Scattering Violets

An exploration of funerary traditions and innovations, care of the dead, and pagan perspectives on death

  • Home
    Home This is where you can find all the blog posts throughout the site.
  • Tags
    Tags Displays a list of tags that have been used in the blog.
  • Bloggers
    Bloggers Search for your favorite blogger from this site.
  • Login
    Login Login form

Death into Life: An Earth-Focused Legacy for Pagans

My attitude toward death is very much founded in my relational beliefs as an animist. My entire theology, cosmology, and theories of magic are founded on the principle that we are in constant relationship with every other being around us, whether that being is a feature of the landscape or the air, a fellow animal, a plant, or a fungus. We exist within holistic biomes; we are not separate from the beings around us, and everything that we do, whether we are conscious of it or not, impacts those around us. We don’t have a choice in the matter. This places on our shoulders a burden of responsibility, but it is also a great gift. We are fed and sustained by the spirits around us; we are supported and tended by the earth, water, and all other beings. We live because they give of themselves to us.


So, when it comes to death, I’m often thinking of how the inevitable event of my death can be beneficial to others. I want my death to make a positive impact on the world I love and which has benefited me in so many ways. A thoughtful death is an act of gratitude for life. This is why I’m so interested in things like green burial, alkaline hydrolysis cremation (sometimes called aquamation or water cremation), and human composting. 


Our bodies are meant to decay; it’s the natural way of things. Decay is a process of reintegration with our environment. As pagans (depending on our beliefs), death can be understood as a process of breaking free from the confines of a material body, or perhaps as an expansion “like gold to airy thinness beat,” as John Donne wrote in his “Valediction Forbidding Mourning." In no sense is death an end; it is only a transformation and transition to another form of existence. When we allow our bodies to decay, we give back; we feed and sustain the spirits around us.

Green Burial

Green burial is a form of natural burial. People are often not embalmed, but if they are, a formaldehyde-free embalming fluid is used. This embalming fluid breaks down faster, and as a result, it’s less toxic to the earth that a person is laid into. The deceased are placed in a simple wooden casket, a wicker casket, or a linen, wool, or silk shroud, and then laid into the earth. This allows for decomposition to occur as efficiently as possible. Green gravesites may be unmarked, or a natural, native stone can be engraved and placed at the spot. Green burial is technically the oldest and simplest form of burial, but it is just now making a comeback in our society after the Victorian period in which embalming, vaults, and elaborate caskets and funeral traditions took hold and became the norm. My two favorite green burial grounds (so far!) are Larkspur in Tennessee and Sun Rising in Warwickshire, UK, because they marry natural burial practices with wildlife and land conservation.


Some Other Green Burial Cemeteries in the U.S.

Alkaline Hydrolysis Cremation

Alkaline hydrolysis cremation is a new, somewhat controversial process. It’s controversial primarily because it’s new – it does nothing more than fire cremation has done to human remains, but it offers fresh possibilities. Rather than fire, mineral salts are combined with hot water in a metal container where the body is placed, either nude or in silk garments that break down naturally in the process. All these elements are agitated for a period of four to six hours until the body (and garments, if used) breaks down into bone and effluent. The effluent is the liquefied solution of water, salts, and all the non-bone parts of the body. This effluent is not only nontoxic but is, in fact, healthy for the earth. It is an excellent fertilizer and can be donated to farms or kept by the family to use in their own gardens. While some people may feel squeamish at the thought of liquefied human remains nourishing crops that we eventually consume, or pouring out parts of family members into flower beds, I think of it differently. First, this is really a process that occurs anyway in natural decomposition: everything but the bones liquefies, and eventually even bones break down to become part of the earth, the same earth in which we grow our food. It's only much more efficient and sanitary. Second, this is an opportunity to make a beautiful gesture that says, “Let me feed this earth that has fed me.” And then your loved ones may still keep, scatter, or bury the bones of your body.


Some Alkaline Hydrolysis Cremation Businesses in the U.S.

Human Composting

Human composting is a similar concept to alkaline hydrolysis, in that the bodies of the dead are intentionally decomposed with the express purpose of feeding the earth. Again, this is simply a more efficient and dedicated form of a process that occurs naturally over time. Again, it’s a controversial approach, mostly due to concerns that it may be a disrespectful and therefore unethical treatment of the body. The deceased are placed in containers with all the things that break down matter: microbes and fungi. As with typical composting, the container is rotated regularly to ensure that decomposition occurs evenly and thoroughly. It takes about eighteen months for the process to complete, and then loved ones are given the final product: the nutritive compost of their beloved dead that can be donated or used privately.


Some Human Composting Businesses in the U.S.

Death as a New Beginning

All of these forms of disposition require us to accept death as a natural fact of existence, to embrace impermanence and the inevitability of change, and to welcome the postmortem process as an inevitability that is not pretty or neat. Decomposition is non-aesthetic – it smells; it looks gross; it can be unsanitary if not dealt with carefully – but it is also inescapably necessary. It’s destruction, yes. It’s the ugly inverse of creation. But within the mess and disorder, when done intentionally and with due process, are the things that this world so desperately needs: nourishment, rebirth, hope.


What are your thoughts about green burial, alkaline hydrolysis cremation, and human composting? Do you have a preference for one, or do you have something else in mind? How do your disposition plans or desires communicate your spiritual beliefs?


Also, if you'd like to hear me talk about death, dying, and funerals as a pagan death care professional, I was recently interviewed on Around Grandfather Fire!


Photo by Alexx Cooper on Unsplash

Last modified on
The Cunning Wife is an animist, writer, diviner, crafter, witch, and spirit worker and traveler. Her work has been published in a number of online and print magazines, including Witches & Pagans and Hagstone Publishing's Stone, Root, and Bone ezine. She gets excited about scholarly essays and books on folklore, magical tales, and ancient spiritual practices, and is passionate about sharing that information. She is also an avid crafter of magical and mundane items. She believes that there is magic in the mundane, just waiting to be remembered.  


  • Janet Boyer
    Janet Boyer Tuesday, 05 September 2023

    I love the idea of green burials! I first heard of Recompose right before it launched. I wish there were more here on the East Coast; that's how I'd love to "go out"!

  • Please login first in order for you to submit comments

Additional information