Fairly recently, a U.S. coalmine was closed down with a few miners inside. They or their remains could not be brought out. Lay about has been wondering about burial or closure, generally described as disposal of the mortal remains of humans in a ritualistic manner. It is also not uncommon of owners to bury the dead bodies of their pets. An usual explanation offered is that it helps the deceased to gain entry into the afterworld.
Burials in graves were praticed as early as 125,000 years ago. Trenches, large burial mounds and monumental stone tombs like the pyramids were used for such purposes. In ancient Hebrew burials, caves were used for long. Other examples of this kind of burials are the sepulchral graves or rock temples of western India and Sri Lanka as also the burial sites in the Dogon cliff. The Vikings of Scandinavia followed burial in water, a somewhat different version of which is the immersion of the cremated ashes of the dead in sacred rivers like the Ganga among the Hindus in India even today. The Parsees in India expose their dead to elements and scavenging birds like vultures in special structures known as the Towers of Silence, a practice now rarely followed. Likewise, some American Indian groups dispose of their dead people by leaving the bodies to the elements. Usually, such first burials are followed by a second one, the time difference between the two is the period necessary for the decomposition of the body. Apparently, it is a demonstration of the philosophical concept that death after all is a transition from the society of the living to that of the unknown or unknowable. Anyway, the Jewish belief is not to prolong this passage from one form to the other, and their customs recommend a speedy burial with the recitation of a special prayer known as the Kaddish at the site of the grave, which is identfied by a gravestone installed a year later. A wake or a watch (vigil) held beside the body of someone who has died often precedes a Christian burial to be followed by a party, perhaps as a celebration of the deliverance of the deceased from worldly woes. It is also followed by others (for example, Hindus) who arrange a feast some days after the cremation though more as a sign of respect towards the departed one.The Muslims not only pray facing towards Makkah, but also bury their dead lying on the right side and facing that direction.
Caves, Coffins and Tombs
European caves of the Paleolithic period offer the first evidence of burials with deliberate intent. There are excavations showing prehistoric individual or communal burials, the latter giving indications that the pits or ossuaries were subsequently opened to put the bodies of slain servants or family members to provide company to the deceased. Urns containing human remains have been excavated in archaeological sites in south India. Such practices had been followed by various people even during relatively modern times. Apparently, the Egyptians were the first to use a coffin to keep the body from touching the ground, a custom the Greeks and the Romans picked up when they started burying their dead. Another funerary practice similar to burial is interment / inhumation , in which the body is placed in a trench in the ground, covered with loose soil and then protected with a large stone to prevent removal or tampering. Sea burials are another form of interment, practiced in the past by seafarers. It is not followed anymore, unless the person specifically wills to be despatched thus. Sea burials of an entirely different kind are the underwater telephone lines and pipelines carrying crude petroleum and refined products. Cable-laying ships and pipe-laying barges are used for such work.
A tomb can be regarded as the final resting place of the dead, a repository for the mortal remains of the deceased. Normally, such interment is enclosed within a structure, with the body lying inside a coffin, a sarcophagus, an urn and so on…There are various types of tombs, as would be seen from the list below :
Privately-owned or family vaults – These are underground chambers made of brick or stone, usually with arched roofs and meant for interments mainly (rather than burial). They are located genrally beneath a church building or a churchyard, and are owned by a private group or a family for their exclusive use only.
Church monuments – These cannot strictly be called tombs because they normally do not contain a body. They stand within the church building with the burial vault under them, or they could be tomb-style chests in a churchyard standing over the grave.
Crypts are more like vaults, but without the exclusivity of the privately- or family-owned ones. They are meant for the interment of public, though burials there are not altogether rare.
A Martyrium is a very special type of tomb, holding the bodily remains of a martyr or a saint. The Martyrium of San Pietro in Montorio is an example.
