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Humanist Burial: Called "A Beautiful Experience."

Updated on June 16, 2011

In peace at last. A photo from the Park.

British celebrityJade Goody rests in Epping Forest Burial Park as husband, Jack Tweed, lays a wreath. Photo credit.
British celebrityJade Goody rests in Epping Forest Burial Park as husband, Jack Tweed, lays a wreath. Photo credit.

Spending the hereafter in an ancient forest.

My friend, Sue, was called to a funeral yesterday of one of her husband's old football mates who had passed away, sadly quite young, of a heart crisis.

I groaned when she told me, and she wasn't too keen, either. I avoid funerals like the plague, if that's not a rather inappropriate analogy. I prefer to think we should spend more time with the living, and believe - like the poet: "When from the body steals life's heat/Why all the excitement to carry the meat?" I do get accused of being overtly cynical sometimes and I can see why.

But this is not about me or my curmudgeonly opinions.

In fact, not being one of the guests yesterday, my opinion remains approximately the same, but Sue told me that, far from being a harrowing waste of a day, the funeral was a “Beautiful Experience.”

A lot of people recently - Humanists, or those who favour a more relaxed and natural way of doing things, have made a decision to return to nature for the final resting place of themselves or their beloved. In this overcrowded little nation of Britain, that sounds a lot easier than, in fact, it is. All the land belongs to someone and whereas in the States, Canada and Australia, to name a few vast countries, you can probably drive into them thar hills; the desert or the forests and dig a hole for poor old gramps, that would be impossible here with close to one thousand people per square mile and most with their noses in each other's business, ready to tattle if they find your darling Aunt Hetty buried in their allotment. (small plots for vegetable cultivation “allotted” free to the public...just try getting one in 2011!).

So in the British Isles some enterprising person has to acquire the wooded land by purchase or long-term lease, and obtain all the necessary licenses to open in the body - or ashes - burying business.

My friend and the bereaved family visited one of quite a few of these "natural" areas being developed for Humanists and others who like the idea of their final resting place being among trees, birds, flowers and in peaceful silence.

This was the Epping Forest Burial Ground: 52 acres of bluebell woods (the Bluebell is greatly loved and protected in Britain and where they chose to grow en mass is almost like sacred ground), purchased by Kate Adie, OBE (to have a gong like the Order of the British Empire must help when dealing with august bodies like those who control England's ancient woodlands). The flourishing business has won awards already.

Epping Forest, about 25 miles north of London, is one of the last remnants of the great forests; once used by a succession of royal heads as hunting grounds; still with many examples of the mighty trees like yew, oak and elm, etc., that once covered Britain.

It cannot have been easy to get permission to chop-off yet another piece of this rapidly disappearing oasis; the fact that the current administration under Cameron is ecology-minded must have helped. Plus the fact this is another example of an imaginative entrepreneur answering a need. This in a population with a larger percentage of senior citizens each year, often paying quite large amounts for the privilege of being interred alongside hundreds of others in a regularly noisy and unattractive churchyard.

The actual burial here is conducted from a gathering point in a lovely, woodsy communal hall; then the mourners and the funeral party walk through the woods to the selected grave site. Here, there is a short service and a normal burial takes place (Sue said the whole ceremony, from start to finish, was only about one hour).

As part of the permission to conduct the business, the woodlands are being returned as far as possible to the natural, coppiced groves of yore. Bird nesting boxes to appeal to many species of wild bird have been secreted in the greenery, resulting in the funerals being conducted to the backdrop of blackbird and thrush song, with warblings from many other not quite so dramatic songsters. For me, there is nothing like the drowsy, contented song of the Blackbird; almost hypnotic, as he perches in his tree and salutes the efforts of his mate in the nest below, immune to her mutterings of “It‘s alright for you!”.

If one has to die, and it seems inevitable at present, this may be the ideal spot to rest the weary and worn-out old body, although it will obviously give much more satisfaction after the event to the family and friends than it will to the corpse. For the departed, the pleasure may be contemplating this final, infinite holiday in such beautiful surroundings, where, perhaps, the blackbirds get the early worm before it gets you! And no need to bring flowers, the inmates rest among glorious primroses, bluebells and daffodils, as the stuff of life slowly becomes part of sward and tree.


