Saturday, August 19, 2017

Fokari Burial Practices.

"What was given is now returned. The dead wing their way to the ancestors beneath the Eagle's shade."
- Rohat Barza-parh, Speaker of the Hishar Tribe.

Death is inevitable, as well as quite common to the daily life of the Fokari, given the difficult nature of existence on the wastes' edges. It is also considered to be as natural as life. It is not an aberrant state, and so it is nothing to be feared- at least, ideally. When death claims the member of a tribe, the ceremonies which follow are cause for the entire community to come together. All but the most vital tasks are set aside for a few hours in which the dead Fokar is eulogized and offerings are burned in the tribal brazier to placate the right spirits for the event and attract the attention of the highest beings which transcend the status of spirit and become full-fledged gods. Chief among them are creatures often represented as birds, and among them the Eagle sits above all else as a sort of cosmic arbiter and judge of the dead.

Because the Eagle performs this function, there is no need for Ergil-Who-Is-Death, and thus he is not a being normally treated with by the Fokari despite his existence within their vast pantheon. This suggests that at some point in the past there was some form of contact between their tribes and the outside world extensive enough that a deity was shared in the exchange. But the fact remains that despite a small cycle of stories relating to him, the Moldering Shepherd has no role in the movement of the souls or equivalent spiritual stuffs of the deceased down into their appropriate niche in the underworld.

The dead are not buried, after all. Burning is not an option either, for though fire has a high position in their worldview, the Fokari simply would not have access to enough wood or other plant matter to use as fuel for every single funeral pyre. A fire fueled by collected and dried yuum dung would be more practical, but not exactly respectful of the dead.*

Once mourning has been completed and every family in the tribe--even and especially enemies--has come together, the body is carried away from the main village by a small procession of the closest family members of the dead, as well as the Speaker and Seer. The officiator says a few last words on the subject, and then the shaman ritually strips the corpse of all clothing and adornments. Then a dance is performed and maintained in order to call to the scene the spirits of nature which will bring to its rightful destination body and soul each. The rest of the group members use knives to cut the body into pieces, and then the butchered and dressed carcass is left to nature.

The first carrion bird observed to land upon the body and peck at it is believed to be the psychopomp who accompanies the spirit of the dead Fokar through astral projection. Specialized prayers of thanks are said to the bird according to its exact species, for the scavengers of the Wastes are many and varied. As the circling birds grow large in number overhead, the party retreats and returns to the rest of the village to resume daily activities while the body is picked clean and given back to nature. The tribe is expected to move on from this, for their part in that person's story has now ended. The deceased are said to have a long journey ahead of them yet, however. And though the journey of the dead is a treacherous one, they will live on forever in the patchwork ceilings of their descendants.

There are of course exceptions to this rule of ritual, though little in the way of explanation can be found. There are along the edges as well as the interior of the wastelands many cairn-grounds which dot the harsh landscape. They are known to the Fokari, and in fact are well-known enough among the tribes to be used as widely-recognizable landmarks to aid in navigation during migration. But all of these sites are given a wide berth by the Fokari, who do not actively speak of or even look at them. Most often, euphemism and vague gesture accomplish this.

Within the cairn sites are, of course, cairns. But they are of a curious design which are either deliberately open-aired or partially unfinished, each lacking a top so that something may peek out from it. These withered little glimpses are the heads of Fokari corpses crumpled up within, mummified by the ages of exposure to the elements, yet quite untouched by animal life.

How or why these bodies came to be here is a vexing mystery even among the tribes. The rare whisper suggests that the mummies may once have been great shamans or terrible magicians, but this raises more questions than answers.

* This is not to say that the Fokari hold the body of the deceased in reverence entirely or in perpetuity. Once the soul has left the vessel, it is nothing more than decaying matter to be discarded in the fashion most respectful of the land.

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