Mausoleum is a tomb in the sense that it is a free-standing structure in the open, usually monumental in its dimensions, for the purpose of interment of an individual or a family group. The pyramids in Egypt are examples of Mausoleum par excellence.
It is common for an earthen mound to protect as a cover Megalithic tombs. In prehistoric times, such tombs served as the places of interment of generally large communities, and were constructed of very large stones.
Sarcophagus is a container made of stone to hold the body or the coffin in which it is laid. These are often decorated, and also form the part of a monument. They are normally found inside religious buildings, and the greater tombs or mausolea.
Sepulchres are found in underground rock-cut spaces, and like the tombs of ancient Egypt are used for interment. Generally, however, it means Christian or Jewish structures used for purposes as described above.
The shrine above the first place of burial of a Christian saint is called an Architectural Shrine. The shrine to which the remains are later transferred is known as a Feretory or Reliquary.
Ship burials are also regarded at times as Archaeological Tombs of aeons gone. So also are the catacombs found underneath churches, churchyards, burial grounds or cemetries and so on…When found under private lands or under a rolling landscape, they are possibly representing prehistoric burial structures or tombs.
To the Emperor Nintoku, the 16th Emperor of Japan, goes the distinction of having been buried under a tomb with the largest area in the world: volume wise, the honour goes to the pyramid of Khufu in Egypt.
Reasons for human burial
Bacterias start decomposing a body after death, when unpleasant smells are emitted due to the formation of gases resulting from decay. Burial after all is not necessarily a public health requirement, it is more a matter of decency and of honouring the dead. It spares the people from the unpleasant spectacle of seeing the degeneration of some one alive before. The World Health Organization do not subscribe to such popular wisdom, and recommend that only corpses carrying an infectious disease strictly require burial.
Universally, however, burials represent that code of conduct that people who were once among us deserved respect when they were gone. The answer to how and why it evolved may be found in the reasons following :
The mortal remains of the deceased who was once close do not diminish in value to the living. Left on the ground and under the open sky, it would attract scavenging animals whose method of disposal would be particularly gruesome. Excepting the Parsee, all other cultures regard eating of the corpse of the departed by scavengers particularly abhorrent and totally disrespectful.
The word closure in psychology means bringing to an end a particularly painful chapter in one’s life, like the death of a loved one. Burial in this sense hastens the process, removing the person’s body out of sight. But out of sight is not always out of mind. This is especially true of the victims of violent crimes, there closure never really comes. The wound is not healed; it stays on in another form.
Like all other organic creatures on the earth, the human beings are also allotted a specific length of time, after which they cease to exist. Yet, and despite the absence of any proof of a kind of disembodied survival, there is a belief in afterlife in many cultures. Burial is often thought of as the gateway to an afterlife for the departed.
And, finally, most of the religions prescribe a proper way to live, a code of behaviour on how to spend our lives. Burial is the process among such codes stating how to get rid of a corpse.
Burying corpses in soil is the most common method of disposal in many cultures, which is believed to have begun in the Paleolithic period some 200,000 years ago by homo sapiens, before they moved out of Africa. Consequently, burial sites are dicovered all over the world. The dead bodies of ancestors were deposited in temples, laid under mounds of earth or left behind in huge underground caverns. Presnt day custom among most of the cultures is to bury the dead with some marker or signage to show the place, although other methods like cremation are also followed. Contrary to popular belief, cremation is mandatory in Japan; while in India it is just a norm. It is also interesting that cremation is becoming more and more popular in places like the western world. The ritualistic aspect of burials are more pronounced in some places, while in the rest the practical matters receive more attention.
Keeping pace with the current ecological awareness, there is now a growing trend of natural burials or burials in an eco-cemetery. The idea took hold in the United Kingdom in the late 1990s, and then spread across the Atlantic to the United States. Protection and restoration of the natural environment are the basic reasons for the adoption of this method, in which the buried body transforms itself to its natural elements inside a bio-degradable coffin or while wrapped in a bio-degradable shroud. Usually, a tree is planted over the grave instead of the conventional headstone, serving the purpose of a living memorial to the dead. As more and more such spaces (graves) are created, the green area expands creating a protected wild-life preservation area, and come to be known as green burial grounds, woodland cemeteries, memorial nature preserves and so on.
