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When choosing a headstone or grave marker, we often pick design elements with little knowledge about the symbolism behind it. This glossary of cemetery symbolism will help you to understand the meaning of the many design elements. For those who would like to learn more about the different symbols seen in the form of emblems, the Emblem article is very useful.
Acanthus is associated with the rocky ground were most Greek cemeteries were placed. Symbol of peace in the Garden of Eden.
American Expeditionary Forces
Very old sign used in second century, first and last letter of alphabet (Greek), beginning and end of life.
Early Christians used the anchor as a disguised cross, and as a marker to guide the way to secret meeting places. A Christian symbol of hope, it is found as funeral symbolism in the art of the catacombs. It is also an occupational symbol in sea-faring areas or the attribute of Saint Nicholas, patron saint of the seamen, it symbolized hope and steadfastness. An anchor with a broken chain stands for the cessation of life.
The agent of God, often pointing towards heaven guardians of the dead, symbolizing spirituality. Angels are shown in all types of poses with different symbolism. Two angels can be named, and are identified by the objects they carry: Michael, who bears a sword and Gabriel, who is depicted with a horn.
Blowing a trumpet (or perhaps two trumpets) &ndash representing the day of judgment, and Call to Resurrection.
Carrying the departed soul- as a child in their arms, or as a Guardian embracing the dead. The &ldquomessengers of God&rdquo are often shown escorting the deceased to Heaven.
Many Angels gathered together in the clouds- represents Heaven.
Weeping- grief, or mourning an untimely death.
Victory of life or victory of death.
Small, empty furniture symbolized unfulfilled lives of children represented the child now gone with small shoes on chair-connection to childhood, symbolized inability to achieve adulthood.
The emblem of Buddha. The seven-knotted bamboo denotes the seven degrees of initiation and invocation in Buddhism. On Japanese memorials, symbolic of devotion and truthfulness.
Connotes a religious lay person or cleric.
BIRD IN FLIGHT
Flight of the soul. The representation of the soul by a bird goes back to ancient Egypt. Eternal life.
Faith, learning to read and write, a scholar. A prayer, or knowledge or even memory (where it has a dog-eared page). It may represent the Book of Life and is often shown as a Bible. A popular form is the book as a double page spread. Arabic characters identify the book as the Koran.
Resurrection also military.
The soul. It is symbolic of the resurrection of Christ. The meaning is derived from the three stages of the life of a butterfly&mdashthe caterpillar, the chrysalis, and the butterfly. The three stages are symbols of life, death and resurrection. Short-life.
Candles symbolize the spirit or the soul. In Christian contexts, candles can symbolize Jesus Christ. Catholics practice of leaving burning candles on the grave, signify prayers have been said for the deceased.
CANDLE, WITH FLAME
Medieval thinkers sometimes held that a golden chain bound the soul to the body. Broken links on a headstone can mean the severance and subsequent release of the spirit from the body. Chains are also the insignia of the International Order of Odd Fellows, so called because of their dedication to giving the poor respectable burials.
Sacraments The chalice often appears in association with a white circle representing the consecrated Eucharist. The two items combine to signify the Catholic rite of Holy Communion. The headstones of priests often bear these symbols.
Angelic the graves of children. Divine wisdom or justice.
A cross like shape formed by a combination of two Greek letters, chi (X) and rho (P) corresponding to the CH and R of the word, Christi, hence a symbol for Jesus Christ.
The circle is pre-Christian and its original symbolic meaning has been adopted by Christianity. It is universally known as the symbol of eternity and never-ending existence. Extremely common on gravesites, its usual representation is a cross surrounded by a circle. Two circles, one above the other, represent earth and sky. Three interconnected circles represent the Holy Trinity.
Maternal affection, beloved daughter
Veil which conceals God from His worshippers
The trinity, symbol of the Irish.
COFFIN, SARCOPHAGUS, CEMETERY MONUMENT
Broken- Early Death
Complete- signifies that life has been completed
Urn on top- a symbol of death
Shroud on urn- a funerary sign meaning burial
With Archway- Heavenly Entrance
CHRIST, VIRGIN MARY, A SAINT, AN ANGEL OR THE LIKE
Devotion to that holy figure desire for their aid to attain heaven.
The ties between all religious beliefs and symbolism have always been strong. To the Christians the greatest symbolic message is in the crucifix. The crucifix or cross can generate many sumbolic messages ranging from love, faith and goodness to terror and fear. (i.e. the Ku-Klux-Klan&rsquos use of the burning cross). There are many different types of Christian crosses worldwide, but only a handful are common in North America.
Botonee Cross- So named because of its modified trefoil (three-lobed) ends, represents the trinity.
Calvary Cross- A Latin cross standing on three steps or blocks, it signifies faith, hope and love. Love is sometimes replaced by charity.
