Death and the Regeneration of Life

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Death and the Regeneration of Life

Death and the Regeneration of Life written by Maurice Bloch and Jonathan Parry focuses on the significance of symbols of fertility and rebirth in funeral rituals. Their book includes many theories that anthropologist have studied with the idea of life and death. The idea of death and the regeneration of life changes with each culture and tradition. Everyone has his or her own opinion of how it shall work. With the help of many contributors to the book, one is able to read the different types of ways some cultures value their own rituals. The notions of fertility and sexuality often have a considerable prominence in funeral practices. These practices have excited the attention of anthropologists for almost one hundred years. It all began with Swiss anthropologist Bachofen in 1859. Bachofen was one of the first anthropologists to focus any attention on mortuary symbolism. In 1859, he published his first book Versuch uber Grabsymbolik der Alten, meaning "An essay on ancient mortuary symbolism" (1). He focused most of his study with the Greek and Roman symbolism, particularly as manifested in the Dionysian and Orphic mystery cults. He started by studying the significance of eggs as symbols of fertility and femininity in Roman tombs and in funerary games. Each of the eggs was painted half-black and half-white, representing the passage of night and day and the re-birth of life after death (1). After Bachofen's study he believed that, "The funeral rite glorifies nature as a whole, with its twofold life and death giving principle…That is why the symbols of life are so frequent in the tomb." (1). After Bachofen's studies, many other writers and anthropologists began to study his themes and other themes related to the topic. For example, J. Frazer took Bachofen's ideas and looked more at the materials of ancient mystery cults. His question was, "How could killing be a rite of fertility and renewal, and in particular how does the killing of a divine king help regenerate the fertility of the community?" With questions similar to Frazer's, other anthropologists have questioned themselves all the time. Many could not understand the theme of life and death. For many years, anthropologists would take works from others and try to combine them to make them more understandable. With all the different essays written throughout of the years, one is now able to compare the differences between death related practices in different societies. In all the essays written over the years, one must understand how they use the term 'fertility.' Never do the anthropologists use the term in any restricted or technical way, but more in the dictionary sense of productiveness. If death is often associated with a renewal of fertility, which is renewed may either be the productivity of people, or of animals and crops, or of all three. In most cases what would seem to be revitalized in funeral practices, helps show what is truly culturally conceived to be the most essential to the reproduction of the social order (7). Needless to say, not all societies look at fertility of death essential to the social order. A study done by Woodburn focuses on four hunter-gatherer societies. He displayed that these societies had none or little concern with the ensuring of the continuity of the human group itself, or the replacement of social personnel (7). The groups are more emphasized on the ability to save nature, which is the ability that is put into jeopardy at birth. These societies were constantly dealing with death due to the nature of hunting wild game. For them death was a way of life. To kill animals was the main focus for men. It was the prize of the animal that they strived for. The death of a man was accepted just as long as food was still available. For example, in the Laymi ideology they believe that land is more important than families. Land should be looked at as paramount, and large...
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