Hired funeral mourners - the history of the craft

Hired funeral mourners - the history of the craft
(Planet Today) These days, hired mourners are exotic, but in the past (not so long ago), few funerals were without professionals grieving inconsolably for money. The higher the status of the deceased, the more people cried for him or her and the sorer their tears were.

Faced with things deeply sacred, such as death, people always try to frame the situation with elaborate rituals. Do as one does, and the abyss beneath one's feet won't be so bottomless.

The Last Way

Burial rites are one of the oldest traditions. The dead were buried in the ground, buried in caves and crypts, burned in battle boats and crematorium ovens, and mummified in pyramids and mausoleums. The process of burial or cremation was always preceded by a ceremony of farewell. It was here that the need for mourners arose. The simplest logic established a direct correlation between the volume of sobs and the merits of the deceased, be they personal merit or social status.

Nature abhors a void. If there is a demand for weeping, there are immediately people who are willing to offer these services. Vanity and ambition do the rest of the work. If a couple of mourners were invited to a shopkeeper's funeral, it was a shame for a rich merchant's family to invite less than a dozen, and the most vocal and artistic ones at that. Even relatives, seeing off their loved ones, had to cry properly. Otherwise they could be suspected of at least indifference to the deceased. And paid masters of artistic weeping well set everyone in the right frame of mind.

From China to Egypt

It is believed that the institution of ritual weeping originated in China and the Middle East, although the services of weepers resorted to almost the entire world. Ancient Greek sources mention hired mourners and flute players who accompanied the deceased to the cremation site. In ancient Rome, the splendor of the funeral procession determined the wealth of the person, and a significant part of the procession were hired mourners, who were supposed to loudly moan, tear at the hair and clothes, scratch faces. The higher the status of the deceased, the more mourners there were.

Mourning women (guyanda) are described in the Talmud; the Koran did not prohibit mourning either, although one could not do it loudly and sobbing, nor could one tear clothes or "exalt the deceased for something he did not do".

Sometimes men also acted as mourners, but for the most part the role was considered female, and not only because female cries were more euphonious, and a display of male emotion was considered indecent - here, apparently, religion was also involved. For example, two female priestesses were necessarily present at funeral ceremonies in ancient Egypt, depicting the goddesses Isis and Neftis, mourning their husband and brother Osiris. In Slavic culture there were also two goddesses-mourners. The sisters Karna (Kruchina) and Zhelya were considered the guides of the souls of the dead people from the world to the world and mourned for all the deceased, including orphans and soldiers who died far from their homes. Mention of the goddesses of grief is also mentioned in The Tale of Igor's Campaign.

Orthodoxy did not approve of professional wailing at tombs, but specifically did not forbid anything, therefore mourners (wailers) in Russia enjoyed wide popularity. Mourning women not only saw off the deceased, but also participated in annual funerals, in sending off recruits for service and even in wedding ceremonies, mourning the parting of a bride with her parent's house. The people elevated the skill of mourners to the rank of art. "Melodious cries" were often taught from childhood, especially valued not only the ability to weep for hours, but also the ability to put together a parable specifically for each occasion.

"Rascally" lamentations disappeared from Russian life immediately after the revolution, and today you can see them only as part of historical reconstructions.

Our days

In various countries of the world the profession of mourners, having undergone a number of changes, still exists today. Some try to be fashionable by offering their services over the Internet, others, like Ghanaian dancers or Taiwanese memorial strippers, exploit the shocking exoticism, others occupy the niche of national traditions, like costumed actresses in China or koshokchu in Kyrgyzstan.

Of particular note, perhaps, are the Arlington Ladies. Each of the volunteers at this voluntary society dedicates a day each month to participating in a military funeral. The ladies do not charge money for their services; the only goal of the unselfish "mourners" is to give final honors to fallen servicemen, especially those who have no one to cry for.


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