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Anne Frank, Ghost Weddings and Post-Mortem Baptisms February 27, 2012

Author: Beach Combing | in : Contemporary , trackback

A bit of a ragtag post this: the possibilities of post-mortem marriage and baptism (or ‘naming ceremonies’ to remain as broad as possible). Beach got thinking about this after a recent discussion with a priest who had married a teenager to her dead boyfriend. The boyfriend had just passed away in intensive care after a nasty moped accident and, at the ministrations of the understandably hysterical girl, the priest performed the rites of marriage there and then. The ceremony clearly made a lasting impression on the priest, who was troubled that he had done the wrong thing: the girl was neither legally nor ‘theologically’ married (there was no response…) but perhaps it brought some comfort to her.

In any case, all this got Beach thinking about other attempts to bully the dead into contracts that generally require consciousness. Andy the Mad Monk, a long-standing friend of this blog had just sent in an article about Chinese ghost marriages. Families who have lost an adult daughter can, in China, sell her corpse – which seems to actually involve lending the body – to a family who have lost a bachelor son and so make sure that the dead man has solace in the afterlife.

It all sounds very civilised until you see the potential for abuse. Grave-robbers have been selling young dead girls over and over to various parents. As Andy put it: ‘The thought of becoming a bigamist after death, when you were unmarried in life is a strange one!’  There are even some Burke and Hare sorts who kill girls to sell them.Beachcombing hopes that his old friends the Chinese hackers aren’t involved. Tech geeks are so prone to marriage abuse of all kinds. Easy boys!

European examples of the dead getting up to such japes are harder to come by – the best Beach could do is a probably mythical coronation of a dead woman from medieval Portugal.But if we pass over to the United States there is Mormon post-mortem baptism.

This custom is based – thanks to Invisible here for clarification – on I Corinthians 15:29 and includes the very reasonable idea that you can splash a bit of water on the heads of your dead ancestors.

The Church would have had a field day with this in the early Middle Ages, if only some adventurous bishop had tried it out on his congregation of beer-burping Visigoths. Remember the chieftain who announced to one missionary that he would rather party in hell with his own great grandparents than listen to harp music in heaven with monks?

Still, better late than never, Joseph Smith saw a gap in the soul market and sent the troops in. Mormons have been looking for dead ancestors ever since – we have Mormon genealogical centres around the world to thank for this – and some have also, naughtily strayed into other categories, including Holocaust victims.

Anne Frank, for example, has been baptised as a Mormon on oodles of occasion. How strange life is! If we could have told Anne that she would have been killed by the Germans, that she would become world famous for her diary, that some nutters would say that she had never existed, she, bright girl that she was, would certainly have been able to grasp it all. But would that girl in the attic, scribbling in her exercise book, have understood that in Salt Lake City, men in jeans with long black ties and good intentions…

Beachcombing should finish this little interrogatory of the Mormon faith by saying that he finds Mormon beliefs even stranger than some of his own: spectacles on a prophet of God! But he has always been most impressed with Mormons themselves: the most extraordinarily kind people (as long as you steer clear of Mountain Meadows).

All this to say that if the brethren want to baptise Beach after his death, he gives them full position to do their worst whatever Mrs B says to the contrary. They (or at least some of them) know where to find him…

More post-mortem shenanigans? Drbeachcombing AT yahoo DOT com

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29/Feb/2012: First up is documentary-maker and author Chris Hale: ‘I once made a series of films with Prof. Steve Jones, ‘In the Blood’ – including an episode called LOST TRIBES which was about the way we all want and need high quality ancestors – and sometimes use genetics to find them. There are many peoples scattered from Utah to Burma who claim to be descended from one of the Biblical lost tribes: a myth of a myth if you like, almost certainly fostered by Christian missionaries. Mormon mythology – set down by Joseph Smith in ‘The Book of Mormon’ – refers to some native Americans as a lost tribe, I believe. I am not sure: we would need to ask the angel Moroni, who appeared to Smith and pointed him towards the location of some golden tablets, and now resides on top of the Temple in Salt Lake City. I remember being told by a Mormon gentleman that Smith used a pair of ‘granite spectacles’ to translate the Book of Mormon which he had unearthed from an old Indian mound. When Steve and I visited the genealogical centre in Salt Lake City, we discovered that a Welsh ancestor of Steve’s had been baptised more than a century after his decease. Just outside SLC, we drove up to the main gates of the ‘Mountain of Names’ – an immense subterranean archive which stores the results of all that global genealogical research by Mormon missionaries. I believe Mormons also wear weird underwear when they attend Temple, but can’t be sure. Some believe the Welsh to be a lost tribe, of course – and once upon a time there was a flourishing society that promoted the idea that the British were in fact Israelites. Having disparaged this religious lunacy, it’s worth mentioning that scientists at the University of Utah (not the same as Brigham Young Uni, the Mormon college) used some of the Mormon family records to track down one of the breast cancer genes. Is Mormonism – the fastest growing religion in the world – any odder than others?‘ Then here is Invisible: Where to start in terns of post-mortem rituals to correspond to Mormon baptisms? Of course saints are forever raising the unconfessed dead so that they may be absolved and then die again. There is also a Japanese tradition in some sects of Zen of post-mortem ordination. The dead person is symbolically shaven and ordained as a Buddhist priest and transformed into a Buddha: look for motsugo sasõ  In Thailand , Buddhist monks celebrate the post-mortem birthday of their Abbot.  As for post-mortem “marriages,” there was the exceedingly distasteful case of Carl Von Cosel/Tanzler and Elena Hoyos:  The Portuguese post-mortem coronation made me think of the story of Elizabeth of Hungary. When her relics were transferred in 1236, Holy Roman Emperor Frederick II, who once asked Elizabeth to marry him, came and laid his crown on her tomb (some stories say, on her head), saying: “Since I could not crown her as Empress in the world, I will at least crown her today, immortal queen in the Kingdom of God.” Then I thought of the uses of the dead in the legal system and remembered cruentation—the idea that the blood of a victim will flow in the presence of the murderer [and at sacred texts].  But my favorite (admittedly legendary) story of post-mortem hi-jinks comes from Legends of the City of Mexico, collected by Thomas A. Janvier, 1910. “The Legend of the Obedient Nun”:  where a Mother Superior charges a very tall dead nun-– under her vow of obedience – to shrink enough to fit into her mis-measured coffin. Saints’ lives are full of tales of religious obeying nonsensical orders from their spiritual advisors (plant a staff and water it or eat worms) but this story, as far as I can see, is unique‘. Southern Man writes: Your comparison with the Middle Ages is particularly well placed. Do you remember the passage in the tripartite life of St Patrick where Patrick brings a good giant back from the dead to baptise him?’ thanks Southern Man, Invisible and thanks Chris!!