, for some, is the third largest expense after a house and car. Three conglomerates that dominate the funeral industry are Service corp. International, Alderwoods, and Stewart Enterprises. It is in their best interest to convince you that embalming; fancy casket, and a concrete burial vault are needed for a "proper" burial.
The California Department of Consumer Affairs http://www.dca.ca.gov/ can provide you with the laws concerning funerals and cemeteries. If you live in a different state or country, then you should check the local laws regarding this issue.
For more information on a state-to-state basis:
For consumer facts: [http://www.ftc.gov/bcp/conline/pubs/services/funeral.htm
Following are some laws that few consumers are aware of, taken from an article written by Deborah K. Rich, for the San Francisco Chronicle, March 2003; included are some embalming facts from "Questions on Death and Dying" by Elisabeth Kubler-Ross.
-The law does not require embalming. Embalming is never required for the first 24 hours in any state, 22 states require embalming after 24, 48, or 72 hours. The Federal Trade Commission and many state regulators require that funeral directors inform consumers that embalming is not required except in certain special cases. Embalming provides no public health benefit, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Canadian health authorities. Embalming does not preserve the human body forever; it merely delays the inevitable and natural consequences of death. Embalming is a physically invasive process in which special devices are implanted, and chemicals and techniques are used to give an appearance of restful repose. Embalming chemicals are highly toxic. Embalmers are required by OSHA to wear a respirator and full-body covering while embalming. Embalming is common only in the U.S. and Canada. Embalming is considered a desecration of the body by orthodox Jewish and Muslim religions.
Ambient temperature has more affect on the decomposition process than the time elapsed after death, whether or not a body has been embalmed. Refrigeration is usually an option. Refrigeration is not an option in Alaska, Minnesota and North Dakota. Refrigeration is an alternative to maintain a body while awaiting a funeral service or when there is a delay in making arrangements.
- It is illegal for a funeral home to charge a handling fee for the family to use a family built casket or if they buy their casket from another source. The law allows for pine, fiberboard or cardboard coffins. -The law does not require vaults or grave liners, but some cemeteries may.
-The law does not require you to buy a casket before cremation. The law states that the body must be placed in a combustible cremation container. A cardboard casket that can be closed and is leak resistant may be used. In addition the process of cremation raises environmental concerns as well. The incineration of bodies releases pollutants into the air, including hydrochloric acid, hydrofluoric acid, dioxin, sulfur dioxide, carbon monoxide, lead and mercury. Some states where cremation is popular have already begun to require crematoriums to install scrubbers to reduce air pollution.
- The law allows for home funerals and for families to prepare their own dead. Private or home viewing by family members and close friends can occur without embalming and is far more "traditional" than some of the services promoted by the industry under that name. Few funeral directors will participate in the public viewing of a body without embalming and cosmetic restoration.
- The law allows for the scattering of ashes once any needed permits are acquired. It is also legal to scatter ashes at sea, as long as it is three miles from shore.
There are other environmental factors to consider concerning traditional burial. Each year funeral homes across the country use 827,000 gallons of embalming fluid. 1,636,000 tons of reinforced concrete, 104,272 tons of steel, 2,700 tons of copper and bronze, and 30 million board feet of hardwoods are buried along with the bodies annually. This information comes from Mary Woodson, a member of the Commemorative Nature Preserve of New York.
In 1996 Billy Campbell founded Memorial Eco Systems. Its goal is to establish memorial parks that will save and restore wild lands. He also opened Ramsey Creek Preserve just outside Westminster South Carolina, the Nations first commercial green cemetery. "The Ramsey Creek Preserve is a nature preserve, dedicated to restoring and maintaining a home for native plants and animals. At Memorial Ecosystems, we think that maintaining and restoring this natural native beauty is the most important monument to the memory of loved ones that families can help create." From Memorial Eco Systems, www.memorialecosystems.com . The cost of a burial plot at Ramsey Creek will be about $2000.00, a site for cremated remains about $500.00.You can find sources to purchase cardboard caskets online, they range in price from around $50.00 to several hundred.
Since that time several other green cemeteries have opened around the country, with several others in the process. Those that have gone through this process found it to be a therapeutic and a loving experience. Personal involvement in the death process shows respect and honor to those we love that have passed.
An Overview of the Procedure
Contrary to what most believe, the body does not turn white nor start to decompose instantly. A body can lie in state for up to three days maybe even longer if kept cool and prepared properly. In cases where family members may need time to get there for the funeral, you may want to talk to the hospital or local funeral home to see if the body can be kept there in refrigeration for a day or so. Otherwise the body should be kept in a cool room, turn on the air conditioner if possible. Cover the body with a thin sheet, not a blanket. The body and hair should be well washed with soap and water. Fragrant herbs or perfumes can be added to the final wash. The abdomen needs to be pressed on to expel any waste. Gloves should be worn during all procedures. It is best to place the body on some type of table for washing. If you must use a bed make sure it is covered with plastic. The materials used should be disposed of properly. You may want to check locally and see what the regulations are for disposing of this type of material. The next step is to put the Shroud or clothing on the body. once that is done, ice (preferably dry) should be wrapped in a paper bag and then clothe and placed under the torso of the body. The organs are the first to decompose so they must be kept cool. If the eyes are open, close them and place small bags of rice or sand on them. If the mouth is open, close the mouth and hold it in place with a scarf or ribbon until it sets. Rigor mortis generally sets in somewhere between three and eight hours, and lasts for around thirty-six hours. You should keep this in mind and prepare the body beforehand, although rigor mortis can be somewhat relieved by massage.
The type of funeral rite used is a very personal decision. Family members may wish to keep the rite as simple as each sharing special memories of their loved one. While others may prefer a member of the clergy perform the last rites. If a casket is used for burial the family members may choose to decorate it in someway.
There are many excellent books on the subject of funeral rites from a Pagan perspective, "The Pagan Book of Living and Dying", by Starhawk, is just one of many books available on the subject.
In summary, green burial has several factors in its favor compared to traditional burial:
• more environmentally friendly
• more affordable
• uses the nutrients in the body to establish new growth
• is a way of remembering our loved ones by creating a sense of permanence in the form of a forest, where people can go enjoy nature and remember those who are buried there.
www.finalpassages.org - Final passages
Kubler-Ross Elisabeth - on Death and Dying
Starhawk - The Pagan Book of Living and Dying
Rich Deborah K. – San Francisco Chronicle, March, 2003
- Memorial Eco Systems- Funeral Ethics Organization- The News Media- MSNBC - Mother Earth News- A NeoPagan Natural burial- Humboldt University- Funeral Consumers Alliance- Full C
Copyright © Willow 2005