Celtic Cross- The circle around the crosspiece symbolizes eternity. Its&rsquo origin can be traced to the Celtic cultures of the British Isles. There is a legend of how St. Patrick when preaching to some soon to be converted heathens was shown a sacred standing stone that was marked with a circle that was symbolic of the moon goddess. Patrick made the mark of a Latin cross through the circle and blessed the stone making the first Celtic Cross. It is said to serve as a double symbol of eternity and unity, both that of the Son with the Father and the Holy Spirit and that of the believer with the Trinity. That was a common theme of St. Patrick&rsquos preaching.
Eastern Cross- Used in Orthodox (Russian/ Greek) Christian Religions, this cross&rsquo upper horizontal shoulder representing the inscription over the head of Jesus. The lower slanting shoulder represents the footrest of the crucified Jesus.
Flueree Cross/Gothic Cross- This flowered cross symbolizes the adult Christian by its more opened flared out ends.
Ionic Cross- Similar to the Celtic Cross, its&rsquo ends flare outward. The ionic cross signifies everlasting salvation, love and glory. The circle around the crosspiece symbolizes eternity.
Latin Cross- One of the oldest symbols of Christianity and the most commonly used form, it is also the simplest in design. In early times, it was called God&rsquos mark.
CROSS AND CROWN
Victory with Christ over death
CROSS AND ANCHOR
Another early Christian symbol referring to Christ as &ldquohope we have as an anchor of the soul, both sincere and steadfast&rdquo (Hebrews 6:19).
High-ranking military person.
Reward and glory. Honors glorified souls and angels, or points to the triumph of death, when it caps a winged skull. Sometimes juxtaposed with cross indicates that earthly life includes suffering, and the afterlife, victory.
Death of youth, desire, art, grace, beauty, deep regard.
Innocence of child, Jesus the Infant, youth, the Son of righteousness, gentleness, purity of thought.
Daughters/Sons of the American Revolution
Signifying the loyalty and that the master was worth loving.
Christianity, divine sacrifice, triumph of eternal life, resurrection.
Salvation, bearer of souls to Heaven. Portrays the idea of resurrection.
An important symbolic animal in Christianity representing the Holy Spirit. The white dove is referred to in the story of baptism of Christi. &ldquoAnd John bore record, saying, I saw the Spirit descending from Heaven like a dove, and it abode upon him.&rdquo (Bible John 1:32) The descending dove is a common motif on grave memorials. Judaism recognizes the dove as a symbol of peace.
DOORS & GATES
Passage into the afterlife Heavenly entrance.
In Christianity, depicts sin and worldly pleasures, or may represent resurrection. For the Chinese, the dragon is an emblem of Imperial Power, which brought the universe into its thrall. It also stands for the Universe itself, a chaotic force which none of us can truly master. If being depicted by St. George, depicts triumph over sin.
In the days when the body lay in state in the parlor, it was the custom to cover everything in black. Draperies, with their fancy frills and tassels, are more elaborate than a simple shroud. They allow the expression of mourning to linger long after the body has been taken out the front door and the accoutrements have been stowed for the next death in the family. Curtains can also set the stage. Parted, they reveal a telling excerpt. What is important in such displays is the main actor or central object of the stone.
DRAPERY OVER ANYTHING
Suggests courage and possibly a military career, symbol for St. John
EYE IN THE TRIANGLE
Eye of God in the Trinity, all seeing, all knowing. During the Renaissance period in Europe it was common to illustrate the Eye of God surrounded by a triangle (the Holy Trinity). The eye within the triangle, surrounded by a circle and radiating rays of light is used to symbolize the holiness of the true God.
FLEUR DE LIS
Flame, passion, ardor, mother.
F.L.T. (in three links of a chain)
Friendship, Love, and Truth. It is the symbol of the Independent Order of Odd Fellows, a fraternal organization also known as &ldquoThe Three Link Fraternity&rdquo. This benevolent and social society originated in England in the 1700&rsquos.This organization takes cares of widows and orphans, and in general does good works.
Depicts in and worldly pleasures, or may represent resurrection.
Grand Army of the Republic the Union Army during the War Between the States.
GARLAND or WREATH
The use of garlands, wreaths and festoons dates back to ancient Greek times and it was adopted into the Christian religion as a symbol of the victory of the redemption. Ancient symbol of victory, memory, passed to eternal life.
Ivy Wreath- symbolic of gaiety, joviality. The wreath and festoon together symbolize memory.
Laurel wreath- usually associated with someone who has attained distinction in the arts, literature, athletics or the military.
Maiden&rsquos garland- A garland of white paper or linen, embellished streamers and a single white glove, which was carried at he funerals of unmarried women of blameless reputation. The garlands were hung in the church after the funeral and allowed to decay. Then the pieces would be buried in the graveyard.
