Burial rites

Image - Oleksander Murashko: Burial of a Kish Otaman (1900).

Burial rites [Похоронні обряди; pokhoronni obriady]. The ancient burial rites of the Ukrainian people were based on various folk customs and folk beliefs. The body of the deceased was washed, dressed, and placed on a bench under a window, with the head towards icons and the feet towards the door. As long as the deceased remained in the house, all work ceased, except that required for the funeral. The house was not swept during the funeral proceedings. The body was carried to the grave feet first, and the mourners followed, to prevent the deceased from ‘seeing’ them. The coffin was knocked against the threshold three times so that the deceased might bid farewell to his or her home and not return. In ancient times the coffin was lined with down, hence the proverbs Khai yomu zemlia perom (May the earth be like feathers for him) and Pukhom tobi zemlia (May the earth be like down for you). Kolyvo—cooked wheat or barley covered with honey—was carried in front of the coffin in the funeral procession and was always the first course of the funeral meal. The ritual was accompanied by wailing and lamentations. Following the requiem, the ‘final embrace,’ a formal leave-taking of the deceased, took place, after which the coffin was lowered into the grave, in a position so that the deceased faced the sunrise. Those people who were directly involved in the burial purified themselves by washing their hands and touching the stove before sitting down to dinner. The fear of the dead and the desire to protect themselves from the return of the deceased to this world characterized the burial rites of the Ukrainian people. In order to discourage the return of the deceased, attempts were made to placate him or her with an elaborate funeral and by giving generous alms to the elderly and preparing a good commemorative meal.

Trudy etnografichesko-statisticheskoi ekspeditsii v Zapadno-Russkii Krai, 4 (Saint Petersburg 1872–9)
Vovk, Kh. Studiï z ukraïns’koï etnohrafiï ta antropolohiï (Prague 1928)
Ilarion [Ohiienko, I.]. Dokhrystyians’ki viruvannia ukraïns’koho narodu (Winnipeg 1965)

Petro Odarchenko

[This article originally appeared in the Encyclopedia of Ukraine, vol. 1 (1984).]

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