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Burial at sea: Separating and placing the dead during the age of sail

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Abstract

Burials at sea were common during the Age of Sail (the fifteenth through nineteenth centuries). While much is known about the history and structure of the burial at sea ritual, scholars have not yet explored its function as a rite of passage. This paper examines the burial at sea service as it was practiced aboard English and American vessels during the Age of Sail. Although it would have been easy to dispose of a body at sea by simply dropping it over the side, sailors considered it their duty to conduct a formal burial service. Proper burial, it was believed, was needed to prevent the deceased mariner from becoming one of the unquiet spirits of the deep. Thus, the chief function of the burial at sea service was to separate the dead from the living and place the spirit in the afterlife so that it would not return to haunt the ship. The restless nature of the sea, however, prevented it from being turned into a permanent barrier between the living and the dead. Even after being properly buried, the ghosts of dead mariners sometimes returned to haunt their former shipmates.

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... Similar to the Chinese and Thai cultures, historically in the West, there have also been malevolent ghosts, which have also been associated with water-related death. English and American sailors in the 15th and 16th century believed that people who had died violently and/or in an accident and had not received proper burial, were not able to rest peacefully and so became restless ghosts who returned to trouble the living at sea, which is perceived as a threshold from which the dead can sometimes return (Stewart, 2005). Since the sea allows the horizontal movement of ghosts across its surface, the permeable nature of water makes the sea conducive to vertical connections between the upper-world on the surface and the underworld in the depths; thus, the sea is perceived as a threshold rather than a barrier that links the living and the dead (Stewart, 2005). ...
... English and American sailors in the 15th and 16th century believed that people who had died violently and/or in an accident and had not received proper burial, were not able to rest peacefully and so became restless ghosts who returned to trouble the living at sea, which is perceived as a threshold from which the dead can sometimes return (Stewart, 2005). Since the sea allows the horizontal movement of ghosts across its surface, the permeable nature of water makes the sea conducive to vertical connections between the upper-world on the surface and the underworld in the depths; thus, the sea is perceived as a threshold rather than a barrier that links the living and the dead (Stewart, 2005). Moreover, a ''watery grave'' does not allow for the comforting solidity offered by the earth (Stewart, 2005). ...
... Since the sea allows the horizontal movement of ghosts across its surface, the permeable nature of water makes the sea conducive to vertical connections between the upper-world on the surface and the underworld in the depths; thus, the sea is perceived as a threshold rather than a barrier that links the living and the dead (Stewart, 2005). Moreover, a ''watery grave'' does not allow for the comforting solidity offered by the earth (Stewart, 2005). ...
Article
This study aims to assess whether or not beliefs in ghosts really deter tourists from traveling to disaster-hit destinations. To many it may appear that cultural differences do play a role in travel decision making between Asian and Western tourists. However, it is vital to provide empirical evidence of the impact of cultural differences in beliefs through a case study of the tsunami-hit destinations. Thus, this study aims to examine tourist barriers associated with tsunami-hit destinations, and also to assess cultural differences regarding such beliefs between Asians tourists from China and Thailand and Western tourists from Britain, Germany, and the United States and also across demographic profile.
... The paddle-out ceremony differs from other types of ocean rituals of death focused on disposal such as those undertaken in naval and maritime ceremonies (Stewart, 2005) and those that occur as the ashes of the deceased are scattered in the ocean. The paddle-out ceremony may include the disposal of remains, an event that is labelled a 'secondary funeral' (Walter 1994, p. 183) but it is not necessarily a disposal ritual. ...
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... Perry relates that the crew of the Continental reported seeing Louie's ghost a few days after his completely proper service. 34 Indeed, the very term "sea burial" is in a sense inappropriate -for how can a body be "buried" beneath a surface that is the very definition of fluidity? ...
Article
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Thesis
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Maritime mortality rates were declining on passenger ships in the nineteenth century, but witnessing a death and funeral during an ocean voyage nevertheless remained a common enough experience. The article explores reactions to ocean funerals on nineteenth-century British and Irish emigrant ships and also more broadly. While shock and distress inevitably figured large, other responses, including acceptance, enthusiasm and even degrees of voyeurism, were not unusual. Moreover, in common with Victorian audiences more generally, at least some emigrants had an appetite for the sensation and spectacle of the ceremony. Broader cultural interest in the ocean funeral meant that it featured in a wide range of forms including popular journalism, narrative accounts of journeys and didactic literature. Emigrants consequently did not embark as blank slates but carried with them a well-established and familiar repertoire of ideas and images about the ocean funeral. Religious beliefs about the resurrection of the soul were likewise a source of consolation. Others found comfort by depicting the ocean as a spiritual site – likening the sea to heaven, for instance – or in the belief that an ocean burial was more natural, simple and therefore meaningful than a funeral on land. The growing significance of the sea in Victorian culture also played an important role in helping contemporaries make sense of, and come to terms with, an ocean funeral. Religious ideas about life as a spiritual journey enabled many Victorian men and women to look to the ocean as a way of thinking through bigger questions about life and death.
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