In open position, often shown over open book, with letter &ldquoG&rdquo within angle of compass Masonic affiliation (Freemasons Free and Accepted Masons).
Represents Christ, blood of Christ, God&rsquos care or Last Supper.
One hand- the hand of God
Two hands (clasped) - holy matrimony the person who died first holds the other&rsquos hand, guiding the spouse to Heaven.
Two hands (praying - connote devotion.
Two hands (palms facing the viewer, with the four fingers on each hand positioned as two sets of two fingers) &ndash a Jewish symbol indicating the deceased was a Cohen, a Temple Priest. This is the hand gesture made by Cohen at the end of services in Orthodox synagogues, its&rsquo benediction, and had come to universally represent Cohens.
Associated with David in the Old Testament symbol of St. Cecilia, patron saint of musicians. Symbolic of worship in Heaven, hope. Praise to God.
HART (MALE DEER)
Represented either faithfulness, thirsting for God, or Christ slaying Satan.
Love, mortality, love of God, courage and intelligence.
Bleeding- Christ&rsquos suffering for our sins.
Encircled with thorns- the suffering of Christ.
Flaming- signifies extreme religious fervor.
Pierced by a sword- the Virgin Mary, harkening to Simeon&rsquos prophecy to Mary at the birth of Christ, &ldquoYea, a sword shall pierce through thine own soul.&rdquo It can also be used to represent charity.
Courage or generosity. An attribute of St. George, St. Martin, St. Maurice, and St. Victor, all of whom represented in Christian art on horseback.
Swiftness of time short life. Its use associated with personified figures of Death and Father Time comes out of a long tradition of mortuary symbolism. Rarely used alone usually appeared along with hearts, stars, leaves, and sacred flowering vines.
On its side- that time has stopped for the deceased.
Winged- time and its swift flight.
IHS (occasionally seen as IXC)
Signifies devotion to Jesus Christ variously interpreted as an abbreviation for His name as spelled in ancient languages, or of the Latin phrase Iesu Hominum Salvator (Jesus, mankind&rsquos Savior)
Because it stays green forever, it has long been symbolic of immortality eternal life. Also may signify friendship.
Keys stand for spiritual knowledge or, if held in the hands of an angel or saint, the means to enter heaven.
The interlaced Celtic knot represents resurrection and life everlasting.
This is the most common animal symbol found on a child&rsquos grave. The use of the lamb in religious art pre-dates Christianity and appears to have been used first by the Egyptians. It signifies purity and innocence. Because the lamb is a symbol of Christ: &ldquoBehold the lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world.&rdquo (Bible, John 1:29) it appears throughout the ages with great regularity in Christian art.
Knowledge, a love of learning, and the immortality of the spirit.
Innocence, purity, and resurrection. Often associated with the Virgin Mary and resurrection and used on women&rsquos graves. The use of lilies at funerals symbolizes the restored innocence of the soul at death.
LILY OF THE VALLEY
Return to happiness, purity, humility
Symbolizes the power of God and guards the tomb against evil spirits. Like other guardians, the lion&rsquos watch is as eternal as the stone of which it is depicted. The lion also recalls the courage and determination of the souls which they guard, they manifest the spirit of the departed. Resurrection.
Seven-branched candlestick that is a Jewish symbol for divine presence of God. The seven branches of the candlestick represent the seven channels of the spiritual self-expression.
Dualism of Christ &ndash half God, half man
Resurrection, mourning, youth, farewell, brevity of life, departure, mortality beginning of life.
Strength. It is believed to have been the tree from which Jesus Christ&rsquos cross was made. In smaller pioneer cemeteries, it is common to place children&rsquos graves near oak trees. The oak tree was the tree of life in pre-Christian times. The Druids worshipped the oak.
Peace symbol of safety which the dove brought to Noah after the flood
PALL, PICK, SPADE
Spiritual victory, success, eternal peace, a symbol of Christ&rsquos victory over death as associated with Easter.
Symbolizes remembrance and humility.
The elements of the passion of Christ: the lacy crown-the crown of thorns the five stamens-the five wounds the ten petals- the ten faithful apostles.
Symbolized the incorruptibility of flesh, resurrection, beauty of soul, immortality.
This is a five-pointed, star-shaped figure made by extending the sides of a regular pentagon until they meet. This figure pre-dates Christianity and was first known to be used by Pythagoras, the Greek philosopher. Later, in the Middle Ages, the pentagram was used by magicians and sorcerers. It was believed that the pentagram offered protection against evil. Christianity adopted the figure and the symbolism to suggest the five wounds suffered by Christ on the cross. It is interesting to note that the pentagram is used by both Christianity and Wicca (witchcraft).
