by Quentin Long
©2007 Quentin Long
Okay, I admit it; the title of this essay reads like the punchline of a morbid joke. But its also a reference to a serious issueperhaps the most serious of all: What do you do with a dead body?
In developed countries such as the United States, most corpses get crated up in a fancy box, put in a hole, and covered over with dirt; another common protocol is burning it and doing something with the ashes (i.e., store the ashes in an urn, scatter them over a large body of water, bury them in a teensy little hole, etc). Of course, weve got plenty of other options, internment-wise. For instance, many people are okay with having small bits of their mortal remains cut away to be installed in someone elses body. There are cases on record of peoples ashes being mixed into ink and used to print books and not long ago, someone tried to have their fathers body subjected to intense heat and pressure that would convert it into a diamond.
And lets not forget the rest of the world! Outside of so-called contemporary Western civilization, cadavers have ended up rotting in the open air until theyre devoured by scavengers; playing guest of honor at a bonfire; being preserved in small, disjointed pieces; and any number of other post mortem fates. All in all, if you look over the total range of strategies we humans have devised for dealing with the vitality-challenged, there might just be 1,001 uses for a dead human.
Why are there so many different strategies for disposing of dead bodies? Well, part of the reason is brute necessity. Consider: If you live in a place thats excessively rocky, or which happens to be frozen solid 95% of the time, just how many bodies do you think youll ever bury in dirt? But in addition to practical issues of that sort, burial customs are also influenced by religion in a big wayand vice versa,too.
What does all this have to do with furries? Well, for one thing, we can be confident that any sentient species, anthropomorphic or not, is going to have some sort of technique(s) for dealing with deceased members of their kind. Corpses are nigh-ideal breeding grounds for nasty pathogenic organisms, after all. Further, its not at all unlikely that the species burial customs will be influenced by their innate biological quirks. If you disagree, ask yourself this question: Would a carnivorous species have exactly the same attitude towards cannibalism (= devouring members of their own species, in this context) as a herbivorous species does?
Speaking of cannibalism, even us omnivore humans have been known to engage in the practice at times. Can anyone think that sentient carnivores wouldnt eat each other at least as often as we humans do? A major rationale for human cannibalism is that by actually eating a person, you supposedly acquire (some of) their strengths; its a darned good bet that carnivorous sentients would hit on exactly that idea, too
But I digress.
Its a truism of human archæology that you can learn a lot about a culture from how it deals with its dead. This being the case, it only makes sense for anyone whos working up a furry culture to think about how their furs are going to deal with their dead. Here are a few general observations, based on various possible feeding patterns:
Since we humans are omnivores, I think it's not unreasonable to assume that any sentient omnivore is going to have more-or-less the same range and variety of death-related customs as we do , at least to a first approximation.
Herbivores should take to burial naturally, particularly once they get a clue about agriculture and fertilizer. If you bury a body, that helps you produce more food, which is good for the herd/tribeand it also makes life a bit harder for any predators (sentient or otherwise) that would otherwise chow down on the dear departed, which is also good for the herd/tribe, if in a somewhat different manner. And herbivores should also find cremation to be congenial, for similar reasons. Cannibalism would be virtually unheard-of, and the vanishingly small number of herbivores who do it would be universally regarded as insane.
Carnivores are likely to have a very matter-of-fact attitude towards death, since they need to kill stuff all the time. Burial practices will tend towards the simple and unadorned; coffins and tombs will be uncommon to begin with, and those that do exist are probably going to be rather simple. It's possible, perhaps even likely, that sentient carnivores might expect their bodies to be eaten by their peers
Oh, and dont forget about those practical factorsis the ground permafrost or diggably soft, etcand the religion thing! No matter whether a culture is devout, atheistic, or somewhere in between, its prevailing belief strictures will affect its burial practices, in ways large and small.