Funerary Rites

Eleathean Life

Death is as inevitable in the trees as on the ground, but neither burial or consumption in fire are safe options on Eleath, so dealing with bodies with respect here has taken several different turns in different cultures.

Death In The Keesal

In the Keesal the bodies of the dead are handled by the priests and priestesses of Platanus - treated with suspicion elsewhere, here they are respected for their wisdom and sensitivity in supporting the friends and families of those being taken on their journey from life to the afterlife by the God they serve. (And in truth the church of Platanus in the Keesal is very different from most worship of that god in other cultures.)

The bodies of the dead are taken to platforms high in the trees, usually at the edge of the settlement. Here they are laid out, almost unclad, in constructions like baskets or cages made of bones. These porous coffins are designed such that no large creatures can reach the bodies, but the colonies of dermestid beetles farmed at these places of the dead can pass in and out freely (along with certain small rodents and scavenging birds.) These beetles and their warm-blooded helpers remove the flesh from the bones of the dead in typically 4 to 6 weeks (although this takes longer in the season of Smallsun when the beetles are less active.)

Once the bones are stripped clean Platanus' clergy remove them, and once they have taken from them their tithe (typically the long bones from the legs, but sometimes others) they take the rest and bind them into The Society of Bones. This is a roughly pyramidal structure of bones, built in a tree (usually a plane tree, associated with Platanus) reflecting the structure of society, so the bones of a particular individual will be bound close to those of their family and friends, below those of their keesan and above those of their sekufi if they had any. In this way the order of Keesal society is preserved even in death, and all who visit this shrine can pay their respects to those who they wish to honour.

The Tithe of Bones, taken from the dead before they are bound into they pyramid, are used in constructing the fabric of the temple in which it is housed. In a small village (where the priest or priestess may only be a part-time volunteer) this might just be an archway at the entrance, but in a large city there will be a temple complex where many of the buildings, and even walkways, will all be made of bones. (Here there will be a permanent staff, often including monks and nuns who live on site.) This may sound macabre, but those familiar with it find it only sombre.

Death In The Fireflow

The process of removing flesh from bones in the Fireflow is broadly similar to that in the Keesal (described above), but with a few differences. Firstly, the basket coffins are made of wood, or in some cases worked metal, but never bones. Secondly, those carrying out this duty treat it as a profession, rather than a religious observance, and are known as Scourers. Members of this profession vary from the sensitive and supportive to being as abrasive as their name implies. "You pays your money, you takes your choice..."

Once the bones are stripped, however, they are placed in a box or other vessel supplied by the family. This is most often of the wood of the tree associated with whichever of the gods the person who has passed worshipped in life, but it can be metal, pottery or even glass. This container is then placed in an ossuary, typically along with those of many others. Every settlement has access to at least one maintained ossuary of some sort, even if it has to be held in common between several hamlets, and in large cities there may be a number to choose from. These might belong to temples, guilds or the city itself, or be private to rich families. In any case they provide a suitable place to visit and honour the memory of those whose bones are interred there.

Death In The Gelb

Bodies in the Gelb are taken and laid in metal or ceramic lined sarcophagi, where they are placed in a special mixture of woodchips and Soil of Decay. This is soil prepared and cultured especially for this purpose [its preparation leads to it being heavily loaded with certain bacterial strains, although this is not understood] and the sarcophagus is sealed for exactly a year. At the end of this time it is opened, and inside it only new soil remains - the body has been completely decomposed.

Once a small amount of the soil has been taken to maintain the stores of Soil of Decay the rest is returned to the family, and the Gelb being the Gelb every family does something different with it - hopefully something appropriate to the wishes of the one who died. For example, the family might have a final party to celebrate the departed at which their Soil is tipped out to fall to the roots of the tree in which the family home is built. Or some close friends might make a journey sprinkling a little of the soil at a number of places which the departed loved. Or a grieving partner might put the soil in a pot, and use it to grow daffodils. Or the soil might be loaded into a ballista and fired as high into the night sky as gnomish cunning can manage - and who know where (or even if?) that might fall...

Death in the Fiefdoms and Tribal Lands

They myriad peoples and states in the fiefdoms and the tribal lands maintain a wide range of funerary traditions. In "civilised" places rites similar to those described above might be preferred. Elsewhere, bodies are lowered or dropped from rope bridges into rivers, to be swept away by the current. In others true "sky burials" take place where the birds and beasts are encouraged to feed on the dead. In yet others, bodies are laboriously carried to areas where they can be lowered onto lava at the base of ironwood trees, where their consumption in flame is believed to free the spirit on it's journey to the next life. In some tribal societies the bodies are thrown to the ground in a clearing for the gargantuan to consume, the size and type which consume or fight over the body being considered an augury.

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