Prevention of decay
The process followed to preserve a dead body against decay is called embalming, and
is carried out in many cultures. A very elaborate method is mummification delaying the decomposition to a great extent.
Usually, the bodies are wrapped in a shroud and then placed in a coffin or a casket. The casket or coffin is further protected by a liner or by the arched roof of a vault, so as to prevent it from collapsing due to the weight of the earth on top, and to being carried away by water in the event of a flood.
The decaying process is to some extent slowed down by these external containers, which prevent bacteria from physically attacking the body and decomposing it, though the process can not entirely be stopped. The liners also prevent exposure of the body to the elements if the covering soil is washed away by heavy rains or flood.
In some cultures, however, the aim is not to preserve the body for a length of time, but to allow it to be one with the Earth in a natural manner. For instance, in Orthodox Judaism the coffins including the pegs are made of wood, and nothing metallic is used, so as to help the body to become one with the Earth as soon as possible. Likewise, the Muslims wrap the body in a shroud, and do not normally embalm it before burial.
Interment of clothing and personal effects with the body
Dressing up the body in its favourite attire, and placing objects and trinkets the deceased liked in the coffin are often done, and is known as the inclusion of grave goods for various reasons :
During funeral services, the body is normally put on display so as to enable people to show their respect. It is only natural that the deceased in such instances should be presented in the best possible manner.
A ceremonial dress and sacred objects are believed to make the transition to afterlife comfortable and smooth.
The inclusion of personal effects and favorite objects as grave goods is practiced in the belief that what the deceased held as dear and essential in the life on the Earth might also be equally important in the life beyond. Also, it is an acknowledgment and tribute to the feeling of attachment and to the sense of ownership of the deceased.
To the archaeologist, however, such grave goods are an added bonus, offering insights into how the individual lived in that time. Actually, it ensures the deceased some form of immortality.
Position of the body
There is no fixed body positioning in burials, it differs considerably among various cultures. For example Christian burials are extended, meaning that the body lies flat on its back, with arms and legs straight, and mouth and eyes shut. A variation of it has the arms folded upon the chest. In another variation of the extended burial, the body is prone (lying on the front); while in yet another variation, the body is in a flexed position with the knees drawn upto the chest. Some ancient societies buried their warriors in an upright position, while the Muslims, as mentioned earlier, are buried facing Makkah. Even when burials are difficult, many cultures believe that burying their dead is a sign of respect to the departed, and that appropriate positioning of the body should be made as far as possible. In mass graves or mass burials, understandably no standards could be followed, and things are done arbitrarily. And justifiably, in such instances, charges of insensitiveness, nonchalance or disrespect to the deceased are made. The only mitigating factor in such situations is that perhaps those who conducted the burials were under oppressive considerations of time and space. Like the layout of a church, which is east – west, the body in a Christian burial is positioned accordingly, with the head at the westside of the grave.The reason is that such a positioning helps the deceased to view the coming of Christ on Judgement Day. Just as a human finds an upside down position extremely uncomfortable after a length of time, it is believed by some that a burial in that manner would cause acute distress to the deceased and would be a just punishment for the transgressions committed. Occasionally, in the past, Christian suicides were buried thus so as to prevent their supposed ghosts from doing any damage. There is, however, one fictional account of people who buried their dead in an upside down position. Jonathan Swift in Gulliver’s Travels descrbed how the Lilliputians did it :
” They bury their dead with their heads directly downward, because they hold an opinion, that in eleven thousand moons they are all to rise again; in which period the earth (which they conceive to be flat) will turn upside down, and by this means they shall, at their resurrection, be found ready standing on their feet. The learned among them confess the absurdity of this doctrine; but the practice still continues, in compliance to the vulgar.”
