Something old is new again… mummification is getting a modern re-do.
People are still interested in Egyptian mummies; museums featuring them draw crowds of gawkers. Though it’s been over 1600 years since the Pharaohs were mummified, there is a growing buzz about the process and how it might be an alternative to traditional burial: enter modern mummification.
People wonder why the Egyptians developed the intricate processes needed to successfully preserve a body. The short answer? Mostly for their religion. They believed that the body housed the soul and that the spirit could only live in the body if it was preserved forever. If the body was lost (i.e. decayed or cremated) the soul was considered lost too. Preserving the body was their best chance of continuing to the afterlife.
Mummification was an intricate process which took the Egyptians a long time before they got really good at it. Different levels of mummification were used for the different classes of Egyptian society, depending on what the family could afford. Only the top level of Egyptian society, mainly the Pharaohs, got the full treatment, because they were the only ones who could afford it.
There’s been a revival of interest in the last few years in mummies and mummification as an end-of-life choice. As a matter of fact, there’s a company in the United States offering to make you a mummy.
Summum, based in Utah, has been researching and performing mummifications since 1975. They call themselves a tax exempt, religious organization of like-minded people (practicing modern mummification, of course).
According to their philosophy, the deceased person’s ability to feel things does not end with that person’s death. They think the consciousness, or essence of a person, is still present even after death — and that essence is bewildered by the change in circumstances when the body decomposes or is burned in cremation.
“Most people are buried or cremated,” the Summum website states, “and this places their essence in less than favorable circumstances, leaving it to fend for itself.”
Summum’s answer to the wandering essence is modern mummification, echoing the way the Egyptians did things. By keeping the body in it’s original state as much as they can, Summum provides a “home base” for a person’s essence after their death. Secure in this wrapped-up, chemically-preserved corpse, the person’s essence can be in contact with other essences and make plans to move on to the next destination.
The company’s website gives a guide to the modern day process of becoming a mummy, a fairly involved process at Summum. The entire mummification process takes four to eight months.
First, the organs are taken out of the body and cleaned with special chemicals. The body is then cocooned in a thin cotton gauze or silk, depending on preference. Next, it’s sealed in polymer. The last step is putting the mummified body in a Mummiform, a three-dimensional, artistic casket. They create Mummiforms for both humans and pets.
Difference between Modern Mummification & Egyptian Mummification
Egyptian mummification basically destroyed the body because they took out most organs then stuffed the body with natron which happened to be a kind of salt. This went on for up to 40 days in most cases. The preparers washed the body and swaddled it tightly in layer after layer of linen strips. Sometimes they added linen burial shrouds. Amulets were added into the layer of wrap too and this whole intricate process took at least a month to complete. When they worked on the Pharaohs and nobles, the whole process could take up to two and a half months. You had to be royal or close to it to be able to undergo the complete mummification because it was an extremely costly procedure. 35 to 40 days of drying seems to have been the gold standard back then for a good mummification result.
The Egyptians basically turned the body into dried meat, and they became pretty adept at it. The body ended up to being just skin and bones. Egyptians didn’t really know what bacteria and decay were but it wasn’t important that they should. Instead they knew an untreated body would quickly putrefy in a desert environment. In their kitchens at home, they were used to salting meat to make it last — the Egyptians were raising cattle for food as far back as 8,000 years ago. They used the very same ideas for their burial practices and came up with mummification.
Side Note: Self-Mummification
Self-Mummification was akin to fasting to death. Historically, a segment of Buddhist monks in Japan who practiced Sokushinbutsu not only committed suicide, they also did it in a way that led to their mummification. They ate nuts and fruits and did hard physical activities which would eliminate any body fat. The second step involved bouts of vomiting and loss of body fluids. By eating poisonous barks, roots and drinking a certain tea for months, they poisoned the body to repulse the maggots that usually feasted on the corpse.
Finally, the monk would enter a stone tomb, sit in a lotus position and wait for death. He would ring a bell daily to signal to those outside that he was still alive. When the ringing stopped, the monks would seal the tomb, wait for about four months before opening the tomb to see if the body mummified.
That practice is outlawed in Japan now.
Reasons to actually consider mummification
- The one-upmanship factor is certainly something to consider! By going through this process, you could be one of a select number of people, including Vladimir Lenin is ono, who become mummies.
- If you can’t stand the idea of your body decomposing—mummification will insure that it’s always life-like. Just take a look at Pope John XXIII’s mummified body which has been mummified since 1963 and still looks brand as though his eyes could open at any moment:
- In case that cloning is ever able to be successfully used to duplicate humans, your preserved body will be ready to be cloned.
- Sometimes it’s a family member who just can’t stand to let go of the loved one’s body that results in pursuing mummification. A famous example of this is a little girl nicknamed ‘The Sleeping Beauty’. She died at only 2 years of age in 1920 and her grieving father had an embalmer/taxidermist preserve her body. He did such a outstanding job that even almost 100 years later, she looks like she’s just sleeping.
If mummification is something that you are interested in for any one of the number of reasons above, Summumis the only company in the world (as far as I can tell) that currently mummifies humans and pets.
The current costs for mummification services are $67,000 per person within the continental United States. If that figure is too much for your wallet, you can consider having your beloved pet mummified for only about $4,000. The times… they are a changing… and modern mummification may be the answer to traditional burial you always wanted (or not!).