Humanism and Humanists have worn many hats over the Millennia, far too numerous to mention herein.

In our times, there are 100 or more Humanist groups worldwide, in more than 40 nations. The organisation is IHEW, International Human and Ethical Union.

Humanists mainly reject "pseudoscience," and superstition: you can add your own sub-headings to this bland statement.

They advocate justice, reason and ethics, among other noble endeavours.

The full story is online with Wiki, etc.

I will add some more information - such as cost, etc., to this article over the next few days.


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    • diogenes profile image

      diogenes 6 years ago from UK and Mexico

      Yes...follow me to the grave, they will! Bob

    • Trish_M profile image

      Tricia Mason 6 years ago from The English Midlands

      Hi Bob :)

      You have a lot of enthusiastic followers! :)

    • diogenes profile image

      diogenes 6 years ago from UK and Mexico

      Well, yes, overcrowded, but well below the surface. I agree with your dad (like my poet..."carry the meat"). I am so against funerals, I will have to be dragged to my own!

      Without you, i wouldn't have a readership, Trish! G'night

    • Trish_M profile image

      Tricia Mason 6 years ago from The English Midlands

      Hi :)

      Interesting subject.

      We are definitely running out of graveyard / cemetery space, but wouldn't the forests soon become overcrowded with the 'gone before', too?

      And are cremations really bad for polluting the atmosphere?

      If so, then what's the answer?

      My Dad used to say that caring about a person meant spending time with them while they were alive, and not being quite so concerned about showing one's face at the funeral.

    • profile image

      diogenes 6 years ago

      Hi Sonia: All my family have been cremated and I will, too. There's no life beyond the grave, not as we know it anyway and efficient, clean disposal should be the main consideration.


    • sonia05 profile image

      sonia05 6 years ago from india

      What an interesting subject you have chosen Bob! I had never ever given a thought about this! I totally agree with you when you say "When from the body steals life's heat/Why all the excitement to carry the meat?"

      I am a Hindu and we dont bury the dead but cremate. In Hinduism, the dead body is considered to be symbol of great impurity hence minimal physical contact is maintained, perhaps to avoid the spread of infections or germs. The cremation ground is called Shmashana (in Sanskrit), and traditionally it is located near a river, if not on the river bank itself. There, a pyre is prepared, on which the corpse is laid and the the chief mourner (generally the eldest son) walks around the pyre and sets the pyre alight with a torch of flame.After that,the traditional mouning starts and ends after thirteen days.The logic behind such detailed rituals going on for so many days is to help overcome the grief of the loss of a loved one amidst family members and relatives.

      I wonder what would the humanists and ecologists say to this? Respecting one's religious sentiments and also taking into consideration the ecological consequences would be the best way out. However,the balancing act is difficult.

      I also do not support the idea of spending a lot on the rituals! Its best to use the money for some charity work which would bring peace to the departed.

    • Hello, hello, profile image

      Hello, hello, 6 years ago from London, UK

      For many, many years I always told my son I want to be buried in the forest. To me it is nothing nicer than that. As a matter of fact I told him to drop my ashes anywhere in a forest. That is how I would like it. All these other arrangements are only there to make money and they invented it. I know I am odd.

    • profile image

      Motown2Chitown 6 years ago

      "So I see you've worked in human resources?"

      "Yes, sir. At Soylent Green, Inc."

    • diogenes profile image

      diogenes 6 years ago from UK and Mexico

      I was thinking more of Solyent Green!

      But a great idea, WOL: maybe you wanna be a sleeping partner!?


    • profile image

      writeronline 6 years ago

      Nicely written, Bob. (imho)

      I think there's actually a perfect circle business opportunity here, (say, for an older gentleman living in the entrepeneur-friendly UK...?)that combines Humanism, Rationalism, Creationism, Conservationism, and Economic Realism. And,what's more, contributes to the easing of global warming / climate change / carbon emissions.