Swift was perhaps exercising his storyteller’s licence (like poetic licence) to evoke this, but the English millenarians harboured the crazy notion that the world would be turned upside down at the Apocalypse as a badge of their eccentricity. There is a record of one such burial upside down by instruction. One Major Peter Labellier of Dorking, who died on June 4, 1800 “lies thus upon the summit of Box Hill, Surrey.” There are unverified accounts of such burials elsewhere, particularly in southern England.
African – American Slave Burials
Left with no option, the early Black – American community quickly learnt about the burial practices of their oppressors. They became familiar with the funeral procedures, and located suitable gravesite for their families and friends. The tasks of preparing the dead for burial, of making the coffin and of digging the grave were assigned to different members of the community. With their master overseeing the arrangements, the burial was held at night when the day’s work was over, and their friends from the nearby plantations were in attendance. The body was wrapped in cloth, the hands were folded across the chest and a metal plate was placed on the top of the hands.The plates were there to prevent them from haunting their homes by suppressing any spirits in the coffin. Personal effects were included in the coffin to pacify the spirits. After nailing down the lid of the coffin, it was carried by pall bearers or taken to the site by wagons. As in a Christian burial, they were laid in an east-west direction, with the head facing east. This was done as the original home, Africa
is in the east, and to facilitate rising on hearing Archangel Gabriel’s trumpet call at the sunrise.
The followers of Baha’i faith are not allowed cremation of the body, and observe strict rules for the burial site which should not be more than an hour’s journey from the place of death. The coffin is to be of crystal or stone or hard fine wood. The body is to be wrapped in a shroud of silk or cotton, and if aged over 15 years a ring is to be placed in a finger bearig the inscription,”I came forth from God, and return unto Him, detached from all save Him, holding fast to His Name, the Merciful, the Compassionate“. Also, a specific prayer for the dead is ordained before interment in such instances.
Religious and socio-cultural considerations play a role in the selection of the site, in addition to sanitary and other practical aspects. People with animistic traditions believe that the remains of the dead should be banished, because if kept too close their spirits would harm the living; some others believe in keeping them close with a view to help the surviving generations. The religious injunctions ordain a specific site for the purpose. For example, Christians are to be buried in a “consecrated ground”, which is normally a cemetery. An earlier practice was burial in or near a church (the source of the word churchyard), which was abndoned later as a mark of high posthumous honour to the deceased. Nonetheless, many extant funeral monuments and crypts are still in use. A palatial chapel or a monumental cathedral are often the traditional burial site of the royalty or persons of highly noble lineage.
Identification of the burial site
Present day customs require that the site of burial is marked with a headstone for two purposes. Firstly, it ensures that the grave would not be tampered and the body exhumed. Secondly, the headstones pay tributes to the dead and contain particulars useful for the remembrance of the departed. Especially, for the famous it brings in a whiff of immortality, which genealogists and family historians find quite useful later.
Then, in many cultures graves or monuments are grouped, forming a necropolis or the “city of the dead” as an adjunct to the city of the living.
To identify the burial site of the unknown or the anonymous, a variety of markers such as a simple crucifix, boots, rifle and helmet; sword and shield; a pile of stones or sometimes even a monument are used. The battle gears are meant for the fallen heroes, soldiers and warriors who lost their lives in battles. Actually, the phrase potter’s field is used to mean the burial site of paupers and strangers in a historical sense. It is believed that the musical prodigy and genius Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart was buried in this manner because of his poverty. Normally, burial in a potter’s field is carried out when proper identification of the deceased is impossible, but the site is memorialized in smaller communities or where the death was announced in local media.
As a mark of respect to the fallen warriors, nearly every country has the burial site of an unknown soldier in a prominent location of their capitals and cities.
