About the Custom of Repeated (Double) Burial
The existence and practising of new rituals is not unknown to our everyday life, especially when it concerns the changes in social and political life. The exhumation and transport of the posthumous remains with repeated burial in “native place” of important and cult personalities is in fact transmission of old cultural patterns adjusted to new cultural (and not only cultural) context.In the cycle of posthumous and funeral customs, repeated or “double” burial, digging up and disinterring the grave, “meeting” or “seeing” the deceased is of great importance. There has been doubts about the exact name of the custom concerning its complex structure and contents.
The data about spreading different rituals which are connected (or could be connected) which such a custom in many nations and cultures throughout the world confirm its universal anthropological context. The notes from the south Slavic regions which direct to the existence of the mentioned custom and suggest a research approach could be dated from the first half of the 9th century. When in the 20th century ethnology became recognised as a separate humanistic science, analytic considerations where published by many scholars.
The immediate motive for the research in this field and the existence of new rituals was the recent unpublished material of the Ethnological Atlas of Yugoslavia, collected in the questionnaire carried out by Centre for Ethnological Cartography, the Department of Ethnology, Faculty of Arts, Zagreb. The complexity of this theme is evident. The fact that the theme No. 129 (digging out the posthumous reminds and repeated burial) was arranged so that nine groups of questions about different rituals build the structure of the custom of showing respect to posthumous remains.
According to the available materials it is noticed that digging up the graves and repeating the burials (accompanied with different rituals) come from more or less understandable reasons and motives at different time intervals, from 40 days to 30 or more years. Sometimes the reasons are merely practical (lack of space for a new burial) but the usual respect for the found posthumous remains is always present, except in the cases when it is not welcome, or the cases when digging of the graves and graveyards is impossible (this directs to some other traditions).
It seems, however, that the key for solving the problem even before giving any hypothesis is found in research and reliable interpretations of the ritual which is a part of the procedure of digging out the graves.
According to this, it is obvious that there are two different traditions:
a.) Disinterring the grave to examine the condition of the corpse connected with the beliefs about werewolves and vampires.
b.) Paying respect in different ways.
The repeated (double) burial (b.) could be carefully analysed in all its parts by dividing important details (the procedure with the skull, the parts of the skeleton or remains, washing with water and/or wine, wrapping in white linen or bag, cap or woman’s scarf, sanctification with or without carrying the remains to church, repeated burial with the identical ritual as the first time, repeated placing into the grave in which a new corpse is put. The place of burial: beside the head, feet or loins, under the coffin, on the coffin, in one corner of the grave or in some place in the graveyard or in a common charnel-house, etc.).
Not less important, but more difficult to understand, is the correct interpretation of the reasons which cause this phenomenon: from the “understandable” (such as great sorrow) to those “to see if the body is rotted” or “to let the sun warm the bones once more”.
A detailed typology based on a precise analysis of all relevant facts and cartographic elaboration followed by a comparative research would guide the research to the correct hypothesis and proper conclusions. In this way the more or less inventive, convincing or unconvincing speculations would be avoided.