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is a scattering ceremony part of a funeral

Is a Scattering Ashes Ceremony part of a Funeral?

Is a Scattering Ashes Ceremony part of a Funeral? This might seem like a glib question, but it is not. The question has had a light shone on it by Covid and the rule of six (the number of people who can meet together). The rule of six does not apply to people attending a funeral. So is a Scattering Ceremony part of the funeral?

At the point of writing (06/10/20) there is no official guidance on the number of people that can attend a scattering ceremony.  There is question around the definition of funeral, and thus whether the rule applies.

So here are a few definitions that I have found:

  • Cambridge – a (usually religious) ceremony for burying or burning the body of a dead person
  • Dictionary.Com – the ceremonies for a dead person prior to burial or cremation
  • Collins  – A funeral is the ceremony that is held when the body of someone who has died is buried or cremated.
  • Oxford Learners Dictionary – a ceremony, often a religious one, for burying or cremating a dead person
  • Google Definition – A funeral is a ceremony or service held shortly after a person’s death, usually including the person’s burial or cremation.

What this tells us is there is no one definition, there are different slants and emphasis on different elements.

Things we are certain about – it is a ceremony and it is conducted after someone’s death. That seems to be about it.

Things we are less sure about:

  • Whether it is religious or has to be religious?
  • Is it about the body or the corpse, are they synonymous?
  • What the ceremony involves?
  • For the most cremation seems to be the end point, but the body (legally) still exists – ashes as a whole are treated as a body.

The Google definition is wider, perhaps because they see wider cultural norms. This is also reflected in Wikipedia’s article on funerals where it looks at the various ancient cultural practises from being placed on the top of a mountain for the eagles to consume to being mummified: these are all funeral rites.

The problem here is funerals have been seen through the prism of centuries of cultural practise, the nation’s dominant cultural tradition.  In the case of the UK this is Christianity and even more than that we seem to have a specifically cultural cornerstone and that is the Victorian.

Sadly, this leaves us with more questions than answers. Let’s look at the spectrum: The burial of the ashes in a family plot at a churchyard following a direct cremation (umm yes I would think that is certainly a funeral) to putting ‘Uncle George’s ashes’ around the rose bush after we found his ashes in the wardrobe (umm possibly no).

So, maybe it is not the act itself that defines a funeral. Maybe the second example did not count as there was no ceremony (something that is consistent with all the definitions). Is it defined by the intension of those carrying out the act and whether they consider it part of a funeral.

To me it is clear that an ashes ceremony in the Hindu tradition is very much part of the funeral. However you can’t say just because someone has faith this aspect of their memorialisation is more valid, you could for example have a secular Hindu family carrying out the funeral rites for a parent who was religious. It is still a funeral?

So in conclusion, is a scattering ashes ceremony part of a funeral? Err Sometimes… Gosh, what a rubbish answer, I am sorry I not a philosopher, historian, theologian, lawyer or logophile.

Perhaps it should be for the individual to decide, crazy I know but personal choice and responsibility are fundamental.

4 thoughts on “Is a Scattering Ashes Ceremony part of a Funeral?

  1. Reply
    Phil - 24th October 2020

    For any linked religious, belief-based, ceremonial or social events that may take place before or following the funeral, such as wakes, ash scattering and stone setting, the maximum limit is 15 people in a COVID-19 secure venue, where the organiser has carried out a risk assessment and taken all reasonable measures to limit the risk of transmission of the virus. This limit applies to areas at all COVID-19 alert levels. If the event is taking place in a private dwelling, including private gardens, attendance is limited to 6 people unless only members of one household or support bubble attend. This may be different where additional local restrictions are in place.

    Events associated with the funeral, where food or drink is served, should take place in a COVID-19 secure venue in the form of a sit-down event with table service to support social distancing.

    If you have been advised to self-isolate by NHS Test and Trace you must not break your isolation to attend any linked religious, belief-based or ceremonial events. This would be a legal offence and you may be fined.

    You should continue to follow the social distancing and hygiene advice given for funeral attendance.

    From the UK government website on 24th Oct 2020. Sorry I can’t copy and paste link but you should be able to copy some of this text and enter it in the google search bar to get there.

    1. Reply
      Richard Martin - 2nd November 2020

      Thanks Phil!

  2. Reply
    Tony Kelly - 12th October 2020

    My understanding of the scattering of ashes wherever they may be scattered, is as important to those attending and performing the “ceremony”, as a religious Service/Ceremony done in a Church / Chapel/Mosque/ etc. My reasoning is this – the person may not be religious (atheist /agnostic) but revered by those who mourn his passing and therefore I feel he has the same “rights” as a person who is given the normal honours or consideration of a burial/cremation on hallowed ground.
    There is still mourning, there is still persons wanting to honour the life of the deceased, so why shouldn’t those ashes be treated the same way as mainstream religious ceremonies.?

    1. Reply
      Richard Martin - 13th October 2020

      Thanks Tom. Your input is appreciated and valued.

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