Although no one is buried there, the India Gate or the All India War Memorial in New Delhi was built by the British colonialists in memory of the 90,000 soldiers who died in world war I. On its arch and the foundations are inscribed 13,516 names of Indian and British soldiers who were killed in the Indo-Afghan War of 1919, and form a separate memorial. The Indian Republic paid its homage to the warriors who perished during the Indo-Pakistan War of December 1971 by installing the Amar Jawan Jyoti under the arch of the gate where a flame burns day and night to remind the Nation of those who made the supreme sacrifice.
Likewise, in the USA, there is the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at the Arlington National Cemetery; the Westminster Abbey in London has the Tomb of the Unknown Warrior; and in France the unidentified war dead is buried under the Arc de Triomphe.
But anonymous burial of people other than soldiers is not that uncommon; for instance, in some parts of Eastern Germany, 43 percent of burials are anonymous.
The magazine, Christian Century reports that according to the Roman Catholic Church anonymous burials are a reflection of the diminishing belief in God, which is countered by the high cost of headstone markers and the solitary nature of German life.
Vandalism of the burial site, robbery of the grave and desecration are some of the reasons for making the grave site secret, usually by the family of the notorious or the infamous. A shameful and infamous instance of a historical grave desecration was that carried out by vandals of the grave of the Mughal Emperor Akbar at Sikandra near Fatehpur Sikri, some time after his demise. Not only the edifice was razed to the ground, but also his bones were scattered. Then there is the possibility of the grave site becoming a tourist spot, especially if some celebrity connected with the cinema or the movies is buried there. Thus the cremated ashes of Walt Disney were buried in a secret spot in Forest Lawn Memorial Park Cemetery, while Humphrey Bogart and Mary Pickford were laid to rest in private gated gardens closed to public.
The wish to be buried in tha same plot by married couples or family members gave rise to what is known as multiple burials. It is done either by placing the coffins or urns side by side or by placing one on top of the other. Thought of in advance, such an arrangement required the first coffin to be placed at a greater depth than otherwise normal. The second coffin can there after be buried without disturbing the first. In fact, in Australia two or three burials are permitted in a single plot, depending on the minimum depth of the water table of the area. The caskets placed subsequently are separated by a thin layer of earth, and the grave is deeper than the traditional six feet.
Societies or groups perpetrating mass killing or genocide take recourse to mass burials to dispose of the very large number of bodies lying around. Nonetheless, in many instances, mass burial is the only practical measure available to deal with an overwhelmingly large number of bodies resulting from a natural disaster or an epidemic or an accident or a terrorist attack. With the genetic testing methods presently available in developed societies, mass burials can now be avoided; but that is not possible when the remains are not identified with a degree of certainty.
Potter’s fields, the final resting place for the anonymous are also used for mass burials at the expense of the local authorities. There are instances when such anonymous bodies could not later be exhumed and identified for law enforcement purposes. Almost all countries regard navy ships sunk during war as mass graves and forbid salvage and recovery of the remains. Instead of recovery, the United States Navy leave a plaque in remembrance of the ship and its crew by divers or submersibles, and families are invited to witness the ceremony.
Former large battle sites are also considered as mass graves. In the battle of Verdun during world war I, 800,000 soldiers form both sides perished in the battle, of whom the remains of 130,000 (again from both sides) were kept in the ossuary at Douamont. The task of recovery of remains continues, and every year more remains are kept in the ossuary’s vaults; Verdun is a mass grave of almost epic dimensions.
Catacombs are another form of mass burial sites; the catacombs are one such communal burial ground from the past. But the catacombs in Paris were used as a mass burial ground when remains from other cemeteries of the city marked for demolition (during the urban renewal by Baron Haussmann in 1850-70) were brought there. Judaism does not allow more than one body in a grave. But an exception to this has been made in the military cemetery in Jerusalem, and is called “kever ah-chim” (“grave of brothers” in Hebrew). There, two soldiers killed in a tank were buried together. As the bodies along with metallic parts of the tank became fused together to the extent that separate identification was not possible, the comrades along with the metallic parts of the tank were laid to rest in one grave.
