Worldbuilding Wednesday – Death – July 26th

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Death is something I’ve been a little too familiar with lately, honestly. Knowing it’s an inevitable part of life, and then having to live through the loss it causes are two different things – even when you’ve done it before. 

Dealing With Remains

Decomposition begins as soon as death occurs, since there is nothing sustaining life anymore. When it comes to taking care of someone’s remains, there are a few things that have to be considered.

The term ‘burial’ will be used here to mainly refer to the disposal of a body, no matter what the actual method used is.

How did they die?

If they died of something contagious, the body must be dealt with quickly, if your society is advanced enough to realize the danger of contagion. Whether that means an emergency funeral pyre or burying it deeply will depend on the terrain, and the stamina of those who must take care of disposal.

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If they died of natural causes (in their sleep from old age, heart attack, etc.) then there are far more options.

If they died… messily (murder, in a battle, suicide) there is going to be more clean-up involved, and depending on the beliefs within a culture, special care (or lack of care) may be required.

Consideration also needs to be taken for if there isn’t a body (or enough of one) left for burial (whatever that method may be).

What are the most likely burial customs for your fictional culture?

Look to the terrain first – sky burials (leaving the remains exposed to wildlife & the elements until the cleaned skeleton is all that remains) will be more likely in places where they can’t dig, and where there isn’t a lot of fuel for burning.

Next, look at the climate. Heat and humidity will accelerate decomposition, so in a climate where one or both of those things are present will require faster burial. There is more leeway in cooler climates, or in winter.

Sea-faring cultures will most likely bury their people at sea, even if they die on land.

What happens when burial customs can’t be followed?

What if an unusually cold winter prevents them from burying anyone until the spring thaw? What if it’s too wet for burial when the thaw finally happens?

What if someone dies away from their family and friends, and strangers have to deal with their body? Is there some terrible fate that awaits someone who isn’t properly cared for after death?

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Mourning is inevitable. If someone cared for the deceased, there will be an unspeakable absence that lingers when they are gone.

As I’ve mourned off and one for the past nearly two months, I’ve become acutely aware of the appropriate types of grieving in modern American society, as well as the lack of grief support for many things.

As you’re worldbuilding, keep in mind what types of things your culture keeps private (grief might BE a private matter, much as it is in modern America), and what is communal.

There’s something to be said (in favor if, in my opinion) for mourning rituals and a period of time set aside for them. They can be private (such as a person mourning a spouse or family member) or communal (mourning a monarch). The communal aspect can also vary depending on how integral the deceased was to their immediate community.


Now, the nitty-gritty – what happens to the deceased?

Not their bodily remains (well, unless your world is very different and there aren’t remains in the way we’re familiar with), but whatever might live on – a spirit or soul, essentially.

The beliefs of a culture about the afterlife will affect their burial customs. Cremation can be a way to dispose of a body when burial isn’t an option… but it can also be a way to desecrate a body, especially if there are beliefs about the fate of the soul being connected to the fate of the body.

Most importantly, especially if it relates to the story you’re telling: is what your characters believe about the afterlife true or not?

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Further Questions

  1. Are there any sort of rituals (religious or otherwise) performed for the nearly-dead, or the recently-departed?
  2. Who prepares the body for disposition? It is a family responsibility? What if someone has no family?
  3. What happens at a funeral in your fictional culture/world?

Can’t wait to see your response posts – don’t forget to submit them in the link list below! Please review the rules and guidelines for Worldbuilding Wednesday before participating. Thank you!

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2 thoughts on “Worldbuilding Wednesday – Death – July 26th

  1. I liked reading your post. A lot to think about with death rituals. In my own WIP there are two major groups who handle almost everything differently. And they have a lot of death to handle because of the zombies.

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