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Native American and Celtic Traditions in Death and Dying

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Laura Ellis

Professor Timothy Conner

Death and Dying

07 September 2018

Native American and Celtic Traditions in Death and Dying

        The world contains diverse types of people and cultures that hold various traditions. There are two cultures that peaked my interest with their traditions in death and those are of the Celtic and Native Americans. Both cultures had their differences, but they also shared many similarities in their beliefs of the dead.

        “Native Americans believe the souls of the dead pass into a spirit world and become part of the spiritual forces that influence every aspect of their lives.” (109 DeSpelder) They also view death as an ongoing life cycle, even though, they fear their dead and require a mortuary to assist in handling the bodies. Different tribes had varying fear of the deceased while some chose cremation rather than burial and vice versa. While the Native Americans practiced these traditions, the Celtic had their own beliefs. They believed in two worlds, their world, and the “otherworld”, so when someone died in either world they would be sent to the other world in a constant exchange of souls until they are able to reach Valhalla the “hall of slain”, a place for outstanding heroes.

Celtic traditions included elaborate celebrations that include clan gatherings and feasts. Druids held sacrificial rites, interpreted omens, taught about the immortality of the soul to make soldiers brave and fearless in battle, and he also acted as an intermediary between the two worlds. According to the Celtic calendar, November 1st marked the end of one year and the beginning of another, this was a time of celebration called Samhain where they were able to contact the deceased. While Native Americans have respect for the deceased, they will not speak the deceased person name for 6-12 months after the death to ensure the spirit is gone, there will however be a ceremony after the death where a living person will imitate the deceased, but the deceased name is still not to be spoken. They do not try to contact the dead because they do not know where they are or what happens after death and they do not want to trap a spirit. The native Americans believe in “living one day at a time, with purpose, grateful for life’s blessings, in the knowledge that it could all end abruptly.” (110 DeSpelder) Their optimism towards death can also be seen in the Lakota battle cry “It’s a good day to die” (110 DeSpelder)



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