How to bury your mother-in-law

April 17, 2017

  Your mother-in-law was probably chasing your tail during life. When she dies don't think you are free. Wanna know how to make sure she doesn't haunt you when she is dead?



Here's a more than two thousand years old suggestion in case you do not want any interference from her after her death. This tip comes from the terp (artificial dwelling mound) region of provinces Friesland and Groningen in the Netherlands and of region Ostfriesland in Germany. After reading this you will tramp the soil carefully when you hike stages 4 - 6 of the Frisia Coast Trail.


First of all, cremation is not an option. Common practice for the old people of the north at the Wadden Sea coast was to leave the body somewhere in the salt marsh for scavengers. Mainly to be eaten by your own, many and big dogs. Dogs were the intermediary between the present world and the after world. Similar as the Tibetans still do, but where vultures play this role. Just like the Tibetans the Frisians from the northern Netherlands and Germany had (nearly) no wood to cremate bodies in the old days and had to find a way to release spirit from body.



Many remains of buried dogs have been found in the terps which indicates these animals had a special place within the community. The size of the dogs was significant. The modern dog that comes most close to it, is the Irish wolfhound. That's about eighty centimeters high. Not comparable with the typical Frisian dog breed of today, the Frisian wetterhoun 'water hound' with its curly coat.   



Especially oak is needed if you want to have any success with burning the body fully. Dried peat and dried cow dung does not do the job properly. This was the tradition fuel for long at the tidal marshlands. But for a cremation it doesn't generate enough heat. Failed ancient experiments in present-day province Groningen have been traced by archaeologists. Since oak had to come from far away inland, this was too much of a hassle. And better use of expensive wood was building your trading ships anyway. Thus cremation was only reserved for special occasions or for special persons. One such an exception was the cremation of prince Hnaef of the Hocings (a Danish people) around AD 450. He was killed in Frisia and burned on a pyre, as described in the Old English epic Beowulf. Wanna know more? Read our blog post Tolkien pleaded in favor of king Finn.


But leaving the body somewhere at the salt marshes doesn't give you all the guarantees you need when it comes to your mother-in-law. Therefore, what you want to do is to bury the body. Where you do this is not relevant. What's important, is to bury some parts of the body separated from each other or, alternatively, to tie limbs together. It's harsh, but it works like a charm.


If you decide to tie her together, then there are several options. Fixing arms ensures she no longer can interfere in matters after her death like raising her finger for not doing the dishes. If you want even more certainty, fix her legs as well. Then at least you can outrun her. Do you want to have absolute certainty she no longer interferes with matters of the living then bury one or more limbs separately.


The least invasive yet very effective option of the latter is to separate a foot from the body and bury it a meter or so beside the grave (see picture). Note that she must not be able to reach her foot with her arms to prevent her from reconnecting it to her body. In this way she stays where she is buried and you can relax.


A last additional measure you can apply on top of the previous is to dig a ditch around your house and property. The water in the ditch separates the scary outer world from your inner world. To strengthen the force of the ditch drop some human bones of 'good and jolly' ancestors in the ditch. A newborn lam tied to a clay sod will help to strengthen the ditch' protective shield too. Whatever is available. Circular trenches were also dug at early-medieval cremation or burial fields in the wider region. Maybe to keep the spirits 'inside'.



Finally, have some well deserved peace!




Funerals in the north of the Netherlands (i.e. former Frisia) till very recently contained some old, pre-christian rituals. This was first of all processions with the deceased following the path encircling the graveyard. Often three times making the full round with the coffin. It's origin might be a rite de passage, a transition of the deceased from the world of the living to the world of the dead. But it was possibly also a way to trick the deceased not to be able to find her or his way back to the world of the living. Furthermore, the graveyard itself is, till this very day, surrounded by a ditch, hedges and a fence. Besides that, at the entrance fence a 'cattle-grid' was placed on the path. All these measures make it impossible for the dead to check out from the hereafter. At the same time, they prevent the Devil from entering the graveyard. The 'cattle-grid made it for the Devil impossible to cross since he has the legs of a goat. Al the defensive measures were sometimes supplemented with a rotating fence called in Mid-Frisian language a kjirrewirre. These rotating fences/crosses revolve counterclockwise, something the Devil is apperently unable to do. He can only pass clockwise. Lastly, the procession entered through the church door on the northern side, the side of evil and the devil, and left the church through the southern door, the side of christianity.


Children who died before they were baptized, couldn't be buried at a consecrated graveyard. Therefore, they were buried next the graveyard. To make sure they also stayed put, a stake was driven through the body into the soil. Later, when this practice somehow wasn't appreciated that much anymore, these children were placed in pots and placed next to the church exterior wall. At the churches of Harich, Oudemirdum and of Tjerkgaast twelfth and thirteenth century AD remains of these pots with children bones have been found. 



If interested in more old obscure rituals and practices, you should read also our blog post Groove is in the Hearth.




Main source: Nieuwhof, A., Eight human skulls in a dung heap and more. Ritual practices in the terp region of northern Netherlands (2015).


Secondary sources: Dijkstra, M.F.P., Rondom de mondingen van Rijn en Maas. Landschap en bewoning tussen de 3de en de 9de eeuw in Zuid-Holland, in het bijzonder de Oude Rijnstreek (2011); Unknown, Indiculus superstitionum et paganiarum (eighth century AD), check out our post Groove is in the Hearth as well; Toebosch, T., Geen begrafenis, nee, laat de hond knagen aan de overledene. Ontvlezing was in Friesland een populair alternatief voor begraven of cremeren, zegt promovenda Annet Nieuwhof. NRC (2015); Schuyf, J., Heidense heiligdommen. Zichtbare sporen van een verloren verleden (2019).



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