Death in Ragaris

“Seven days to bawl and weep;

Seven weeks you’ll sorrow keep

Pray for their soul for half a year; but when a twelvemonth’s passed –

Lift a cup and shed one tear.” (Fallian rhyme)

Some time ago, I posted Christmas in the different parts of Ragaris. Book four (now being read by the publisher, but I’ve already thought of a few changes…) has to go into some detail about funeral and mourning processes, and so I thought macabrely of sharing the ways Ragaris does death.

Although I’ve been pondering the possibility of other religions (and indeed heretics) the established religion is Christianity, fairly Catholic and medieval, but not of course perfectly so. Those who are dying expect last rites and a Christian funeral, both provided by a priest.

Book 4, set in the land of Falli and currently as you may know called “Tell Me Your Name,” gives an example of a young woman who was refused these privileges, because her tribe had been placed under interdict by a particularly strict bishop. The consequences were violent.

Suicide is regarded as a serious sin. Those who remember “We Do Not Kill Children” may recall the lengthy discussion between Dorac and Kai as to whether a man with no hope has a right to deliberately seek death, and the consequent risk to his soul. In the same book a woman who is “a criminal and a suicide” is buried in the furthest corner of the churchyard, which seems fairly generous for the time.

I have not in the three books so far discussed the concept of Purgatory, but I suspect most of the characters believe in it. In the real medieval world, one of the ways of avoiding too long in Purgatory was to leave money for prayers for your soul, which I believe had a powerful effect on society. I’ve been reluctant to follow this – at some point the Prelate may have issued a common-sense restriction on how long people should pray for the dead.

The current book also includes some discussion about ghosts, with a character wondering what kind of things a ghost would be permitted to do, and whether these would include murder.

Generally the dead are buried in graveyards attached to churches. However there are exceptions; it’s not clear if the Village with No Name (“We Do Not Kill Children”) has a church at all.

The people of Marod apparently regard it as important to rest in Marod – those who die abroad (Jeppa in “The 10th Province of Jaryar”) are cremated and the ashes taken home. Members of the King’s Thirty are buried at their Six’s tower. But in an exception, one Gormad the Lucky says before a battle, “If I die in Haymon, bury me here,” and his tomb duly becomes a local Haymonese landmark, with at least one faithful visitor. In the same book, the Last King of Haymon has a formal grave in a garden open to the public, perhaps his country’s only park.

Haymonese people also put ash in their hair before a funeral.

The Marodi make a cut in a sleeve following a death, repaired after the funeral. It is polite to pull off your hood when a funeral passes you. (I think I copied this from a 1950s book of etiquette I once read.)

Rich people in Ricossa use a formal phrase “allow me to share a small part of your sorrow” in letters or speeches of condolence.

In western countries (ie not Ricossa) an untranslated song from the Old Language is occasionally sung on the way to or from funerals, especially those of the poor. There is also a wake to celebrate the dead person the night before.

Locks of hair from the dead are common keepsakes in all the lands, especially to remember dead children, of whom there are many.

So far, so good. But the latest book is set in the land of Falli, and goes into more, and more local, detail.

Most of Falli is rural, and the custom is to bury people soon after death, not in a graveyard, but in the place of their family’s choice. Presumably they are sensible enough not to inter villagers in the middle of a cornfield or next to a well. The service is held at the graveside, unless weather is particularly inclement, which wouldn’t be unusual. Falli and Marod have British weather.

But in the (only) city, it’s different. During my story we follow closely what happens to the corpse of a murdered person. The Coroner examines the body. City officials (the Elders) appoint an Investigator to try to solve the crime. In the mean time:

Matters proceed quite briskly. Two nights on from the death comes the wake. Most wakes would include song, but because of the sad circumstances this one does not. The next day the procession leaves to take the body to its semi-final resting-place. The person regarded as closest kin heads the procession as Chief Mourner, and he or she may make certain decisions such as who is allowed to attend.

People in the street sing respectfully as the procession passes. The body is carried on a bier by undertakers in black turbans. Only in the city are there professional undertakers. They are paid out of the dead person’s personal belongings (in some cases all of them.) The closest relative(s) are permitted one keepsake.

There is a space of grass and flowers, called the Garden of the Dead, effectively a graveyard. A small chapel (Church of the Resurrection) provides shelter in bad weather. The body is buried… and the characters turn their attention, or some of it, back to solving the crime.

(The city is by the Sea, and in a separate ritual mourners sometimes walk on the cliffs on Sundays, remembering the recently dead, and tossing flowers or similar items into the waves.)

On a more grisly note – it occurred to me that one graveyard in a city would soon get full. Once the bodies have become bones, they are removed to make space. This is an actual medieval custom; bones were kept in “charnel houses.” But in Falli they are reinterred in chambers in a large grassy bank… which is used as one side of the continent’s only sporting arena. Falli’s annual Verian Contest is so popular they say even the dead want to attend.

I don’t know if this has whetted your appetites for the story…

Love from the PPI Blogger

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