Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Today’s topic: honoring your dead.

So I’d like to begin by saying that its very difficult to find recent pictures of Vladimir Lenin, but he looks really good for a guy who died in 1924. All right, so why am I talking about 87-year-dead communist mummies? Well…

When we talk about world-building, its important to be complete. The nature of the culture you invent will dictate how they handle their dead. In The Path to Ascension and on my wiki, I explain the concept of Ash Pits. In parts of the Alliance, this system evolved out of concern that cemeteries would one day take up entirely too much space.

The Ash Pits also came about to avoid all the waste and excess of funerary rites. A body wrapped in a simple linen sheet and burned on a pyre, with great respect and reverence, serves the same function without great expense. Spending money to honor an empty shell, it was reasoned, was silly.

How you create your culture defines how they honor their dead. In the middle ages, Christian cultures in Britain felt that once a person had died, their body was no longer important. The shell had to be treated with respect, but it was ultimately unimportant. For that reason, early British kings were often buried alongside commoners, with simple carved headstones.

Meanwhile, in France, French kings were being placed in elaborate tombs in the Basilica of St Denis. As a sign of disrespect, these tombs were later torn open, and the mummified remains desecrated. I suppose that’s the downside of having your body kept in a relatively public place, and then having your descendants piss off the common folk.

Of course, nobody took more elaborate steps with the dead than the ancient Egyptians. I’m pretty sure we don’t even need to talk about them, but just in case, KV5.

Now we come back around to the pinkos. Sorry, I’m being unnecessarily cruel. Vladimir Lenin, Ho Chi Minh, and Mao Zedong were all preserved using similar techniques. Lenin’s body, for example, requires full-time maintenance to keep that “just sleeping” look. Details are sketchy on the other two, but we can only imagine the techniques are similar. Why, you may ask? Or, probably more accurately, WHY?!?!?! Well, this is about what it comes down to: these men were considered extremely great in their countries, and for some reason it was felt that future generations should be able to see their coproses.

It’s a cultural phenomenon that seems to be unique to communist nations, and more specifically to their leaders. Stalin was originally given the same treatment and placed right next to Lenin, until the whole de-Stalinization thing(which sounds an awful lot like the process of removing salt from seawater…) and his body was buried. Why is it so important for modern people, 87 years later, after the fall of the Soviet Union, to see Lenin’s body? That’s a good question.

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