Author Archives: Amy Houchin

Promession: The Most Ecological Way to Bury Our Dead?

The final product of over 20 years of research and testing from Swedish scientist Susanne Wiigh-Mäsak, promession is a new, eco-friendly burial option for those wishing for their corpse to leave the smallest ecological impact possible. Concerned with the negative impact current burial practices have on the environment, Wiigh-Mäsak came up with this method to return our bodies to the ground in a way that gives nutrients back to the earth instead of damaging it.

There are several steps to promession. The first occurs after the funeral services or ceremonies have taken place and the body is placed into the Promator machine. Once there, the body will be frozen using liquid nitrogen to -196° C (or -321° F). This process takes about two hours, and all of the liquid nitrogen used will evaporate into the air harmlessly. After it has been frozen, the body will then be transported onto a belt, which will use ultrasonic vibrations to shatter the body into tiny, millimeter-sized pieces. It only takes one minute to break the body down in this way. Next, the body is placed into a vacuum chamber where the remaining water is extracted from the body and which will then evaporate into the air. After this, only 30% of the body’s total composition remains. The remaining dry particles go through electrical currents which will remove any metal left in the body (such as dental fillings and prosthetic hips), and this metal will then be recycled. Finally, the remains are placed into a small, bio-degradable coffin, which is then buried very shallowly. The body and coffin will be completely decomposed within 6-12 months, which can be contrasted to the several years it can take for a typical burial.

As someone who tries to live in an environmentally-conscious way, I find this method of burial very attractive. However, with all the expensive equipment and technology that is used, I could easily see this being an extremely expensive way to be buried.


Tibetan Sky Burials

Sky burials (or celestial burials, as they are also called) are the burial rites of choice for the Tibetans. After a member of the community has died, the body is cut into pieces by a Burial Master, and then taken to a selected site, usually in an area of high elevation. This is because the corpse is then supposed to be eaten by vultures, who tend to congregate at higher altitudes. After the vultures have consumed the body, the belief is that they take the body away to heavens where the soul of the deceased person remains until they are ready for their next reincarnation. This practice is believed to have been practiced for as many as 11,000 years, but there is little written evidence, or physical evidence, due to the fact that the remains are ingested by the vultures or other animals.

For Tibetans, the sky burial serves both practical and spiritual functions. Often, the ground is frozen, making it difficult to dig graves, making sky burials an appealing alterative. Also, some of the central values in Tibetan culture revolve around being humble, generous, and honoring of nature; sky burials allow the physical bodies of Tibetans to be returned to the earth in a way that generously provides a meal for the vultures and very minimally disturbs the earth. Because of their belief in reincarnation, death is seen as more of a transition as opposed to an ending. They believe the soul moves on from the body at the very instant of death, leaving very little room for attachment to the physical body after death. In fact, in order for the soul of the person to have an easy transition into their next life, the Tibetans believe there should be no trace left of the physical body after death, providing another advantage of this practice.

Sohma, Marina. “Sky Burial: Tibet’s Ancient Tradition for Honoring the Dead.” Ancient Origins. N.p., 15 Nov. 2016. Web.