Patrons of Husbandry/ a grange affiliation.
Fertility, regeneration, fidelity.
PITCHER OR EWER
Traditional Jewish symbol found on a man&rsquos gravestone, signifying a Levite, who was responsible for cleaning the hands of the Temple Priest before he performed his priestly duties.
Peace, rest, sleep, eternal sleep, consolation.
Passageway to eternal journey.
Eternity. It was supposed that a pyramid-shaped tombstone prevented the devil from reclining on a grave.
Short form for Requiescat In Pace (Rest In Peace)
ROD or STAFF
Awakening, courage, vigilance.
Love, beauty, hope, unfailing love, associated with the Virgin Mary, the &ldquorose without thorns.&rdquo A red rose symbolizes martyrdom and a white rose symbolizes purity and virginity.
The different stages of a rose&rsquos bloom, is indicative of the person&rsquos age at time of death.
Just a bud- generally a child 12 years or under
Partial bloom- generally a teenager
Full bloom- normally in early/mid-twenties. The deceased died in the prime of life.
Rosebud, broken- life cut short usually found with a young person&rsquos grave.
Rosebuds, joining- strong bond between two people (e.g. mother and child who died at the same time)
Rosebuds, several on same branch- secrecy
Rosette- The Lord, messianic hope, promise, love.
Wreath of rose- Beauty and virtue rewarded.
Symbol of life and time. Both ends rolled up indicate a life that is unfolding like a scroll of uncertain length and the past and future hidden. Often held by a hand representing life being recorded by angels. The scroll can also suggest honor and commemoration.
Shown swallowing its own tail, it represents spiritual striving.
Ireland as country of origin.
The use of shell in burials is pre-Christian in practice and pre-dates even Egyptian burial practices. Shell is symbolic of fertility, resurrection and pilgrimage. Shell, small stones, and coins are the traditional objects left at grave sites. There are several meanings given to this act. It may be a symbolic referral to the ancient custom of burying the dead under a cairn of rocks to protect the body from scavenging animals, or a reminder that the individual is not forgotten.
Scallop- symbol of the Crusades, pilgrim, pilgrim&rsquos journey, resurrection, life everlasting, connotes one&rsquos life journey. A symbol of birth and resurrection, a traditional symbol of the Puritans.
Death as the &ldquolast harvest&rdquo.
SNAKE in a CIRCLE
Everlasting life in Heaven.
SOLDIER on HORSEBACK
While some sources state that the following meanings are not uniformly intended by the monument craftsman, other sources state that if the horse has both front hoofs in the air, the person died in battle. If one hoof is raised, the person died as a result of wounds if the horse has all four hoofs on the ground, the person died of natural causes.
It represents the earth and earthly existence. Some monuments have a cube or square inverted to point the corners downward and upward. This illustrates earthly existence and the directions of earth and heaven.
SQUIRREL w/ NUT
Religious meditation or spiritual striving.
Five-pointed star- Symbolic of the life of Christ and may also represent the five wounds of Christ.
Five-pointed pentagram star-This star is drawn with one stroke of the pen. Its exact origin is unknown, and its meaning has changed throughout the ages. The pre-Christian Celtic priests called it the witch&rsquos foot. It is also called Solomon&rsquos Seal and was known in the Middle Ages as the goblin&rsquos cross. Today the symbol is a favorite among graffiti artists and so-called demonology practitioners. Like the pentagon, it is believed to have protective powers against evil. In Wicca beliefs, it represents protection against demons and a symbol of safety. The ancient Babylonians used the symbol as a magic charm. The five-pointed pentagram star represents the five senses. In Judaism, it represents the five mosaic books. This symbol has also been adopted by Masonic organizations.
The Star of David- six-pointed star or Magen David (Hebrew for shield of David), it is typically used as a symbol of Judaism. The star is actually comprised of two triangles. It signifies divine protection as epitomized by the alchemistic signs for fire and water which are an upward and downward apexed triangle. The star can be traced back to ancient times, used by several Asia Minor cultures, as well as some Greek city states. For Judaism, the Star of David came into widespread use at the beginning of the 20th century. Theodore Hertzel, a Jewish activist, adopted the symbol in his writings promoting Palestine as a Jewish homeland.
SUN RISING/SHINING or w/RAYS
Renewed life resurrection
Exact origin is unknown but it is considered one of the oldest and widespread symbols used. Commonly found on Buddhist memorials, it represents the sea of the Buddha&rsquos heart the doctrine of the Buddha the round of existence. To the Chinese, the swastika had two forms symbolizing the male and female clock-wise and counter-clockwise. Also used by the Romans and later by the Nazi party in Germany during the Second World War.
A military career.
Broken sword- life cut short.
Crossed swords- life lost in battle.
