Today I have for you my stop on the awesome Hereafter Tour!!! Check out the rest of the tour HERE!!!
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Thirty-six-year-old Irene Dunphy didn't plan on dying any time soon, but that’s exactly what happens when she makes the mistake of getting behind the wheel after a night bar-hopping with friends. She finds herself stranded on earth as a ghost, where the food has no taste, the alcohol doesn’t get you drunk, and the sex...well, let’s just say “don’t bother.” To make matters worse, the only person who can see her—courtesy of a book he found in his school library—is a fourteen-year-old boy genius obsessed with the afterlife.
This sounds suspiciously like hell to Irene, so she prepares to strike out for the Great Beyond. The only problem is that, while this side has exorcism, ghost repellents, and soul devouring demons, the other side has three-headed hell hounds, final judgment, and eternal torment. If only there was a third option...
Top Ten Strangest Afterlife Beliefs
I never thought I’d enjoy doing research (for a novel), but I was wrong. The research for Hereafter ended up being a blast, because afterlife mythology is so full of strange and wonderful beliefs. Here are ten of my favorites, almost all of which ended up in Hereafter (or one of the later books in the series).
1. Under the Sea
One of my favorite beliefs that I came across was that of the ancient Etruscans, who thought the entrance to the afterlife lay under the sea and was reached by seahorse. I love the visual of this—riding a seahorse through the water to reach paradise. Sounds like fun!
Salt is believed to be a powerful force against spirits and from this we get many superstitions—throw a handful of salt over your shoulder (to hit the spirits sneaking up behind you) and sprinkle salt in the corners of the rooms of a new house. In “olden days” the previous homeowners were supposed to leave behind salt, rice, and/or bread for this very purpose. In Scottish custom, “first foot,” is the practice of having the first person to cross a home’s threshold after midnight on New Year’s eve be a visitor bearing gifts—one of which is salt (to drive out bad spirits).
In Trinidad, they believe in evil spirits called Duppies, and the way to prevent them from entering a home is to spread salt or rice around the house. The Duppies are compelled to count every grain of salt/rice before entering. However, it will take so long to count it all that the sun will come up and the Duppie will be forced to return to the spirit world.
3. Roman Funeral Allowance
Proper burial (essential for passage to the afterlife) was so important to the ancient Romans that they created funeral societies (like a guild or union), called collegia. Through these funeral societies, members paid dues or monthly fees that were then used to pay for members’ funerals and to build columbaria—large underground vaults to house members’ remains. Members of all classes were allowed to join collegia and some emperors even provided a funeral allowance to the poor who could not afford to join a collegia!
4. Bone Pickers
The first time I heard reference to this practice was in a fellow writer’s novel—the Native American characters picked over the bones of a cremated person, pulling out the bone fragments, cleaning and polishing them. I thought the practice was fiction, too, until she explained that it was an actual practice. I have since found references to the Japanese also engaging in this practice (using chopsticks to pick out the bones from the cremated remains).
5. Self Mummification
This practice did not find its way into Hereafter, mainly because I found it so distressing. Buddhist masters in Japan engaged in a practice known as Sokushinbutsu until the 19th century. In this practice, monks spent three years fasting and eating a strict diet of nuts and seeds in order to cleanse all the fat from their bodies. They spent the next three years eating only bark and roots and drinking a poisonous concoction containing tree sap that was used to make varnish—in essence, petrifying themselves from the inside out. Finally, at the end, they would be sealed inside underground chambers or stone towers, with only a breathing tube. The monk would meditate until death. If the process was successful, the body would have become mummified. Unfortunately, it appears that most attempts at self-mummification were not successful.
6. Dog as a guide in the afterlife
In several different hunter-based societies it was common to bury a dog with deceased hunters/warriors, as dogs were critical to hunting. The Celts were especially specific—the dog was there to be the deceased’s guide in the afterlife.
7. Mummified Mice
Egyptians so revered cats that they mummified them in order to ensure their passage to the afterlife. As with humans, the Egyptians provided everything the cats would need in the afterlife—including mummified mice! A mouse is so small, I have to wonder how they managed to pull out the teeny-tiny organs and preserve them! I can’t decide if tiny, mummified mice sound adorable or horrifying.
8. Leaping Place
Many Pacific Island cultures believe that the afterlife is reached via a jump from a high place—such as a sacred tree or a cliff. I kind of like this thought—of standing on a high cliff and taking a leap of faith.
9. Wise Old Woman Guide
One of my favorite myths is a Native American belief that the spirit of the dead person will travel for many miles through the afterlife. The spirit will then reach a hut with an old woman. The spirit must provide the old woman with several traditional gifts. One of the gifts is tobacco, which the old woman will put in her pipe and start smoking. If the tobacco is of good quality, then the old woman will help the spirit continue on his or her way. I love the mental picture of a wizened old woman smoking away on a pipe.
10. Wandering Dead
There are a lot of myths and rituals concerning how the body must be treated in order to prevent the dead person’s spirit from causing mischief or harm. Some believed the corpse must be removed feet first from the dead person’s home, so the spirit of the deceased could not look back and see the house (otherwise the dead person’s spirit will leave the body and take up residence in the house). One of the more literal traditions was among South African tribes that broke the bones of the deceased person’s body in order to prevent the person’s ghost from wandering.
And there you have it—some of the beliefs I found the most interesting and unusual while researching Hereafter. For more afterlife beliefs referenced in Hereafter, read my guest post at Butterfly-o-Meter’s blog “Ten Easter Eggs Hidden in Hereafter.”
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