Death

Death, being a sorrowful and inevitable event, lead to people trying to identify different omens of death. It was generally believed that hearing tapping and noises predicted death. The natural time for dying was considered to be either in spring when new leaves appeared on trees or in autumn when leaves were falling. The onward journey of souls that departed at those times was supposed to be easier. Dying in the daytime, with good weather was the best way to go. Evil people and witches died during a blizzard or a storm. There were several ways to make dying easier, so that a person would not suffer unnecessarily. An old custom was to open a door or a window. It was general knowledge, affected by the Christian worldview, that dying was easier for those who confessed their sins and asked for forgiveness.

The dead body, together with straw, was placed on a ladder or a bier made of boards and washed clean. The bath whisk and soap used for washing were later put in the coffin, the water was poured out in a place where no one ever went. The straw and the bier were burned. Burial garments were white. While the dead body was still in the house, nothing could be taken out of the house, as this might cause accidents. The dead body could not be left alone and it was guarded at nights. Traditional food for watchers of the dead body were peas and beans boiled with salt. When the body was placed in the coffin, it was necessary to make sure that tears did not fall into the coffin, otherwise death would draw the mourner in as well. One or several coins were always put in the coffin together with the dead body.

After being placed in the coffin, the death watch followed. People were not invited to do this, but rather came on their own initiative. This was a way of saying farewell. In some regions people were invited to the funeral, in others they came on their own initiative. As when going to a christening or a wedding, a sack of food was taken along. A great part of funeral customs are connected with rituals that had to guarantee that the dead would not find the way back home and turn into a revenant.

The dead body was carried outside feet first and put on the carriage in a similar manner. The room was swept clean and the trash was thrown out after the dead body. In some regions the room was also fumigated with smoking juniper branches to keep the soul of the departed out and to clean the air. There were two riders with the dead body according to an old custom and they sat on the coffin. The carriage was driven very fast and along a winding road because it was believed that the departed can return to haunt the house only along the road by which the dead body was taken away. The grave was not to be dug by relatives of the departed.

After returning from the graveyard, a wake or a feast in memory of the departed followed. An animal (or sometimes two animals) was slaughtered for the wake. This was a remnant of the ancient custom of sacrifices. If an animal was not slaughtered, animals would die or misfortune would befall the household. It was believed that the departed for whom a wake was not held would come back to haunt the house. Nothing could be left over of the food of the wake and if anything was left over, it was poured on the ground for the departed.

The wake was followed by a mourning period during which saying the name of the deceased and wearing silver jewellery were avoided. The mourning period lasted for six weeks for men and for six months for women.

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