Earthly sorrow, Christ&rsquos crown of thorns, Scotland as country of origin, remembrance.
The all-covering love of Christ. Life, The Tree of Life.
Lit or upright the torch represents life.
In Christianity, the equilateral triangle is the symbol of the Trinity. Other geometric shapes representing the Holy Trinity are the trefoil, the triquetra, the circle within the triangle, the triangle in the circle and the triquetra and circle. To the ancient Egyptians, the triangle was an emblem of Godhead to the Pythagoreans, it symbolized wisdom. Another use of the triangle is in the symbol of the eye (Eye of God) surrounded by a triangle.
Heralds of the resurrection.
Greek symbol of mourning, the body as a vessel of the soul, originating as repository for the ashes of the dead in ancient times &ndash a popular symbol of mourning.
The eternal flame or the eternal spirit of man.
The sacraments, God&rsquos blood, God
Mourning, grief. Nature&rsquos lament, a symbol of sorrow.
Resurrection, bread and wine (Christian), fertility. Convent bakers use wheat flour to make communion wafers, making it a holy plant, of sorts, fit to grace the tombstone of a priest.
Effigy of the soul of the deceased.
A symbol of the first Egyptian sun god, Re. On Victorian monuments it is symbolic of the power that can recreate and, with the wings, means, &ldquoGod, Lord over all, creator.&rdquo
Flight of the soul from mortal man.
Symbolized the Holy Spirit.
WOMAN HANGING ONTO CROSS
Faith. Original drawing accompanied Rev. Toplady&rsquos hymn &ldquoRock of Ages.&rdquo Also seen as woman clinging to pillar or anchor. Common motif on white bronze monuments and Masonic grave memorials.
Native American Legends: Sky Woman (Ataensic, Atahensic, Ataentsic)
Name: Sky Woman
Tribal affiliation: Iroquois League, Wyandot
Native names: Ataensic, Ata-en-sic, Ataentsic, Atahensic, Ataensiq, Aataentsic, Athensic, Ataensie, Eataentsic, Eyatahentsik, Iaataientsik, Yatahentshi Iotsitsisonh, Iotsitsisen, Iottsitison, Iottsitíson, Atsi'tsiaka:ion, Atsi'tsiakaion, Ajinjagaayonh Iagen'tci, Iagentci, Eagentci, Yekëhtsi, Yagentci Awenhai, Awenha'i, Awenha:ih Wa'tewatsitsiané:kare Aientsik, Aentsik
Also known as: Grandmother Moon, the Woman who Fell from the Sky
Type: Mother goddess, sky spirit, first woman
Related figures in other tribes: Nokomis (Anishinabe), Our Grandmother (Shawnee)
Sky Woman is the Iroquois mother goddess, who descended to earth by falling through a hole in the sky. She was a celestial being who was cast out of the heavens either for violating a taboo or through her jealous husband's treachery waterbirds carried her down to the sea and set her on the back of a turtle, which became her home (Turtle Island.) Sky Woman is either the grandmother or the mother (depending on the version) of the twin culture heroes Sky-Holder and Flint, sometimes known as Good Spirit and Bad Spirit.
Myths about Sky Woman vary enormously from community to community. In some Iroquois myths Sky Woman is a minor character who dies in childbirth immediately upon reaching the earth, while in others, she is the central character of the entire creation saga. In some myths Sky Woman is the mother of the twins, but more commonly she is the mother of a daughter, Tekawerahkwa or Breath of the Wind, who in turn gives birth to the twins. In some Iroquois traditions the twins represent good and evil, while in others, neither twin is evil, but Flint represents destruction, death, night, and winter to Sky-Holder's creation, life, day, and summer. In many versions of the myth Sky Woman favored Flint, usually because Flint has deceived her into thinking Sky-Holder killed Tekawerahkwa, but sometimes because Sky Woman herself disapproved of Sky-Holder's human creations and their ways. In other versions Sky Woman supported both of her grandchildren equally, declaring that there must be both life and death in the world. Sky Woman is associated with the moon by many Iroquois people. In some traditions, Sky Woman turned into the moon in others, Sky-Holder turned her body into the sun, moon, and stars after her death and in still others, it was Sky Woman herself who created the sun, moon, and stars.
Sky Woman goes by many different names in Iroquois mythology. The name "Sky Woman" itself is a title, not her name-- she is a Sky Woman because she is one of the Sky People, Karionake . Her own name is variously given as Ataensic (a Huron name probably meaning "ancient body,") Iagentci (a Seneca name meaning "ancient woman,") Iotsitsisonh or Atsi'tsiaka:ion (Mohawk names meaning "fertile flower" and "mature flower,") Awenhai (a Cayuga and Seneca name also meaning "mature flower,") and Aentsik (probably an Iroquois borrowing from Huron.) She is sometimes also referred to as Grandmother or Grandmother Moon.
