For a pantheist the best form of funeral is a natural one, so that your elements can be recycled in Nature not sealed off forever in a metal or hardwood casket and concrete vault.
Paul Harrison, WPM President
Based on others’ experience, you will die. Death is a part of life, specifically the end of yours and the beginning of a number of others’, and so we encourage you to be proactive and figure it out before it catches you completely unprepared. Wills, testaments, and advance medical directives are all important, but this page is concerned with the simple question of what to do with your body. The World Pantheist Movement does not aim to pressure anyone to disposing of theirs in a particular way; this page only provides advice on ways to speedily and non-destructively return the body’s components to the natural cycle.
“Burial” refers to the remains’ final location, but it can be combined with a number of other procedures, discussed in the “Cremation” and “Other considerations” sections.
“Traditional” and green burial
While popular with traditional Western religions, this method is in decline because it involves devoting substantial resources to fancy products and then literally putting these things in a hole. Even more work may go into creating a large monument atop the hole, which may strike Pantheists as arrogant, since it suggests the deceased is more important than the earth to which they are returning. We hold that a funeral does not need to be wasteful to be dignified.
Placing the body in a non-degrading container such as a metal coffin or casket, or even a tomb or mausoleum, will greatly delay its return to Nature, and prevent complex life beyond a few maggots from using that space for perhaps centuries. There exists a spectrum of other burial options, so you can likely find a compromise between what works for you, your family, and Nature.
A wooden coffin is a good start. The amount of energy devoted to it is smaller, and it will allow you to rejoin the earth moderately quickly. A shroud is even better on both counts.
For any survivors of the deceased requiring an “anchor,” a small headstone may be very helpful. Consider supplementing or even replacing it with a tree seedling or other plants; your grave can be a place of life.
There is a growing number of green cemeteries that can provide matching surroundings. While many regular cemeteries include trees and grass, these reach a new level, serving as reserves and managed nature areas. The landscape is preserved as much as possibly — they are not nearly as centered around the dead, which fits well with our non-anthropocentric point of view.
Sky burial, burial at sea
Leaving dead bodies out for consumption by scavengers or decomposition, whether on land or in water, is a very rapid method of return. Since a decaying human body poses a health hazard to humans, it is irresponsible and generally illegal to leave one exposed in areas inhabited or frequented by humans. “Burial” at sea is much more straightforward — many jurisdictions only require that the body or ashes be weighted down, so that the remains do not go anywhere until decomposed, and deposited a certain number of kilometers away from shore.
Ashes or other sterile remains can often be distributed much more freely on land, or closer to shore, and will mix quickly. In all cases, if funeral plans do not involve licensed professionals, you should be well acquainted with local laws.
The rise of private space flight has enabled an obscure third variant known as space burial, which can be further divided into increasingly expensive options such as “visit space”, “go into orbit” (for Earth orbits, “eventually burn up on reentry”), and “drift through space”. Some space options are less expensive than the fancier Earth-based ones, if you are satisfied with sending up a tiny piece of yourself (the remainder will still require burial by some other means). While this site devotes substantial attention to space, and we can appreciate the various universe- and stardust-related ideas at work here, please note that spaceflight remains ecologically expensive, and Outer Space is a relatively barren place where that small fraction of your remains could be eternally isolated from all other matter.
Cremation and alternatives
Cremation has seen a surge in popularity in recent years. The burning of dead bodies has a long history in Eastern cultures, and despite some churches’ disapproval, has become mainstream for most of the world population. Cremated ashes take up less space and can be spread in certain natural areas. However, they are produced by burning liters of oil, and if the body has mercury dental fillings or other concentrations of toxic chemicals, releasing a cloud of these into the atmosphere, which seems rather ironic for a green burial.
Cleaner alternatives exist, including alkaline dissolution (resomation), which combines heat and lye to turn the body into clean liquid and powder, which can then be handled in various natural ways — not yet widely available. While promising and apparently popular, the freeze-drying/vibration technique known as promession has not yet been put into practice.
While many of these options involve giving your body back to the simpler parts of Nature, please consider also giving back to the human part. Key organs can become important parts of others’ lives, and will be appreciated there much more than by the decomposers, who will ultimately get them anyway. Most of the body will still require one of the burial options above.
Please consult laws specific to your country or area to find out what registration, documentation, or consultation with family members may be necessary to make your organs available to others: US, Australia, Brazil, Canada, Germany, India, Ireland, Japan, South Africa, Sweden, UK. Feel free to contact us with additions or improvements to this list.
Depending on your area, you may also have the opportunity to donate your body in other ways, not all of which will require burial. Note that some of these methods will return your body to the environment faster than a green burial, while others could ultimately isolate it for a long time. The relative importance of unity versus utility is up to you, but please consider a final act of generosity.
Embalming is meant to delay the body’s decomposition, allowing for extended pre-burial activities such as viewing or transport. Embalming fluids can preserve the body longer after burial, in the extreme case serving as a key component of mummification. Traditional embalming fluid contains toxic formaldehyde and is problematic as a part of your final contribution to Nature. For those accustomed to embalming and willing to accept delayed reunification as a cost, we strongly recommend non-toxic alternatives.
Isn’t my body toxic?
We eat many things that are not healthy for us, but the fact that the modern diet contains excess fat and sodium does not make the body toxic. People are surviving past the historic average on it, so the various microbes, insects, fungi, etc, being far hardier, will be fine. High-fructose corn syrup and the like are biodegradable. The main toxin in the body is mercury from some dental fillings, which is firmly bound up, it isn’t going anywhere very quickly — unless you release it all at once by cremation. Sticking the body in a coffin will not neutralize the mercury or prevent its ultimate escape.