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Thread: Burial vs Cremation

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Floyd asked me to post the following question as he wasn't sure which section it should be raised in.

Floyd's question
Well, I had a question about deaths in ME. What happens to the bodies of those who die in ME? Are they buried, cremated or do the bodies just disappear or something?

In answer to this question, I think it depends a lot on the dead person's race, culture and circumstance. There are several examples given in both LotR and the Silmarillion which tell us more about this subject.

The Numenorian's for instance reveared their dead, placing the bodies in elaborate stone tombs. This tradition is seen on Numenor, and later at the Barrow Downs where Dunedain kings and Lords were entombed prior to their bodies later being corrupted by evil spirits from Angmar. The tradition appears to have continued in Gondor, too, where the kings, stewards and other lords are entombed in the Hallows.

Dwarves also entomb their dead in stone, believing they were made from stone by Aule and so should return to stone on death. After the battle of Azanulbizar, however, the dwarven losses were too great for them all to be lain in stone. The dead from this battle were cremated on a huge pyre, therefore, to prevent them being eaten by animals.

After Prince Eomund is killed we learn from Theoden that his fore-fathers were all buried in burial mounds, upon which white flowers grow. I'm unsure whether this tradition stetches to the commoners but I have no reason to believe otherwise. Often, however, during times of war or pestilence, when there are too many bodies to bury or entomb, it is often the practice to burn the bodies.

Burning the bodies of fallen enemy members seems to be common practice too. Eomer burned the Uruk hai his band defeated near Fangorn. The dead from the Battle of the Last Allience seem to have been buried, however, for it is those graves which were later flooded and became haunted in the Dead Marshes. As Frodo appeared to see ghostly forms of both Men and Elves, I assume both races were buried there.

Until I look further, I'm unsure about Elven customs. Feanor famously burned away on death, his spirit too strong for his body to contain. This, however, is likely to be an exception to the rule. After dying having given birth to Feanor, Miriel was lain in the gardens of Lorien. There she remained showing no signs of decomposition. Again, that seems to be an exception, and was most likely due to having died in the Undying Lands.
From LACE: Morgoth's Ring:

Save in rare and strange cases: that is, where the body that the fea had forsaken was whole, and remained still coherent and incorrupt. But this could seldom happen; for death unwilling could occur only when great violence was done to the body; and in death by will, such as at times befell because of utter weariness or great grief, the fea would not desire to return, until the body, deserted by the spirit, was dissolved. This happened swiftly in Middle-earth. In Aman only was there no decay.

Quotes from the Silmarillion:

And Morgoth took the body of the Elven-king and broke it, and would cast it to his wolves; but Thorondor came hasting from his eyrie among the peaks of the Crissaegrim, and he stooped upon Morgoth and marred his face. The rushing of the wings of Thorondor was like the noise of the winds of Manw’, and he seized the body in his mighty talons, and soaring suddenly above the darts of the Orcs he bore the King away. And he laid him upon a mountain-top that looked from the north upon the hidden valley of Gondolin; and Turgon coming built a high cairn over his father. No Orc dared ever after to pass over the mount of Fingolfin or draw nigh his tomb, until the doom of Gondolin was come and treachery was born among his kin. Morgoth went ever halt of one foot after that day, and the pain of his wounds could not be healed; and in his face was the scar that Thorondor made.

They buried the body of Felagund upon the hill-top of his own isle, and it was clean again; and the green grave of Finrod Finarfin's son, fairest of all the princes of the Elves, remained inviolate, until the land was changed and broken, and foundered under destroying seas. But Finrod walks with Finarfin his father beneath the trees in Eldamar.

Then Gwindor roused T’rin to aid him in the burial of Beleg, and he rose as one that walked in sleep; and together they laid Beleg in a shallow grave, and placed beside him Belthronding his great bow, that was made of black yew-wood. But the dread sword Anglachel Gwindor took, saying that it were better that it should take vengeance on the servants of Morgoth than lie useless in the earth; and he took also the lembas of Melian to strengthen them in the wild.

Then Thorondor bore up Glorfindel's body out of the abyss, and they buried him in a mound of stones beside the pass; and a green turf came there, and yellow flowers bloomed upon it amid the barrenness of stone, until the world was changed.

What they did in Gondolin:

And they made a feast in memory of Gondolin and of the Elves that had perished there, the maidens, and the wives, and the warriors of the King; and for Glorfindel the beloved many were the songs they sang, under the willows of Nan-tathren in the waning of the year.

I remember something of Finduilas (Orodreth's daughter) in the Silmarillion. After she got slain during the sack of Nargothrond), she got buried in the Haudh-en-Elleth (the Mound of the Elf-maid; the grave of Finduilas of Nargothrond that stood near the Crossings of Teiglin on the western borders of the Forest of Brethil). For some reason, Tolkien doesn't talk about burial rites that much, except for the unhealthy fascination the Numenoreans had for it.

I am sorry that I didn't include the page nr's and such (getting a bit too tired right now). But Tolkien did write or mentioned elven burials in his works.

Btw, this is a great article as well:
Death and funerary practices in Middle-earth
Denethor says in chapter "The siege of Gondor" (ROTK) :

'Why? Why do the fools fly?' said Denethor. 'Better to burn sooner than late, for burn we must. Go back to your bonfire! And I? I will go now to my pyre. To my pyre! No tomb for Denethor and Faramir. No tomb! No long slow sleep of death embalmed. We will burn like heathen kings before ever a ship sailed hither from the West. The West has failed. Go back and burn!'

So it seems that only 'heathen' Men (Men of Darkness = Dunlendings, Easterlings, etc) cremated their dead.

The descendants of the Houses of Beor, Haleth and Hador apparently all buried their dead, as Valedhelgwath has proven with various quotes from the Silmarillion.

As for Orcs, well i believe they didn't give their dead much respect. In such a violently aggressive society, no Orc would ever grow to a high age and die peacefully in bed, so I believe it could well be that they ate their dead, perhaps because they believed they could get hold of their dead's knowledge and power this way.

Floyd asked me to post the following question as he wasn't sure which section it should be raised in.

Actually it was raised by Terrijayne. She was too shy to post it herself though. Anyways, interesting posts you three.