2. The Cruel Mother
This queasy tale of infanticide has been sung by everyone from Cecilia Costello to The Dubliners (who recorded a version called Weile Weile Waile) and Nancy Kerr. It concerns a woman who kills her two new-born children with a knife. But the blade becomes unwashable - the more she wipes it, the "more red" it grows. She then meets two babies in the entrance to a church, and tells them she'd treat them wonderfully if they were hers. They turn out to be the ghosts of her children, who tell her that she's bound for hell.
Gravestone of Greek Woman from Black Sea - History
Ancient Burial Customs
Acts 8:2 "And devout men carried Stephen to his burial, and made great lamentation over him."
And devout men carried Stephen to his "burial"
Burial Customs in the Ancient Near East
Burial customs were very different in ancient times than they are today. In the ancient eastern cultures, including israel, burial was always something which was to be done in haste, because of how rapidly the body decomposes. In Israel, there was an immediate defilement with any contact with a dead body. They would bury the dead usually within a few hours, but rarely overnight.
The closest relative would close the eyes of the dead and after the announcement the lamentation would begin with wailing and bitter weeping. It was customary to have professional mourners present. Even the poorest family should hire at least one mourner.
The procession was not even quiet, with everyone beating their breasts and tearing their clothes, along with the mourners, and the singers, and the musical instruments, usually the flute. The bier or flat board carrying the body went first while the musicians would play at the rear of the procession. This may shed light on the situation when Jesus raised the young man from the dead:
Luke 7:11-16 11 Now it happened, the day after, that He went into a city called Nain and many of His disciples went with Him, and a large crowd. 12 And when He came near the gate of the city, behold, a dead man was being carried out, the only son of his mother and she was a widow. And a large crowd from the city was with her. 13 When the Lord saw her, He had compassion on her and said to her, "Do not weep." 14 Then He came and touched the coffin (bier), and those who carried him stood still. And He said, "Young man, I say to you, arise." 15 So he who was dead sat up and began to speak. And He presented him to his mother. 16 Then fear came upon all, and they glorified God, saying, "A great prophet has risen up among us" and, "God has visited His people."
Since the burial was so urgent there was nothing elaborate. Little ceremony and much haste. The dead person was usually dressed in the most common clothes that they had been most often seen wearing.
It was customary to wash the body and anoint it with perfumes and spices, not ever for embalming but always to control the odors. The wealthier families could afford the more costly and weightier perfumes. The hands and feet were wrapped with linen cloths (grave-bands), and the face and head were covered with a small cloth and bound. It was loving friends and relatives, mostly women, who prepared the body. The Jews did not use coffins and did not embalm.
The Greeks and Cremation
With the Greeks it was customary to cremate the dead, but not with the Jews. Tacitus (Hist. v. 5) said, in noting the contrast with Roman custom, that it was a matter of piety with the Jews "to bury rather than to burn dead bodies." There are instances of burning bodies in the OT but usually it referred to that of an emergency or cleansing the camp from defilement.
The body was brought to a grave in early times, where the bier (flat board or stretcher) was removed and the body was let down into the ground, and then covered with a heap of stones to preserve it from wild animals. The grave was usually a shallow hole dug in the earth. In later times it was customary for each family to have a family tomb. The tomb or "sepulcher" was usually a natural cave or was hewn from the rock on a hillside with niches for the bodies to be placed. The family was not to sell their ancestral tomb if at all possible.
Some of the tombs were carved below ground level and had steps leading down. The tomb was usually sealed with a large circular stone, standing on its edge, and rolled into place in a groove cut for it. There was usually a strap or a seal which would indicate if the tomb had been disturbed.
If the family was wealthy the entrance stone was usually carved elaborately with pictures, names, and usually words of comfort. Greeks and Romans often carved pillars around the entrance.
It was customary for visitors to come on the 3rd, 7th, and 40th days after the burial for mourning, with their heads covered, faces black with dirt and ash, and in poor clothing, sometimes torn and rent, and they would sing a dirge and wail. In many cultures there was much violence done to their own bodies to show their grief, though the Bible forbade the mourners from cutting themselves. Some shaved their heads, fasted, and meditated in total silence.
Whitewashed Tombs and Touching Dead Bodies
It was ceremonially unclean for a Jew to touch a tomb. This is why they were whitewashed with lime, so they could be easily seen and not accidently touched. The Lord had commanded them in the Law not to "touch" a dead body because the blood was not alive, and the life of the flesh is in the blood (Lev 17:11). Blood was set apart for sacrifice, and they could have nothing else to do with it.