Burial while alive
Such things happen when the person is alive, leaving no room for escape and avoid interment. Death occurs due to asphyxiation, dehydration, starvation or exposure, if the place is in a cold region. Live burial of people may come about in various ways.
It could be a punishment, an execution or just plain murder.
A person or a group of people may be buried alive when they are in a mine, a cave or some other area underground area, and the escape route is blocked due to accident, earthquake, mudflow, or landslide. People also are buried alive in mountain slopes due to avalanches.
It could also be due to the unintentional mistake of an official like a coroner who declared the person as dead even though s/he was alive.
Burial in street junctions
Bodies of people committing suicide and of executed criminals were at one time buried in street junctions or cross-roads as a deterrent to such activities. A roughly made cross was placed in such locations, giving rise to the belief that such spots were the next best to consecrated grounds. Actually, the ancient Teutonic peoples built their altars at the cross-roads where human sacrifices, especially the execution of criminals were carried out. Over time such plots came to be regarded as execution grounds, and when Christianity took hold criminals and suicides were buried there at night to emulate as far as possible their funerals to that of the pagans or unbelievers. A present day relic of such execution ground is the famous Tyburn in London, which stands on the junction of two old Roman roads.
Superstition also played its part in the selection of cross-roads as execution grounds. It was held in belief that people coming to such inglorious ends tend to rise as ghosts and haunt their living associates and relations. In a cross-road they would not be able to find their way, and the living would be spared of their unwelcome visitations.
Burials by other species of animals
Homo Sapiens apparently are not the only one to cover (bury) their dead. It is said that chimpanzees and elephants cover the bodies of the fallen members of their groups and herds with loose earth, branches and leaves.
A comfortable afterlife is the reason, but not the only reason, for burial in nearly all cultures. Afterlife is believed in a number of faiths : Baha’i, Buddhist (a variation known as rebirth / reincarnation), Christian (yet another variation known as resurrection), Hindu, Jain (reincarnation), Jewish, Islam, Pagans (reincarnation), Sikhs (reincarnation) and Parsees. It would be seen that afterlife per se is accepted by four faiths, while the rest believe it in some other form.
Generally, known as the fifth Veda (though, some bestow that distinction to the Ayurveda), the Bhagabat-Gita admitting the supremacy of the Vedas provides an unambiguous affirmation of the doctrine of karma (stated simply: as you sow, so you reap) and reincarnation. It is necessary to mention here that the Vedas do not attest that doctrine, but there are hints to an afterlife in the Upanishads in its sophisticated hypotheses tracing the origins of karma and reincarnation in the Vedic canon of sacrifices. Not exactly a belief system, Hinduism tells one how to behave, to conduct oneself (achara), not what opinion, what views (vichara) to hold and cherish. Taking this into account, as also the fact that many Hindus and Sikhs believe in reincarnartion, it still remains questionable that the defining characteristic of a Hindu or a Sikh is a belief in reincarnation.
Reincarnation, however is ingrained in Buddhism with its credo of cycle of rebirths, and ultimately the Nirvana. About Nirvana, the most succinct way of defining it is to say that nothing can be said about it, as undefinable as the
brahman (different from brahmin) in advaita vedanta of the Hindus. The Buddha said that our actions are responsible for our happiness and sorrow. The core of our experience is in our past actions. Bad actions lead to grief and sorrow in the future, while good behaviour ensures happiness and fulfilment in time to come. The doctrine of karma or kamma, according to the Buddha, is that nobody can avoid the responsibility for what they do. Actions could be wholesome (kusala) or they could be unwholesome (akusala). There has to be some intent behind all actions, and actions causing hurt to someone are not morally wrong. All actions end in some kind of conclusions, which could be in this life or the next, says the Buddha. Linked to this is the concept of rebirth or existence in some other realm not human. Six realms are mentioned : Hell, the realm of the hungry ghosts, the animal world, the human realm, the abode of the jealous gods and the heavens. A person is reborn in one of these realms depnding on one’s past actions. It is the human realm which offers the opportunity for enlightenment, and therefore the best realm to be born into. The Buddha emphasised that the individual soul does not move from one form to the other; it is more of a fluid process in which consciousness continues from one life to the next depending on previous deeds.