      Here's my rationale:

      Obviously, any day now, Governments will be forced to outlaw cremation, God knows (intentional pun, even if not that good...)how much carbon is emmitted per head of dead. And there's no question that casket burial must soon follow. Coffin manufacturing, (even if only cheap mdf / particle board) is a major polluter and waster of natural resources, ie trees, so its days are surely numbered,(I know, another pun, not great either, sorry..).

      Solution: 'Diogenes Biodegradeable Burials'.

      Get buried naked, wrapped in a paper shroud, beneath a freshly planted sapling (your choice of native tree) in a beautiful location, that will get even more beautiful as your decaying (or more sensitively, 'bio-degrading') body, and those of fellow interred persons, returns to Mother Earth, while nourishing new and enduring tracts of verdant forest.

      That's the beneficial Natural aspect of the perfect circle opportunity.

      The beneficial Economic aspect involves the setting up of a simple ETS (Emissions Trading Scheme) whereby cash-strapped OAP's electing biodegradeable / reforestation burial can offset the full cost of funeral and burial, against the CO2 reduction brought about by their direct input (economic terminology)into reforestation.

      Whaddya reckon?

    • diogenes profile image

      diogenes 6 years ago from UK and Mexico

      chpulish. Doesn't it, though?

      Austinstar: I know Guanajuato, but didn't visit the momias, although I know of them.

      Sophia: Thanks for kind comment, glad you enjoyed

      Eiddwen: Good to hear from you!


    • Eiddwen profile image

      Eiddwen 6 years ago from Wales

      A very interesting hub which I enjoyed reading.

      Thanks for sharing and take care


    • profile image

      Sophia Angelique 6 years ago

      I enjoyed reading this.

    • Austinstar profile image

      Lela 6 years ago from Somewhere in the universe

      There's a city in Mexico called Guanajuato. It's famous for its Mommias (mummies). I wouldn't mind joining those guys after I die. They "live" in a beautiful place.

    • chspublish profile image

      chspublish 6 years ago from Ireland

      Nature's final resting place it would seem is brought about in a beautiful setting. It's bound to seem the most fitting of settings for the human remains.

    • diogenes profile image

      diogenes 6 years ago from UK and Mexico

      Hi cathylynn. So much easier in the great USA with all that space. I go from the extreme of thinking, "Why worry about it, I certainly won't" to walking around local churchyards with a yearning to lie down! It costs a lot to die here though! Bob

    • cathylynn99 profile image

      cathylynn99 6 years ago from northeastern US

      there is a natural burial movement in the US. you are buried in biodegradable clothes in a pine box in a nature preserve. no need for embalming. it's the way i plan to go, no time soon, i hope.

    • profile image

      Motown2Chitown 6 years ago

      That would be great! I'll keep an eye on it. This fascinates me actually. Really, the only difference between this and a religious burial would be the issue of hallowed ground - but hallowing ground is a one time thing. :) It's actually the rest that I'm interested in.

    • diogenes profile image

      diogenes 6 years ago from UK and Mexico

      OK MC: There's a lot missing from this hub I know. First of all, it's not religious at all. there is a casket, but it is evidently made of biodegradable material. I think you can opt for shrouding, which would make your transition into the "matter bank" much faster. I will try and add to this article. Bob

      Yes, Bobbi. It's really not so much as where you spend it but the anticipation of the event and much nicer to think of the glade and the trees...Bob

    • BobbiRant profile image

      BobbiRant 6 years ago from New York

      I think this is a great way to go. I think the back to nature thing is much more friendly and a lot less sad. I'd like to spend eternity under a big old tree too. Great hub. I like this one.

    • profile image

      Motown2Chitown 6 years ago

      Bob, I have to ask - is it a standard burial in that there's a casket and all? I've recently been giving thought to being buried the old fashioned way - shrouded rather than in a casket - I feel it's more natural, and I don't want a box in the dirt that will never decompose - or even take centuries to do it.