Mark 16:3-6 3 And they said among themselves, "Who will roll away the stone from the door of the tomb for us?" 4 But when they looked up, they saw that the stone had been rolled away-- for it was very large. 5 And entering the tomb, they saw a young man clothed in a long white robe sitting on the right side and they were alarmed. 6 But he said to them, "Do not be alarmed. You seek Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He is risen! He is not here. See the place where they laid Him.
Women in Ancient Greece were considered second class citizens to men. Before getting married, girls were subject to their father and had to obey his commands. After getting married, wives were subject to their husbands. Women were looked down upon by men and were considered no smarter than children.
Women were expected to stay at home and manage the household. In the city-state of Athens, men sometimes wouldn't allow their wives to leave the home. They were basically prisoners in their own homes. Women managed the household slaves and even lived in a separate part of the house.
Women married to wealthy men were often confined to their homes. Their jobs were to manage the household and to bear sons for the husband. They lived in a separate area of the home from the men and even ate their meals separate from the men. They had servants who helped with raising the children, doing household chores, and running errands. Most women, even wealthy women, helped to weave cloth for the family's clothing.
Poor women often had more freedom than wealthy women because they couldn't afford as many slaves. Because they didn't have a lot of slaves, poor women needed to leave the house to run errands, fetch water, and shop. They sometime took jobs as servants for the wealthy or worked in the local shops.
Did women have legal rights?
In some Greek city-states, such as Athens, women had few legal rights. In Athens, women generally couldn't own property, couldn't vote, and weren't allowed to participate in the government. In other city-states, women had a few more rights, but still had less rights than men.
Women usually had no say in who they married. They were "given" in marriage by their father to another man. Sometimes very young girls were wed to older men.
Slave women were the lowest class in Ancient Greece. They not only were slaves, but they were also women.
Life was different for the women of the city-state of Sparta. In Sparta, women were respected as the "mother's of warriors." Although they were not considered equal with men, they had more rights and freedom than the women of Athens. They were educated, played sports, allowed to walk around the city freely, and were also able to own property.
The strange case of the disappearance of the rich female grave
Whitley James. Gender and hierarchy in early Athens [The strange case of the disappearance of the rich female grave]. In: Mètis. Anthropologie des mondes grecs anciens, vol. 11, 1996. pp. 209-232.
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Gender and Hierarchy in Early Athens The Strange Case of the Disappearance of the Rich Female Grave*
Athens was in many respects an unusual community in Early Iron Age Greece. For one thing it seems to hâve been exceptionally large. Though large, it was not an urban centre, if by that we mean a densely packed, nucleated settlement, of which the contemporary site of Zagora on Andros is an example. To judge from the indirect testimony of well deposits and graves, it seems to hâve been a loose agglomération of hamlets, each with its own cemetery. Still, it is difficult to get a clear picture of the settlement of Dark Age Athens, and so to define what made it distinctive. We are not so handicapped however when it cornes to the study of symbolic practices. It is the focus on the symbolic practices, particularly on the manner in which the dead were buried, that enables us to see more clearly the ways in which this society distinguished itself from its contemporaries. Of ail the communities of Early Iron Age Greece Athens is unique in having a distinctive form of burial for women, particularly for rich women of middling years, and it is the implications of this fact I wish to draw out. My subtitle however - «the strange case» - perhaps implies that hère is a problem which can be solved by the application of a certain deductive logic, in the same way that the
This paper was first given at a seminar organised by François de Polignac at the Centre Louis Gernet in Paris on the 18th October 1996. The seminar was very informai and helpful, and the trip to Paris that I enjoyed in every sensé wonderful. I could not hâve had a better setting to «fly a kite», as the phrase has it. I would like to thank everyone who attended for their comments, and especially to François de Polignac for inviting me. I would also like to thank ail those who hâve offered useful comments on earlier drafts of this paper, in particular Douglass Bailey, Sian Lewis, Ian Morris, Robin Osborne, Anthony Snodgrass and Hans Van Wees. I remain responsible for any remaining mistakes or omissions.
The History of Yemaya, Santeria's Queenly Ocean Goddess Mermaid
There has been a lot of discussion about mermaids lately. On Wednesday, it was announced that Chloe x Halle singer Halle Bailey would be cast as Ariel in the live-action remake of Disney’s The Little Mermaid. What was meant to be a celebratory moment for the talented artist, became a heated dialogue on social media about the validity of having a young black woman play a white animated character adapted from a Hans Christian Andersen fairy tale.
But the origin story of mermaids is one of diverse folklore and spirituality, that spans across the world in many different iterations, with some being of African descent.
Often depicted as a queenly mermaid, Yemaya is considered the Ocean Mother Goddess in Santería, an Afro-Caribbean religion practiced around the world. With anchored roots in the Yoruba religion, Yemaya was brought over to the New World by enslaved Africans as early as the 16th century.
