This week, I had the sorrowful task of burying our beloved, fuzzy little family hamster, Marshmallow.
He lived a good life, enjoying regular play time, salad scraps and afternoons in the garden. In the end, he passed away peacefully and I returned his body to the earth, sending him blessings, love and light as his soul travelled on.
I once heard someone say that death is not the end, but a gateway to the next step of our journey. I absolutely believe in reincarnation. Surely this one, single life can’t be all there is? But that discussion is for another blog…
As I gently shovelled the soil over Marshmallow’s little cardboard coffin, I glanced over at the nearby budding Hydrangea, its spring leaves unfolding over the plot I had just covered. The roots of the plant would eventually wrap around his body, bugs and worms would nourish themselves on his flesh and he would feed the natural world, just as the natural world once fed him.
I have always been terrified by the thought of being buried. More to the point, I was terrified by the thought of being buried alive, also known as “Taphophobia”. What if I was declared dead… but wasn’t? What if I wake up when I’m 6ft under? A friend once went to see the film Buried (directed by Rodrigo Cortés) and told me the storyline afterwards, which in itself was enough to give me nightmares! Cremation, or donating my body to medicine were the only options for me.
According to Smithsonian Magazine, people throughout history have been so scared of being buried alive that ‘safety coffins’ were invented in the 19th centuries, featuring complex systems of cords attached to bells, which could be rung in the event of a disaster. I read that some experts believe the idiom ‘saved by the bell’ originated from the use of safety coffins.
I confess, I checked on our little hamster at least six times over the space of 24hrs before I buried him… just in case.
Coincidentally (or not, as I believe everything happens for a reason), later that day I came across a conversation on a Facebook group that I’m a member of, where the OP had asked for opinions on cremation vs burial. She was planning her funeral and wanted to make sure her Pagan beliefs are met when the time comes, however she has a fear of being buried and bugs eating her. She explained that she was initially leaning towards a cremation but had read how bad it is for the environment.
It got me thinking about the cycle of life, the ecosystem and the rituals around death.
There were some beautiful and inspiring responses to the OP’s question. Many said they would rather give themselves to nature, to feed the life that carries on, and there were some interesting insights into water cremations, cist burials, tree pods and mushroom burials (apparently, it’s a thing!). One group member added that, as a witch, there was no way she was going to be set on fire, dead or alive!
A particularly thought-provoking response asked if the OP would rather be laid peacefully in the ground and “nibbled on by a few lovely bugs” or be set on fire, put through a blender, and still end up underground with the bugs. That comment put my fears of burial into perspective.
The Earth provides us with everything we need during our fragile existence on her surface. Food, water and shelter, whether man-made or not, originate from the earth. To freely offer our bodies back to her when our spirit moves on feels like the most natural and magickal ritual there is.
I’ve also recently learnt that morticians are very thorough in ensuring that bodies are unquestionably lifeless over the course of days or weeks. Thanks to modern technology, they can provide definitive proof a person is deceased before carrying out any post-mortem work.
Death is a morbid subject, but there is no escaping it. Offering Marshmallow’s body back to the Earth filled my heart with loss and sadness, but as spring turns to summer, when the Hydrangea flourishes and the soil grows more fertile, I’ll know he’s given his beautiful energy back to this tiny little fragment of the planet.