Burying the dead is a bad idea for a realm plagued by predatory monsters and scavengers, so cadavers are ritualistically burned during a ceremony led by a Death Scribe.

In some parts of the world, especially those where Sylvan beliefs are dominant, the ashes are scattered to the wind so the cycle of life and nature can continue.

In other places where beliefs are not so naturalistic, the ashes are to be kept in a ceremonial urn1 2.

Cremation

How the cremation takes place and how elaborate (and lengthy) the death ritual is depends on the location and the people involved, the only real commonality being the site used3.

Villagers in more rural areas are usually more accustomed to death than city-dwellers who do not have to face the same dangers constantly, so they tend to have a simpler approach (and much less extravant urns) to the death rites than those surrounded by the pomp and formality of a structured town.

Sylvan Death Rites

Sylvan death rituals can vary slightly between communities (especially if not all of the elements are available to them, such as in a Nyad-specialised commune where burning the corpse has to be done manually), but they all follow the Balance. Death is not an end but a returning of the body to the elements and the soul to Xanth, so their death rituals reflect this.

First, the spirit must be cleansed of all the burdens and emotional scars wrought by life, and this usually involves a lot of music and dancing. The body must also be cleansed, usually by the closest female relation who strips and washes the corpse with fresh water and purifying herbs. The elements must not be used to make this task go faster as this part of the death ritual is about the attendant displaying, through physical labour, their love and care for the deceased.

Once cleansed, the body is wrapped in the finest white silk and carried to the Heart of the commune, where a Dryad will Shape a stone altar specifically for the occasion. A Nereid will then burn the purified body as a symbol of its return to the elements while a Nyad surrounds the altar in a twisting sphere of water meant to represent the brief battle thought to take place as the soul is wrestled from its physical vessel. (Creating such a barrier also prevents the acrid smell of a burning corpse from overwhelming those participating in the ritual, and from attracting predators.)

When the body is completely turned to ash, the Nyad opens a gap at the top of her sphere of water and the Nereid sets off a firework display from within it, this being symbolic of the soul's release from mortality into Xanth's waiting arms. The ashes are then scattered onto an Ayad's winds, which carry them up and over the forest as a last return to Mother Nature.

Alexandrian Death Rites

Alexandrians? first see the body lovingly wrapped in linen by the next of kin and then carried on a ceremonial stretcher upon the shoulders of four strong men. The Death Parade is led by the attendant Death Scribe twice through the streets of the deceased's neighbourhood to symbolise his journey from life to death, and as a call for loved ones to follow.

After the second circuit, the Parade travels (on foot, the journey being another symbol of the grieving process) to the Alexandrian Death Spires? where the body is laid upon the altar.

The Death Scribe then conducts a ceremonial cremation, ending the ritual by placing the ashes in a small jar4 that is then stored on a shelf inside one of the Spires.

Footnotes

  1. Ceremonial urns in rural areas are normally stored by the deceased's family, often in a small shrine-like room or outhouse. In urban areas, however, they are often stored in the same sacred location where the bodies are ritualistically cremated, the most notable case being Alexshire? where the Death Spires (four tall, narrow obelisks that are arranged in a cross pattern with a stone altar in the middle and that each have hundreds of urns shelved inside them) are a renowned man-made landmark.
  2. It is not uncommon in highly populated areas where storage space is at a premium for the ashes of several family members to be stored in the same urn.
  3. Death rites are normally conducted at a sacred site, usually involving either a wooden pyre or stone altar where the body is burned, at least a mile away from built-up areas. The distance may be from fear of the dead returning (such as during the Danse Macabre) or because of the smell, but it is also a significant symbol of a mourner's grief. (The farther people are willing to travel to attend a funeral, especially in more dangerous or remote areas, the more respect and love they must have had for the deceased.)
  4. The ceremonial jars used to store the ashes of Alexshire's dead are normally made of clay but can be highly decorative and are always engraved with the name of the deceased contained within. Even the poor try to make these jars personal, often making their own, while wealthier citizens can afford full customisation.