The Symbolism of Water Burials
As humans, we are instinctively drawn to water. We drink water, play in it, travel on it, and lay our dead to rest in water. Being attracted to water isn’t just a survival mechanism, it reflects our body’s internal makeup. Up to 60% of the human body is water. To break it down even further, your brain and heart are 73% water, your lungs are 83% water, the skin is 64% water, and the muscles and kidneys are 79% water. What about the hardest part of your body, your bones? They are 31% water. Next to air, water is the most important thing we need to survive.
Role of Water in Our Bodies
What does water do in our bodies? It is essential for digestion, for forming the basis of saliva in your mouth to the liquid sludge your body absorbs nutrients from in the small intestine. Water helps the brain make hormones and neurotransmitters. You need water to keep your body at a safe temperature—if you get too hot, your body will make sweat to cool you down. Water keeps your body safe by cushioning your delicate brain and spinal cord and acting as a shock absorber. Your body carries oxygen to all of your vital organs using your blood, which is primarily made of water. Water greases your joints, helping them to move fluidly. Your body uses water to flush out waste and other impurities through the kidneys and bladder, and it also plays a vital role in your bowel movements. Your body’s cells couldn’t grow, replicate or live without water.
Symbolic Importance of Water
Water doesn’t only make it possible for us to live. Water is inherently symbolic to humans and is the original symbol of life. Human life is created in the water of a mother’s womb and emerges from that water into life, as shown to us by the birthing process. Water symbolizes the life cycle, as it appears in rain, snow, and bodies of water, only to leave the earth, evaporate into the air, into seeming nothingness, or be absorbed by plants and animals. From its gaseous state in the air, it comes back together into light clouds only to fall to the earth, completing one of its countless cycles of birth, death, and re-birth.
Water Burials Across Cultures and Religions
Humanity has been practicing water burials for thousands of years, all across the globe. While not all cultures practice water burials, many entirely different cultures have developed their unique approach to water burials. The fact that civilizations separated by thousands of miles and years have separately developed water burial rituals shows the universal symbolic importance of water.
Norse Sea Burials
Many Norse cultures practiced water burials or incorporated water elements into their funeral rituals. Often the high ranking was honored in death by being laid to rest on a boat or ship, which was then launched out to sea. Other times they buried the dead in graves made to look like a ship made of stone.
Buddhists and Water Burials
Buddhists believe that when we die, we return to the four elements that make up life: water, air, earth, and fire. They believe that just as water gives life, it takes life back to the earth at death. Some Tibetan Buddhists practice water burials, where the deceased is laid to rest in a flowing river.
Water isn’t used solely as the body’s resting place for these Buddhists. It is also an essential part of funeral preparations. Before the body is laid to rest in a river, the deceased’s family will ritually pour water over the deceased’s hands many times over several days. A sacred water pot is used to perform this ritual.
Hawaiian Sea Burials
The tradition of water burials is alive and well in modern Hawaii. Native Hawaiians have practiced water burials for thousands of years and they are still practiced, with some modifications today. In addition to more traditional burials on land, some ancient Hawaiians were buried at sea. Fishermen, in particular, were laid to rest this way. Fishermen who passed were clothed in red shrouds and buried at sea. These ancient Hawaiians believed that after sharks consumed the fisherman’s body, that would allow their spirit to live on in the ocean and protect their people from shark attacks.
A modern Hawaiian sea burial looks a little different. Guests wear aloha attire, scatter flowers from leis, and there is often music, prayers, and hula dancing. A variation of this ceremony has been adopted by surfers, who will paddle out on their boards to scatter the ashes of a fellow surfer onto the water. Other times mourners will take kayaks out instead of surfboards.
Modern Water Burials
Water burials remain common in modern times. You can also tap into the healing symbolism of water by scattering your departed loved one’s ashes at sea. The Living Urn can make this ritual smooth and more meaningful with their specially designed water scattering urns. Their classic Eco Water Urn is biodegradable, with a unique dissolvable base that will safely release your loved one’s ashes into the water.
Or, choose to scatter with the Eco Scattering Urn, a beautiful urn made entirely from bamboo.