What is a Funeral Pyre?

Funeral Pyres

Let’s learn about funeral pyres and open-air cremation.

What is a Funeral Pyre?

A funeral pyre is a construction of wood (sometimes with a base of stone) on which a human body is burned.

Also known as “open air cremation,” the use of funeral pyres is common in some traditions but is not common (or even legal) in most of the modern Western world.

What is Open-Air Cremation?

Open-air cremation is the process of cremation (reducing a body to ash by use of fire) set out in the open. This is done by placing the body on a funeral pyre, then stoking the fire and burning until the corpse is reduced to ashes.

What is a funeral pyre?
Digital rendering of a funeral pyre – Copyright USUrnsOnline

Is Open-Air Cremation Legal in the USA?

No. Open-air cremation or burning human bodies on funeral pyres is not legal in most of the Western world.

However, there is an exception. In Crestone, Colorado, the Crestone End of Life Project operates a legal open-air cremation site where people can be legally cremated on a funeral pyre. You would have to be both a member of their organization and a resident of Crestone in order to qualify for their open-air cremation ceremony.

What Countries Still Use Funeral Pyres?

Other countries that practice open-air cremation include:

Will Funeral Pyres Ever Be Legal in the USA?

Possibly. Attitudes and ideas about death practices are changing rapidly in the Western world. Contemporary cremation in a crematorium has only been around since the late 1800s. Polite society frowned upon cremation for decades following its introduction.

However, in the last two decades the rate of cremation has risen tremendously. In 2016, the rate of cremation in the USA increased to 50.2, meaning that for the first time more than half of all decedents were cremated.

Now there are many other options for final disposition available and being researched. People ask about “Viking funerals” and being cremated on a funeral pyre all the time, so interest is clearly growing.

But will open air cremation ever be legal in the USA, Canada, Europe, or other areas of the Western world? Only time will tell.

Read more: Here’s the complete list of everything you can do with your body after you die

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What is Open Air Cremation?

4 thoughts on “What is a Funeral Pyre?”

  1. Daniel Szczesniak

    Hi Jennifer,

    Thanks for asking! As explained in the article, pretty much no, you won’t be able to be burned on a funeral pyre. The practice is not legal in most of the Western world.

  2. You can turn your body into ashes for a tattoo, you can be turned into a gemstone, or a record….but open air cremation is illegal???.

  3. Daniel Szczesniak

    Yes, that is because for those options (tattoo, gemstone, etc) the cremation has already been done in a certified crematorium. Once a body has been reduced to ashes there is a lot more flexibility with what can be done with the ashes, vs what can be done with the body of the deceased.

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