by Raju Peddada
"God commanded that the idols of Pagan Gods be destroyed with fire."
(Swans - November 19, 2012) Why would I needle such a morbid subject? On a Friday, several moons ago, I had a few errands that took me past five huge cemeteries within seven miles. This burned my contemplation as to how, if we continue burying our dead, can we possibly bury billions in India, and China, and in congested Europe in the ensuing years? And, as I passed these huge cemeteries I hardly saw a handful of people in all of them combined.
I must have seen at least thirty cemeteries on a four-hour drive from Casablanca to Meknes in Morocco -- nothing remotely as spacious and clean as the ones in Chicago. In fact, after our arrival in Meknes, our first destination was to their cemetery, where my father-in-law was buried only the day before. We walked to the cemetery at the edge of town, and a few hundred meters from the place, I saw this flock of circling vultures and crows. Then, as we turned the corner, an invisible blast of putridity hit us. The word shock is utterly limited in scope to describe what I saw. The graves, strewn around with paper and plastic bags, were nothing but mounds of compacted raw earth, so close to each other that they were almost overlapping. Muslims bury their dead near the surface, wrapped in white cloth. As a consequence, we saw snarling stray dogs, cats, coyotes, and flitting vultures and beggars. The plots got recycled, after the bones were dumped within a generation; that is, if the animals don't get to them before. In New Delhi, India, it was no different, except for the huge decorated tombs the genocidal rulers built for themselves, such as Qutb-udin-Aibek, Illtumish, Tughlaq, Safdar Jung, Humayun, and others.
You see, after the immediate survivors are gone, nobody visits the dead, especially the generations that follow. Visiting the dead is a function of memory, and memories fade with time. This leaves us with a huge problem -- hundreds of hectares of land, right smack in the middle of the cities, where the dead remain, leaving standing room only for the living. And, I hate nothing more than a funeral procession that gets priority over the traffic of the living. Are you telling me that in order to get any respect in society we all have to be dead? It's a sad commentary. Aren't we taking our supply of land for granted too? What is the solution?
Before we go anywhere, let's look at the theological morphology of burial. Fire, in the Abrahamic theology, had been relegated to hell for over two thousand years -- as a result, they buried their dead. The Neanderthals buried their dead too. Let's indulge in some coarse epistemological disquisition: we are conceived in fiery passion, nurtured in a 100-degree womb; we live upon earth -- its core is all fire -- so, why not be dissolved into the earth under fire? Fire gives us life, and if not for the white heat of the sun, we wouldn't exist. So, why is fire associated with hell? Is it because deserts are dry, fiery places? Or is it because it is the central ordaining power for the Hindus and most Eastern polytheists? There is more to this: the Abrahamic theology wanted to reduce the powerand impact of the ultimate secular-polytheistic symbol, the sun, which was futile, so they "borrowed" it to systematically reduce the secular and the universal meaning of the sun and its worship.
The sun is the biggest polytheistic (pagan is a pejorative reference, especially by the Catholics from the 3rd century AD, just like the label infidel by the Muslims since 700AD) symbol, with an indispensable presence in our lives. The halo over the head is actually ancient sun worship appropriated by the desert theology to express greatness of its "saints," or for that matter "messiahs." The cross dates back to the ancient Babylonian worship of the sun gods Mithras/Tammuz. Also, the cross was adopted in the 4th century AD by Constantine, after his "vision" of a cross in front of a rising sun before the battle. The crown of thorns is actually allegorical reference to the rays of the sun. The Celtic cross, which originally was a sun-wheel based in astronomy, began appearing in the 5th century. The Christian cross is derived directly from the cross of the zodiac, a polytheistic symbol in astronomy that explicated sun's movements.
