Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Carpe Blogiem: The Bonecarvers of Sicatra - Part II

First Day we stay under the sky,
Second Day we sit in the sun,
Third Day in the darkness we lie,
Fourth Day we lay among the wind all alone,
Fifth Day the earthen clay covers us dry,
Sixth Day the fire turns earth to stone,
Seventh Day the stone under waters lie,
Eight Day from a tree the body is flown,
Ninth Day does the knife cut for our bodies to be shown,
Tenth Day the bonecarver takes us to the road we must walk all on our own.
–The Bonecarver’s Rhyme

Modern Funerary Practices
After the Scattering of the Winds, the tribeless skraelingar would go on to settle the four corners of the world. This is why the funerary rites of nearly all human cultures are essentially the same.

After a person dies, there is a mourning period of nine days where the body is placed on a travunical or a mirrored table. The first day, the body is exposed to the open sky and rubbed with myrrh and juniper oil. The second day it is left out in the light of the sun (or moon if that is impossible as is the case in some far northern territories). The third day, the body is shrouded with a black cloth. The fourth day, it is again taken outside or exposed to the wind. The fifth day the body is covered with clay and left to harden. The sixth day, a huge fire is lit just underneath the mirrored table, though not high or close enough to actually burn the body. The seventh day, the body is submerged in a tub of fresh water. The eighth day, the bound is lashed to the bough of a tree (often an ash or yew) at sunrise and remains there until the next day. On the ninth day, the now clay-covered body is left to dry.

It is on the ninth day that the bonecarver holds the actual funeral. He recites the deeds of the deceased (traditionally, it was in poetic verse, but not all bonecarvers have such talents) to the friends, family, and children gathered and then carefully cuts the clay-shrouded body with a ritual knife called a dogpa. In doing so he symbolically releases the soul of the deceased into whatever afterlife it is bound for.

Afterward, it takes another day to remove the bones from the flesh. The method varies from place to place, but most bonecarvers prefer to burn or boil it off, though the traditional method is to remove it with a knife. The bones are then dried in a tub of grains of rice, myrrh, cardamom, saffron, and sage. This drying “mixture” is often discarded, but some cultures (notably, the Mongarians) grind it up to create a pale yellow flour to make “Deadman’s Bread,” which is usually served throughout the day the bones are interred (see below).

Once dry the bonecarver’s true work begins as he carves the deeds of the dead onto the bones. This can take anywhere from a day to a month – it all depends on the deceased and the bonecarver’s skill. The most practiced can slice even the longest of litanies into bone.

Once the bones have been properly cared for the interment ceremony begins. This usually involves a priest of the deceased faith or patron god – though if he had none, the bonecarver performs the ceremony. For the common or poor folks, the final resting place is a shared ossuary. For the rich or powerful, the private tombs can be as splendid as the houses of the living where the descendants can pay proper respect to their dead.

This entire process can take upward to 81 days, but if they are not laid to rest before then the dead can return to trouble the living. Most of the other nonhuman races follow the same practices, but the tenth day ceremony is different. For example, the kavalfar (commonly referred to as “elves”) inter their dead within the roots of the great ashgara trees and carve the deeds upon its branches and bark. The dvergar (commonly referred to as “dwarves”), on the other hand, ritual coated the bones of their dead with metal after carving their deeds upon them before burying them in elaborate tombs.

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