Death and the Regeneration of Life

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Death and the Regeneration of Life

Death and the Regeneration of Life written by Maurice Bloch and Jonathan Parry focuses on the significance of symbols of fertility and rebirth in funeral rituals. Their book includes many theories that anthropologist have studied with the idea of life and death. The idea of death and the regeneration of life changes with each culture and tradition. Everyone has his or her own opinion of how it shall work. With the help of many contributors to the book, one is able to read the different types of ways some cultures value their own rituals.
The notions of fertility and sexuality often have a considerable prominence in funeral practices. These practices have excited the attention of anthropologists for almost one hundred years. It all began with Swiss anthropologist Bachofen in 1859. Bachofen was one of the first anthropologists to focus any attention on mortuary symbolism. In 1859, he published his first book Versuch uber Grabsymbolik der Alten, meaning "An essay on ancient mortuary symbolism" (1). He focused most of his study with the Greek and Roman symbolism, particularly as manifested in the Dionysian and Orphic mystery cults. He started by studying the significance of eggs as symbols of fertility and femininity in Roman tombs and in funerary games. Each of the eggs was painted half-black and half-white, representing the passage of night and day and the re-birth of life after death (1). After Bachofen's study he believed that, "The funeral rite glorifies nature as a whole, with its twofold life and death giving principle…That is why the symbols of life are so frequent in the tomb." (1).
After Bachofen's studies, many other writers and anthropologists began to study his themes and other themes related to the topic. For example, J. Frazer took Bachofen's ideas and looked more at the materials of ancient mystery cults. His question was, "How could killing be a rite of fertility and renewal, and in particular how does the killing of a divine king help regenerate the fertility of the community?" With questions similar to Frazer's, other anthropologists have questioned themselves all the time. Many could not understand the theme of life and death. For many years, anthropologists would take works from others and try to combine them to make them more understandable. With all the different essays written throughout of the years, one is now able to compare the differences between death related practices in different societies.

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