Sirius is a big star in the eastern sky, which starts to align with the three stars of the Orion constellation (Biblical claim of the three wise men). They become aligned from 22nd of December through the 24th, which they refer to as "the death of the sun." During these three days the sun is at the lowest point in the sky, and resides in the Crux Constellation, seen as the Southern Cross in the sky in its formation of the stars. On December 25th, the sun moves up one degree north, signifying rebirth, springing forth warmth and life. Thus, it was said and claimed that the "son of god (actually sun) died on the cross (stars of the Crux constellation) for three days... and got resurrected (sun moving up) on the fourth day, the 25th of December." Does this ring a big cow bell? The whole movement of the sun, through its twelve constellations (again Biblical appropriation as 12 disciples-apostles) is the original polytheistic adaptation of the cross of the Zodiac, an astronomical device that had become the armature on which all of Western theology had built their case. Here is the basic and common framework for all the major religions, starting with the Egyptian god, Horus, 3000 BC:
• Born on December 25th. (Sun rises one degree after three lowest days in the winter skies)
• Star in the east proclaimed the birth. (Star Sirius - for Krishna, Christ)
• Adored and visited by three kings or wise men (The three stars of Orion)
• Became a teacher at twelve. (Sun and its 12 constellations)
• Baptized or ordained as a young adult
• Performed miracles (every faith and mythology have their own walker on water)
• Known as the light, anointed son of -god, the Shepard. (All founders/messiahs are shepherds)
• Was betrayed by Typhon (for Horus; Jesus by Judas)
• Was crucified and buried for three days (Dec. 22nd-24th)
• Resurrected (Dec. 25th, every religion has claimed this for their god -- an ancient ubiquity)
These salient and irrefutable features are based entirely on the sun's movements, and have been deployed by all the religions: Greek god, Attis, 1200 BC; Mithras-Tammuz, Persia, 1200 BC; Krishna from India, 900 BC; again Greek, Dionysus from 500 BC; and Christ.
The only way the Western and Eastern polytheistic secularism could be destroyed and relegated to oblivion was to subject it to reductionist tautology, to steal and imitate it, or to demonize and ostracize it by relentlessly proselytizing against it, making it a heresy, thereby casting it as a crime, and reducing its impact on people over a long period of time. The celebration of nature was reduced to a holiday for Christ, as the Christmas tree; Sunday, the day of the sun, was appropriated as the Abrahamic god's resting day. Originality?! In this way, the monotheistic faiths slowly, with systematic reduction, organized intolerance and discrimination, displaced the sun's cultural preponderance, and transforming its life-giving fire to the fires of hell. This was also observed by Giordano Bruno in his writings; Bruno was burned at the stake for highlighting the hypocrisy in Biblical hyperbole. Nicholas Copernicus, Galileo Galelei, and other noted thinkers were ostracized and persecuted for speaking the truth and for their profound astronomical discoveries. The ecclesiastical authorities thwarted universal truths, keeping most of the Western humanity in darkness on celestial facts for almost a millennia.
This is how the ritual of burial supplanted cremation, simply in opposition to the humanistic-pluralistic and pragmatic practices of the Greeks and Romans. The ritual of viewing and burial is a necromantic racket that has violated not only the dignity of the survivors, but the sanctity of the dead. The funeral business, especially geared to burials, is arcane, where the long arms of the dogma and superstitions fleece the survivors and the dead on the coattails of guilt. Aah, guilt -- that "wonderful concept" that monotheistic faiths had hijacked and built it into a multi-billion-dollar business. The whole concept of life after death, present in every religion, is the antithesis to reason, common sense, and intellectual deliberation, especially in the 21st century. Vicarious redemption is swallowed by billions around the earth. An entire industry based on "original sins," guilt, and life after death! If we are an intelligent species, how can we be so naive and delusional? This leads me to a conviction that a majority of us is utterly insecure, governed by our fear, with a craving to be enslaved under perpetual surveillance by an omniscient authority. Is this why we buy the pill of "salvation" sold by these vacuous faiths? It has been the biggest racket on earth for almost three millennia.
