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Scottish Burial Customs

Updated April 17, 2017

Different cultures demonstrate different burial and funeral customs. There are many ceremonial burial traditions that are deep-rooted within a culture based on a combination of that culture's religious beliefs, important rituals and ways to honour and remember the dead. There are several Scottish burial customs dating back to the 19th century that are still being used during burials and funerals in the 21st century.

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The Wake

The wake is an important Scottish burial custom that takes place for days before the deceased's body is actually buried. The deceased's family watches the body night and day to ensure that its spirit doesn't fall into the devil's hands. The room in which the body lies is kept dark until the funeral. For days, those who have gathered sing songs, read passages from the Bible and share stories reverently about the deceased. The days of the wake are often called "dead days."

Wooden Plate

One Scottish burial custom, sometimes known as "earth laid upon a corpse," involves a wooden plate resting on the chest of the deceased. It is a custom that from the Scottish Highlands many years before that has been passed down from generation to generation. The wooden plate is filled with a small combination of dirt and salt before being placed on the deceased's chest to represent the person's future in the afterlife. The dirt represents the physical body of the deceased, and the action of that body becoming part of the earth once again. Because salt is used as a preservative, it represents the soul of the deceased because a soul does not wither and decay.

The Procession

Another Scottish burial and funeral custom is the procession. It begins at 3 in the afternoon and consists of the family and friends of the deceased travelling with the casket through town on foot. The casket is traditionally carried by eight men at a time, and the men rotate turns so that different men of the town are allowed a chance to carry it. Scottish history shows that although these processions were generally quiet and sombre, sometimes they could get out of hand due to excessive drinking done by the men, leading to the occasional ruckus. The procession generally halts at several rest stops through the town where the pallbearers rest and switch turns. Each man would throw a small stone by the roadside to honour the dead during these rests.

Paying Last Respects

This Scottish tradition takes place directly before the burial and allows the friends and family of the deceased to pay their last respects. Each person files past the casket. It is common for each person to touch the deceased's brow or breast. This allows them to not be haunted by the deceased's spirit later on. After last respects are paid, the casket is closed and the chairs on which it was resting are flipped upside-down so no ghosts are left behind to sit on them. The casket is carried through the funeral house feet first to make sure the soul of the deceased goes on to its final resting place instead of finding its way back home.

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About the Author

Kelsi Johnston has been writing short stories and assorted articles since 2008. She has experience in news writing and technical writing and her work has appeared in various online publications. She is pursuing a Bachelor of Arts in English and creative writing from Auburn University.

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