As one of the eldest children of Olodumare, the Supreme Being or Creator of the Universe, Yemaya is one of the most widely worshipped of the Orishas or “demi-gods” associated with different elements or forces of nature. As an oral tradition, Yemaya’s attributes, manifestations, and origin stories can vary depending on where you are in the world (especially between Brazil, Cuba, Haiti, and the US), including the pronunciation and spelling of her name.
Yemaya is perhaps the most nurturing of all the Orishas, and it’s believed that all of life comes from her deep nourishing waters. Her strong and protective energy can be found virtually everywhere, but especially near oceans and lakes. She’s associated with the numbers seven and ten, the colors blue and white, pearls, silver, conch shells, and doves. Offerings for her include molasses, coconut cakes, white flowers, and watermelon.
For practicing witches, Yemaya has a fierce, nurturing, gentle energy often associated with the moon and sorcery. As the "Mother of All," she is said to help in matters of self-love, fertility, emotional wounds, trauma, and healing work. But if you cross her, disrespect her terrain, or hurt one of her children, she has a serious anger streak. Wielding a broad blade, she’s known to “bathe in the blood of her enemies,” or manifest in the form of a tidal wave.
The story of Yemaya was originally brought over to Cuba via the transatlantic slave trade. Since Cuba was occupied and colonized by Catholic Spaniards, the practice of Santería was illegal. Under the highly-censored, Communist rule of Fidel Castro following the Cuban Revolution, the religion continued to be outlawed, and it was only until recently that it was openly recognized and legalized in the island country.
Like many religious practices outside the dominant norm, the Orishas and their symbolism, rituals, and folklore had to be kept a secret, and eventually syncretized with those of the Roman Catholic Church. And who is the reigning Lady in Catholicism? Mother Mary, of course.
Eventually, the practitioners, priests, and priestesses of Santería slowly syncretized the Goddess of the Sea – Yemaya – with the image of Mother Mary. In iconography, both holy mother figures are shown dressed in blue and white. One seen as giving birth to the son of God and one gave birth to all living things. Although the Virgin Mary is traditionally depicted as a white woman (a misrepresentation in history, but that’s another story), Yemaya is depicted as a woman of color. Radiantly rising from the sea, her dark skin shining under the moon, Yemaya rules over her domain with grace, beauty, and maternal wisdom.
It is said that Yemaya’s spirit transcends all, but it’s easier for us to understand divine forces when we attribute human qualities to them from the Greeks to the Christians to the Hindus, virtually every world religion has done this for all iterations of modern "mermaids".
Yemaya is also often depicted as a mermaid. But symbols and iconography have a way of grounding the spiritual into something more tangible so that we can better understand it. And Yemaya exists outside narrow boxes of classification, outside of iconography. She takes all forms, yet we strive to put a face to her. It’s not her race, clothes, or even geographical limitations that define her, but rather her powerful presence.
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Did the ancient Greeks get their ideas from the Africans?
The sitcoms you watch on TV have their roots in classical Greek comedy. The algorithms that fuel the Internet infrastructure you use are based on Greek mathematics. The doctors that save lives every day first take an oath based on a treatise written by the Greek physician Hippocrates. Even the scientific method dates back to ancient Greece.
We here in the modern world owe much to the advancements of the classical Greeks, that much is clear. But have you ever wondered where the Greeks got their ideas?
From 1900 to 1100 B.C., a great civilization reigned over what is now present-day Greece. The Mycenaens created works of art, established trade with other nations and lived in great cities. And then suddenly, mysteriously, the Mycenaean culture collapsed. Greece fell into darkness.
Nomadic tribes came from the North to where a bustling, urbane civilization once stood. Trade ceased, and Greece turned inward. For 500 years Greece stood silent, in what historians now call the Greek Dark Ages. And then, almost overnight in historical terms, a new dawn broke over Greece. Homer created his epic poems the "Iliad" and the "Odyssey," emphasizing honor and virtue to his new countrymen. Trade resumed, once separate city-states united into a democratic republic. Classical Greece was born.
Where did this meteoric rise to prominence come from? Scholars attribute much of Greece's development to its internalization. For 500 years it was peacefully allowed to redevelop itself, astoundingly without any outside threats. But the loftiest of the pursuits of the Greeks would not have been possible were it not for another nearby civilization, one that was established millennia before even Mycenae was founded. The culture was called Kemet. You know it as Egypt.
The civilization that built the Sphinx, raised the pyramids and built the world's first library also produced the world's first physician, created geometry and astronomy and were among the first to explore the nature of our existence. And they passed their knowledge along to the Greeks. Modern people, in turn, have benefited greatly from this early education.
So what exactly did the Greeks learn from the Kemites? Find out on the next page.