Let's face it, there isn't a non-creepy way to deal with a dead body. We fill it with chemicals and bury it, or burn it. But as unpleasant as that business is, some cultures have taken body disposal to a whole, new, terrifying level.
What Is It?
Self-immolation (or Suttee) was a traditional Hindu ritual practiced in India, whereby a grieving widow will voluntarily lie by her husband's side on his funeral pyre, where she's burned alive next to the corpse.
Suttee had been practiced throughout India for centuries, before it was outlawed by the occupying British in 1829 (though occurrences have persisted until present day, causing it to be banned again in 1956, and again in 1981--some people just don't listen).
As you can imagine, once the flames got going it was common for widows to decide this wasn't such a great idea and try to run the hell away. This was considered highly dishonorable, so bystanders would helpfully jab the widow with bamboo canes or even tie her down to keep her on the fire.
In one 18th century incident, when a widow got beyond the pokers and doused the flames in a nearby river, helpful onlookers threw her back on, remembering first to break her legs and arms to save her from future indignities.
Dear God, Why?
Back in the day, widows in India were way, way down on the social ladder. Everything about a widow was considered impure, from her touch and her voice to her very presence. She was something to be shunned and abhorred, which must have reduced the husband's funeral to a lot of cursing and spitting. Apparently they didn't think the grief of losing a husband was quite enough.
Apparently at some point in history, when the widows asked what they could do to redeem themselves someone said, "Why don't you just set your fucking self on fire? How about that?"
Though it was also believed that the husband and wife could be reunited after death, which is why sometimes the husband's most cherished possessions were burnt so that he could use them in the afterlife or trade them on the Indian afterlife's thriving black market.
What Is It?
Self-mummification was practiced until the late 1800s in Japan, by people who thought being a mummy looked so awesome they couldn't wait until actual death to be one. It's been outlawed since the early 1900s, and when we describe how it works, you'll see why. Just wrapping yourself up in bandages and waiting for the Grim Reaper doesn't seem to cut it.
No, to mummify yourself properly, you'll need over 2,000 days of preparation. Here's how to do it, the Buddhist priest way:
First we've got to get all of the fat off of your body. They did this by changing their diet to just nuts and seeds. The priest could eat nothing else for 1,000 days.
Next, we need to remove as much moisture from your body as possible. Since your body is mostly moisture, this may cause you some discomfort. The priests would eat only a small amount of bark and root from pine trees, for another 1,000 days. Then they'd drink a special tea (and by "special" we mean "incredibly poisonous") made from the sap of an urushi tree.
If the tea causes explosive diarrhea and vomiting, you'll know it's working. Again, this will reduce the amount of moisture inside you, but more importantly the sap will soak into your guts, lining them and thus protecting them against maggots.
Next you'll be sealed in a small, stone room--just big enough to sit in the lotus position. You're done! Now you just have to wait to die!
Dear God, Why?
This was all tied to the Buddhist idea that to achieve enlightenment, you must separate yourself from the physical world entirely so that at death, instead of being reborn, you become one with Buddha. That's why 1,000 days after they finally keeled over in the stone room, a crowd would gather to peer inside, seeing how the mummification went. Most of the time, it didn't work.
If the priest had successfully mummified himself, he would be revered as Buddha, and presumably everyone would have a massive party to celebrate, and they'd gorge themselves on shrimp and tiny cocktail sausages. Except for those who were already well on their way to self-mummification. They'd have the nut roast.
What Is It?
We can thank the Buddhists for this one as well. Tibetan Sky Burial is a form of human dissection practiced in Delaware. No, we're kidding. It's from Tibet.
A corpse is sliced up, usually atop a mountain, and left for the birds. Tibetans call the practice jhator, which means giving alms to the birds. And also legs, torsos and heads as well.The bodies, wrapped in white cloth, are bought to the burial site, where the monks have enticed vultures and other airborne scavengers. Monks unwrap the bodies, a process that probably isn't all that pleasant considering they've been left alone for three days (per Tibetan custom).
One or more monks then set about the body with axes and, according to witnesses, are very casual and sometimes laughing and joking as they do it. This underlines the fact that Tibetans consider the body merely a vessel, and not that the guy they're dismembering was just a total dick when he was alive.
When the body is dismembered, the vultures swoop in and squabble over the chunks of carcass. The bones are then smashed to bits with mallets, mixed with flour, then fed to smaller birds.
Dear God, Why?
Since they believe in reincarnation, they see no need to preserve the body, as it's just an empty vessel. So why not just let the birds eat it? And subsequently poop out onto the landscape for hundreds of miles around?
They've been doing sky burial since at least the 12th century, according to the Tibetan Book Of The Dead (yes, it's a real book and no, it you can't use it to raise zombies. We checked).
It should be noted that where this is practiced, there isn't a lot of timber available for funeral pyres and the hard rocky soil makes digging graves difficult. So we're thinking the whole ritual started with one guy saying, "Ah, fuck it. Just leave 'em here for the birds." Then later somebody gave a fancy name to it.