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What Is a Funeral Pyre? History and Facts

Gabrielle Applebury
Man's silhouette at funeral pyre

A funeral pyre is an outdoor cremation method that uses stacks of wood as the cremation structure. To better understand what a funeral pyre is, it's important to understand its history and legality.

What Is a Funeral Pyre

Funeral pyres were thought to first come into use around 800 B.C. by the ancient Greeks. Funeral pyres continued to be used throughout history around the world, with some cultures continuing to use them today.

What Is the Meaning of Funeral Pyre?

A funeral pyre, sometimes called just a pyre, is a wood structure used for outdoor cremation. The pyre can be part of a funeral rite that is used to help individuals begin to process the loss of a deceased individual. Ashes may be buried, scattered, or placed in an urn after the pyre ritual has taken place. This will depend on cultural and religious beliefs, and/or the desires of the deceased individual's family.

How Hot Is a Funeral Pyre?

Funeral pyres can reach up to 800 degrees celsius. It typically takes around five hours for the body to become ashes.

Funeral Pyre in the United States

In the United States, it can be difficult to find a place to have a funeral pyre legally. Currently, there is only one location in Crestone, Colorado where this outdoor cremation ceremony is legal. At the Crestone end-of-life project, the funeral pyre includes a wooden stretcher, a half cord of wood, and a shroud for the deceased individual. Individuals who work at the Crestone end-of-life project can assist you in making end-of-life plans if open air cremation is something you are interested in for yourself or for a loved one.

Funeral Pyres Around the World

Around the world, funeral pyres have been used throughout history.

  • During the Bronze Age, funeral pyres were used in modern day Dublin as a part of funeral practices.
  • During ancient times in Denmark, funeral pyres were a status symbol, with huge funeral pyres, often accompanied with flint firecrackers, gifts, and foliage with unique scents used within the pyre to incite all the senses of the spectators.
  • Viking, or Norse funerals, used pyres and aimed to create huge amounts of smoke, as they believed this would help them to the afterlife.
  • Some Buddhists and Hindus may still use funeral pyres as part of death rituals today.
Hindu Cremation, India

Funeral Pyre Legality

Funeral pyre legality is a complex topic as culture and religious beliefs often come into play when it comes to funeral rites and rituals. Some countries have faced pressure from the public to legalize this practice to be more inclusive of cultural and religious beliefs.

Is a Viking Funeral Illegal?

In the United States, a funeral pyre on water is not legal. Open air cremations in the United States are currently only available in Crestone, Colorado.

Where Can You Have a Funeral Pyre?

In the United States, there is only one location to legally hold an open cremation ceremony. In Wales and England, the Court of Appeal ruled that open cremations were legal as long as specific guidelines were met. In parts of south Asia, as well as India, funeral pyres are still utilized today.

Why Are Funeral Pyres Illegal?

In the United States, a funeral pyre would violate title 21, desecration of a human corpse. This states that desecration includes burning and is a punishable felony.

Funeral Pyres Explained

A funeral pyre is a funeral rite that has been used throughout history and is still used in some places around the world today.

What Is a Funeral Pyre? History and Facts