Islam believes in continuation of the soul after death and a transformation in physical existence. There would be a day of judgment when the eternal destinations of Paradise and Hell would be determined for all. A cardinal principle of the Qur’an is the Last Daywhen the world will come to an end and Allah will judge all people and the jinn raising them from the dead. The Last Day is also known as the Day of Separation, Day of Standing, The Encompassing Day, Day of Awakening, Day of Judgment or The Hour. Till such time the dead remain in their graves waiting, but they have an idea of their impending destiny. The hell-bound will continue to suffer, while others will be at peace. The final destination is determined by balancing good deeds in life with the bad. Those granted admission to paradise will enjoy physical and spiritual pleasures forever, while grief and torment for eternity will be the lot of the condemned. The Hour is described as a passage on a narrow bridge to enter Paradise. Those who are heavy with bad deeds will fall and stay in Hell forever. There are two exceptions : those who die fighting for God are at once called into God’s presence, but “enemies of Islam” are despatched immediately to Hell upon death.
Sheol is the name given to afterlife, subsequently incorporated in the Hebrew Bible, a bleak and gloomy place where all the dead are destined to go. Actually, in the Book of Numbers, sheol literally means underground. It is so stated in the Biblical account of the destruction of a rebel named Korah and his followers. The God here is merciless and unforgiving to everyone.
The concept of death and afterlife (immortality)according to the (Judeo-Christian) Bible is that God created us from the dust of the Earth, to which we return upon death, and the Psalmist goes on to say:
” When they breath their last, they return to earth
And in that day their thoughts perish.”
In the New Testament, there is an amendment : the vivid description of death in the Old Testament is not denied, but it goes on to say that the wole story is more than that. Death kind of remains the same, but in Christ, due to his role as a saviour, its not as fearful as before – the dead will live again. This time with with a new resurrected life, a belief which many Jews harboured for hundreds of years before Christ, in the late second-temple Judaic period. The new Christian movement, even before it parted company with Judaism, strongly believed that Jesus of Nazareth nailed on a cross was raised from the dead literally and bodily and that this would be the way by which the expected general resurrection of the dead would be accomplished. The belief became a pervasive theme in early Christian sermons giving rise to the impression that the Christians prayed to two gods : “Jesus” and “Resurrection” (Anastasis).
Anyway, if we regard humans as living animals, and not immaterial or disembodied souls, then death must be the end of them. There is, however, an interesting article by H.H.Price (1953) who says that disembodied souls exist in a “world” of dream-images, and these images are exchanged between like-minded souls telepathically.
This is not as far-fetched as it appears when instances like near-death-experiences or nde (in short) is considered. They are reported by persons who were at one time very close to death, in some instances clinically dead. While at this stage they go through remarkably similar experiences, and the themes are more or less recurring.
To begin with, there are the out of body of experiences in which comatose people describe things to which they have no access through normal sensory channels.
A boy taken to the hospital narrated accurately the reactions of peole left in the home. Persons with a flat EEG record described what was going on in the surroundings. If such experiences are due to what is known as extra sensory perception, then it is difficult to imagine how that happened during periods with no detectable brain activity. Nearly all nde reports mention blinding white lights, of seeing their bodies lying prone or whatever from a distance and so on. Such nde reports put the conventional naturalistic views on mind and brain under some pressure. And it is the naturalistic view which regards afterlife an impossibility.
With help from wikipedia and other sources