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Mummification

Volnutt

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The Modern Mummies of Papua New Guinea


In keeping with his dying wish, Lohmann returned to Papua New Guinea to witness and photograph the mummification. Seven men, including Gemtasu's grandson, began the process with white clay smeared on their faces, a sign of grief. Under the ceremonial rules, they were not permitted to drink any water—only sugar cane juice from bamboo—and could only eat food cooked in the fire that was smoking Gemtasu. When his skin burned, they used sticks to scrape off the top layer.

As Lohmann observed over a series of weeks, the body swelled, blackened, and eventually hardened. The seven men performing the ritual smeared Gemtasu's body fluids onto themselves, an act to preserve his spirit. Under the strict rules, the men were not allowed to wash themselves for the entire three months of mummification, nor to leave the location.

The purpose of mummification in cultures that perform it is usually the pursuit of eternal life, or at least of the continued physical presence for those who have died. In the Anga's case, the final stage is to carry the mummified body, strapped to a chair, to a rock cliff overlooking the village, where the newly deceased join a circle of slowly decomposing elders, their skeletons immortal reminders of the people who once lived.
I actually watched an older documentary about this tonight. Gemtasu, who was some kind of Catholic it seemed like, was worried that if he actually went through the mummification that God would judge him for it.

I'm curious, is mummification like this compatible with Orthodoxy? I mean, they do drain the bodily fluids out, so it's a bit like embalming. But everything else about it seems very pro-resurrection in a way that cremation is not. The Anga even commune with their mummified relatives in a way that reminds me of some of the practices of Greeks and Serbs.
 

Ainnir

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It seems inverted to me.  They are doing this to induce things such as eternal life, whereas that is something only God gives, and the preservation of the departed, the connection between the physical and spiritual, and the "great cloud of witnesses" are all simply evidence and effects of His Divine Grace.  Hopefully that makes sense.  Plus I don't think we smoke our departed over a fire pit...  I could be wrong, though.
 

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Volnutt said:
I'm curious, is mummification like this compatible with Orthodoxy? I mean, they do drain the bodily fluids out, so it's a bit like embalming. But everything else about it seems very pro-resurrection in a way that cremation is not. The Anga even commune with their mummified relatives in a way that reminds me of some of the practices of Greeks and Serbs.
Since it seems to involve some mutilation of the body (scraping the skin off, slow roasting the body) and the possibility of microcannibalism (eating things cooked in the fire cooking the corpse), no.
 

Volnutt

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hecma925 said:
It seems like they take them down from the mountains and change their chairs, sit with them, etc. Just kind of reminded me of what I've seen from some grave practices in Eastern Europe.
 

Volnutt

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Agabus said:
Volnutt said:
I'm curious, is mummification like this compatible with Orthodoxy? I mean, they do drain the bodily fluids out, so it's a bit like embalming. But everything else about it seems very pro-resurrection in a way that cremation is not. The Anga even commune with their mummified relatives in a way that reminds me of some of the practices of Greeks and Serbs.
Since it seems to involve some mutilation of the body (scraping the skin off, slow roasting the body)
Yeah, that does seem like the biggest impediment, agreed.

Agabus said:
and the possibility of microcannibalism (eating things cooked in the fire cooking the corpse), no.
What's wrong with that? It's not like they intend to eat the body, AFAICT. The Anga were once cannibals, but I think they only intentionally ate enemies killed in war.
 

Volnutt

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Ainnir said:
It seems inverted to me.  They are doing this to induce things such as eternal life, whereas that is something only God gives, and the preservation of the departed, the connection between the physical and spiritual, and the "great cloud of witnesses" are all simply evidence and effects of His Divine Grace.  Hopefully that makes sense.  Plus I don't think we smoke our departed over a fire pit...  I could be wrong, though.
I guess I don't know enough about what their intent behind it is, where they think the soul dwells, etc. The other's interpretation in the last paragraph doesn't make a lot of sense to me, to be honest.
 

Volnutt

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Volnutt said:
Ainnir said:
It seems inverted to me.  They are doing this to induce things such as eternal life, whereas that is something only God gives, and the preservation of the departed, the connection between the physical and spiritual, and the "great cloud of witnesses" are all simply evidence and effects of His Divine Grace.  Hopefully that makes sense.  Plus I don't think we smoke our departed over a fire pit...  I could be wrong, though.
I guess I don't know enough about what their intent behind it is, where they think the soul dwells, etc. The other's interpretation in the last paragraph doesn't make a lot of sense to me, to be honest.
That should say "The author's interpretation..." sorry.

I'll just add that I guess I don't see much practical difference between burying someone until their flesh rots off, then sticking their bones in an ossuary and their skull on a shelf and just straight-up draining their fluids out, but I might be equivocating too much.
 

augustin717

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When i was a Child some older men liked to joke and scare kids off at funerals by saying that the little bread alms distributed, were baked with the water used to give the d ceased its last, ritual bath.
 

Ainnir

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Volnutt said:
Ainnir said:
It seems inverted to me.  They are doing this to induce things such as eternal life, whereas that is something only God gives, and the preservation of the departed, the connection between the physical and spiritual, and the "great cloud of witnesses" are all simply evidence and effects of His Divine Grace.  Hopefully that makes sense.  Plus I don't think we smoke our departed over a fire pit...  I could be wrong, though.
I guess I don't know enough about what their intent behind it is, where they think the soul dwells, etc. The other's interpretation in the last paragraph doesn't make a lot of sense to me, to be honest.
Well they may be misrepresenting the view, also.  However, if not, then the emphasis on the source of eternal life or what makes the physical presence last is placed on human action, instead of God's omnipotence and mercy.  And no, that's not compatible with Orthodoxy.  But neither does recognizing such an incompatibility require us to disparage these people.  I rather think it would compel us to pray for them.  :)


Volnutt said:
I'll just add that I guess I don't see much practical difference between burying someone until their flesh rots off, then sticking their bones in an ossuary and their skull on a shelf and just straight-up draining their fluids out, but I might be equivocating too much.
Well practically speaking, it's rushing things vs. letting them take their course--however helpful that answer is...  :angel:
Logistically, I honestly don't know what all we do and don't do, so I can't really speak to that.  I think, though, because of the whole "spiritual and material aren't actually separate" thing, the material is left alone as much as possible, which would mean no cremation, and neither hindering nor rushing the decomposition process.  Plus it makes it easier to tell when relics have been mystically preserved.  ;)  But I'm really just supposing on this one, so take that for what it's worth.
 
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