What is a Funeral Pyre?

What to know about open air cremation 

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Alyssa Ruderman

There are many unique ways of honoring an individual who has passed and supporting their friends and family. For many, a funeral service is a somber event that takes place in a funeral home or house of worship. But alternatives to traditional methods of burial are becoming more common all over the world. Celebrations of life, for example, are memorial services with a joyful, hopeful tone that focus on the positivity the person put into the world rather than their loss. 

Burials can be expensive, and many are looking for more ecological alternatives to the traditional ways. Cremation has been around for a long time and is very common in certain religions already. However, today it is being embraced by many more as an alternative that allows for personalized send-offs and a reduced impact on the earth as compared to burial. 

But you have more than a single option when it comes to cremation. If you’re interested in honoring your loved one in a unique ceremony, consider services like open air cremation, which is beginning to gain traction in the United States for many reasons. 

At Lantern, we understand that memorial services should best represent the person being honored and should be an opportunity for loved ones to come together in memory. An open air cremation might be the right way to wish your friend or family member a fond farewell on the next stage of their journey. 

What Is an Open Air Cremation? 

The cremation process is a method of disposition in which the body of the deceased is burned rather than buried. This allows the family members a chance to scatter the ashes in personal places or keep the remains of a loved one close to home. 

Cremation has become significantly more common in recent years because it is less expensive than the traditional burial process, but also because it provides loved ones with a sense of peace about loss. Burial can give a feeling of finality less often associated with cremation, which can feel more natural and comforting. 

Cremation is often done through a funeral home, but new avenues and methods for cremation are becoming available, including open air cremation. While it’s not as common in places like the modern-day United States (although it is becoming more popular), ancient civilizations have a long history of creating funeral pyres and cremating their deceased outdoors. 

You will also find examples of open air cremation in many religions and cultures from around the world. Currently, most existing programs for open air cremation are non-denominational, but the method bears significance for many individuals and communities from the past and in the modern day. 

What Is A Funeral Pyre?

The funeral pyre has long been a part of the memorial and disposition method. Modern technology and health and safety regulations have reduced the need for a funeral pyre. Still, it is a well-known piece of human history that plays an important role in how many cultures and civilizations have honored their deceased. 

The term “pyre” is an anglicized version of the ancient Greek word for “fire.” A funeral pyre relies on flammable construction materials, usually wood, upon which a body was placed as the final step of the funeral rite. 

Cultures around the world have used their own materials to honor their deceased such as fruit woods and pinecones. Pyres have also been used at temples and places of religious worship to honor deities. Today, they are part of popular culture and modern rituals, such as Guy Fawkes Night in the United Kingdom. 

Modern funeral pyres are rare in the Western world, though the tradition is still quite common in places like Southern Asia. While there are many complications associated with funeral pyres and open air cremation, it can be a natural way to honor those who have passed and find peace in their memory while also providing a historical connection. In the United States, there is one legal location for conducting an open air cremation on a funeral pyre. 

Why Have an Open Air Cremation? 

While it is still extremely rare to conduct open air cremations in the western world, the approval of the Crestone End of Life Project in Colorado indicates a movement toward unique and personalized methods of disposition and memorial for the future. Here are a few benefits to holding an open air cremation, if provided with the opportunity. 

It is Less Expensive Than Burial. Cremation is significantly less costly than the traditional burial process, which is one of the main reasons why it has gained so much prominence in recent years. Open air cremation is not necessarily less expensive than traditional cremation. However, it is another opportunity to follow through on the end of life process in a personalized and affirming way at a lower cost. 

It Is More Eco-Friendly Than Burial. Ecological methods for dispositions are becoming more commonplace. This allows for more opportunity when it comes to providing environmentally-friendly memorials for your loved ones. While cremation remains an imperfect method of disposition, it has a significantly reduced impact on the environment compared to methods like burial. 

It Brings the Community Together. Funeral pyres and open air cremation have been used to celebrate heroes and honor beloved citizens. They are not only a chance to say farewell to a loved one, but they provide an opportunity for community members to come together in support, solidarity, and remembrance. 

Open air cremation can bring with it a sense of peace, hope, and opportunity. That allows for friends and loved ones to share poems, songs, and stories. The remembrance will be as much a celebration of life as a farewell to a loved one. 

What to Know About Open Air Cremation

Open air cremation is still evolving in the modern day. While it has remained an important tradition in places around the world, there are few opportunities for those in America and Europe to legally practice open air cremation. Here are some things to consider about the practice. 

There is Only One Place in America to Practice It. The Crestone End of Life Project is the only place in the United States that is legally allowed to practice open air cremation right now. They serve their community with non-denominational open air cremations and do not currently accept requests from those outside the area. They are a non-profit organization, and the memorials are performed by trained volunteers. 

It Is Not the Most Eco-Friendly. While it is true that cremation is more eco-friendly than disposition methods like burials, there are other disposition methods that have an even smaller impact on the environment. Researchers are still working to understand and manage the environmental impact of cremation and open-air cremation, so the effects are not yet fully known. 

Alternatives to Open Air Cremation

Since open air cremation is not available for everyone, you may want to consider searching for similar alternatives. Here are just a few. 

Traditional Cremation: Traditional cremation allows for a reduced environmental impact and personalized methods of disposition and memorial. 

Natural Burials: One of the main environmental concerns over traditional burials is chemical waste, which can leach into the soil and cause damage over time. A natural burial places a person in a biodegradable shroud and coffin and allows them to return to the earth with peace, ease, and little physical impact on the soil. 

Eternal Reefs: Cremated remains can be used to help endangered coral rebuild and survive threats. It allows a person’s memory to protect nature for the future. 

Cremation Trees: Similar to the reefs, cremation trees rely on a mixture of cremated remains and innovative scientific solutions to turn death into life. The cremated remains will be added to the root of a tree, which will then grow where planted as a symbol of the person you love. 

Celebration of Life: Open air cremation ceremonies can be celebratory and hopeful. They allow friends and loved ones to share stories, sing songs, and wish farewell to their loved ones together. Even without an open air cremation ceremony, you can still plan a celebration of life that brings a community closer and remembers a friend or loved one with hope and positivity. 

In Summary

The open air cremation method is a historical and beloved tradition still being practiced around the world today. While it can be difficult to perform legally in many places, modern use is gaining traction and opening avenues for new methods of disposition and celebrations of life. 

The Crestone End of Life Project is the only option located in the United States that currently has the legal right to practice open air cremation on a limited scale. But if you are interested in a more natural and celebratory method for disposition, open air cremation is not the only option. Natural burial programs, more traditional forms of cremations, and the cycling of death into new life are all methods for reducing our environmental impact and giving back to the earth. 

Open air cremations also have a celebratory element. If sharing stories, dance, and hopeful messages fits the style of memorial service that interests you, consider hosting a celebration of life ceremony to honor your loved one.

Categories: Managing a Death, Funeral Planning

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