Death has been sold by every religion as the gateway to another life. And I cannot fathom that in the age of science and awesome human inventions that many can be so superstitious as to buy this bromide. I cringe when I hear "resurrection" in a religious context. You can resurrect a career, a business, your face, boobs, your penis, and even your vagina, but life?! The only life the dead have is in the hearts and minds of the survivors, admirers, or haters for that matter -- don't we remember Hitler?
Burials are a form of narcissism beyond the grave, clamoring for the life after, beginning with the ancients, who planned huge tombs for themselves while living, and had them built on the backs of the slaves. The ancient mausoleums look great for their structural and aesthetic values, but once you start looking beyond their metrics, you have to wonder about the sanity of it. The "grand" tombs over the dead were the extreme measure and display of narcissism. George Washington knew this all too well. Ironically, the Pyramids, the Taj Mahal, and many ancient and ornate tombs were facilitated and manufactured by sadistic religious intolerance, ignorance, and xenophobia.
From the dawn of our civilizations, graves have been the scenes of crime. Graves are dug and robbed for their contents. Grave robbing is an ancient profession. The best example is Egypt's Valley of the Kings, where tomb robbers, especially Muslims, from the 7th century onwards, have desecrated every burial they could find and sold their contents to the highest bidders. Christian grave robbings have filled western museums for decades. Interestingly, this "profession," it seems, is the expertise and sole domain of the Abrahamic acolytes, and it is prevalent even today. The only benefit of these burials was that they provided clues of ancient life to the contemporary archaeologists and anthropologists.
In the summer of 2009, three gravediggers and a cemetery manager in Alsip, Illinois, 12 miles south of Chicago, were exposed in an elaborate money-grubbing racket that grabbed national headlines and upset the area's black community to the core. The Burr Oak Cemetery, where lynching victim Emmett Till, legendary blues singers Dinah Washington and Willie Dixon, and thousands of others were buried, is one of the Chicagoland's most storied black cemeteries. But its legacy was forever tainted with the discovery that four cemetery workers had unearthed more than 200 graves from the front of the cemetery, including Till's, dumped them in unmarked, mass graves, and resold the original plots to new families. The shock from the scandal lingers on for many families impacted by the news that their loved ones' final resting places had been desecrated and dissolved.
This scandal was the subject of a documentary film by Naomi Kothbauer titled Beyond the Divide: The Burr Oak Cemetery Story. There are many stories like this across the world, from Albania and Bosnia to Iraq and Rwanda, that are basically inter-faith desecration, and, to thwart such horrifying violations, the authorities -- an association of governments -- must mandate cremation as the authorized medium for disposing the remains, with two objectives: practical use of land for the exploding populations, and to issue an affordable way to retain the dignity of the living as well as of the deceased.
This is a clarion call to defend the rights and the dignity of the survivors and the dead. Monotheistic faiths are invariably cultures of death; they have traded life for death for their own acolytes since their invention, and continue to do so. Death is a medical issue, and must be wrested away from all religions with an ethical oversight on the system of disposal. Dispensing of the dead should be a state mandate and responsibility, and not become a profit center for all the religions. There should be system in placethat regulates, in an honorable manner, the disposal of the dead to the satisfaction of the immediate survivors. State-run crematoriums must be become an imperative, and offer affordable options for survivors, with discrete facilities for people of all religions to indulge their religious rituals before the cremation, and at the conclusion, receive the ashes of the departed ones. This way our cities won't become necropolises, standing on crumbling infrastructures, atop huge catacombs for the dead, like London, Cairo, Rome, Istanbul, and Paris are.
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About the Author
Raju Peddada is an industrial designer running an eponymous brand, purveyor of ultra luxury furnishings of his own design (see peddada.com). He is also a freelance correspondent/writer for several publications, specializing in commentary, essay, and opinions on architecture, design, photography, books, fashion, society, and culture. Peddada was born in Tallapudi, a small southern town in south India. He's lived in New Delhi and Bombay before migrating to the West Indies and eventually settling in Chicago, Illinois, where he worked in corporate America until he chose to set up his own designing firm. He lives with his family in Des Plaines. (back)