JEWELLERY FOR THE BODILESS
ARCHAIC CONCEPTS OF IDENTITY, DEATH, ETERNITY AND SPIRITUALITY
By Loukia Richards
Drawings: Loukia Richards
When my grandmother's brother died, the old women who lamented over his coffin pointed out that he had never been married.
"You should place a wedding wreath on his head," they said, "he looks so beautiful that he will seduce young people to follow him to Hades if he's buried uncrowned." I gave a village boy a dime to buy me a polyester wedding wreath from a nearby shop and told him to keep the change.
In the Christian Orthodox tradition, the bride and groom are crowned with wreaths made of silver (in days past) or plastic (nowadays) at their wedding. Those who die unmarried are crowned at their funerals with a wedding wreath resembling a blooming lemon tree branch—a symbol of fertility.
The boy came back with the wreath, licking his ice cream happily. We placed the wreath carefully on my uncle's head.
He'd had 95 years of an astonishing life that I still envy him for.
Indeed! He looked beautiful lying inside a wooden coffin filled with his glasses, walking stick, and books. Mourners in Greece still bury their dear ones with their favorite objects.
No young man or woman died in town in 1996, the year following my uncle's death.
The use of jewellery in contemporary Greece still reflects archaic concepts of identity, sacrifice, death, eternity, spirituality.
The concept of death has not changed much since the Homeric Age: the short joy of life is followed by an anaemic eternity in the kingdom of shadows.
End-death/τέλος (telos) in Greek means completion or perfection.
It also means the end of a sport race or αγών (agón).
A golden wreath crowned the victor of the life race at his funeral, just as athletes were crowned with wreaths made of sacred tree branches after their victories.
The crowning of the dead implies apotheosis, becoming God-like.
The baptism cross, the wedding ring, the engagement earrings reflect rites of social integration in modern Greece, and are buried with the dead to preserve the dead person's identity in the other world.
Buried jewellery later becomes the property of the relative who undertakes the exhumation, three years after death. Buried jewellery is considered apotropaic—it has the power to avert evil or bad luck—for it went to Hades and returned!