Notes on Funeral/Burial Customs in Arda
Quotes and Paraphrases from Tolkien’s work
If you find anything missing, please contact me.
Balin was buried in a tomb in Moria, with markings on it.
“These are Daeron’s Runes, such as were used of old in Moria,” said Gandalf. ‘Here is written in the tongues of Men and Dwarves: Balin son of Fundin, Lord of Moria (“A Journey in the Dark,” FotR)
“They buried Thorin deep beneath the Mountain, and Bard laid
the Arkenstone upon his breast.
‘There let it lie till the Mountain falls!’ he said. ‘May it
bring good fortune to all his folk that dwell here after!’Upon his
tomb the Elvenking then laid Orcrist, the elvish sword that had
been taken from Thorin in captivity. It is said in songs that it
gleamed ever in the dark if foes approached, and the fortress of
the dwarves could not be taken by surprise.”
(The Hobbit: Chapter 18. The Return Journey)*
Boromir, due to location and circumstance at the time, was put on a boat and sent down the river.
They did not have time to raise a mound, or even build a cairn (from Gimli’s protest that there were no stones near, I would assume that’s a pile of stones on top of a grave.)
So, “Now they laid Boromir in the middle of the boat that was to bear him away. The grey hood and elven-cloak they folded and placed beneath his head. They combed his long dark hair and arrayed it upon his shoulders. The golden belt of Lorien gleamed about his waist. His helm they set besiede him, and across his lap they laid the cloven horn and the hilts and shards of his sword; beneath his feet they put the swords of his enemies.” (“The Departure of Boromir,” TTT)
In Gondor, rulers were placed in the Houses on Rath Dinen, the Silent Street.
“There Pippin, gazing uneasily about him, saw that he was in a wide vaulted chamber, draped as it were with the great shadows that the little lantern threw upon its shoruded walls. And dimly to be seen were many rows of tables, carved of marble; and upon each table lay a sleeping form, hands folded, head pillowed upon stone.” (The Siege of Gondor, RotK)
Theoden was kept in Gondor for a time before being fetched back to Rohan for the burial.
“For after three days (A/N: once in Rohan, not after death) the Men of the Mark prepared the funeral of Theoden; and he was laid in a house of stone with his arms and many other fair things that he had posessed, and over him was raised a great mound, covered with green turves of grass and of white evermind and now their were eight mounds on the east-side of the Barrowfield.” (Many Partings, RotK)
“Then the Riders of the King’s House upon white horses rode round about the barrow and sang together a song of Theoden Thengel’s son that Gleowine his minstrel made, and he made no other song after.” (Same as above)
After the burial, they all feasted. They recognized all the kings, ending with a drink to the new king. At the feast, joyful things were not inappropriate, including the announcement of Eowyn and Faramir’s engagement.
Some Dunedain nobles were buried in the Barrow Downs.**
*Thanks to Nessime for digging this up for me
**Thanks to Marta and Lisa for answering my questions regarding this point
After the Battle of Bywater, “The fallen hobbits were laid together in a grave on the hill-side, where later a great stone was set up with a garden about it.) (The Scouring of the Shire, RotK)
Hobbits are expected to mourn the death of their loved ones. Frodo's refusal to mourn Bilbo after he disappears from the Shire is proof of his oddity:
"'If only that dratted wizard will leave young Frodo alone, perhaps he'll settle down and grow some hobbit-sense,' they said. And to all appearance the wizard did leave Frodo alone, and he did settle down, but the growth of hobbit-sense was not very noticeable. Indeed, he at once began to carry on Bilbo's reputation for oddity. He refused to go into mourning; and the next year he gave a party in honour of Bilbo's hundred-and-twelfth birthday, which he called Hundred-weight Feast." [LR: I: "The Shadow of the Past"]
Tolkien does not specify exactly what these mourning customs are, but they do apparently exist.
Canon is similarly vague on hobbit customs for honouring the dead. The closest Tolkien comes to portraying a hobbit funeral is when Sam finds Frodo outside Shelob's lair, thinking him dead:
"'Frodo, Mr. Frodo!' he called. 'Don't leave me here alone! It's your Sam calling. Don't go where I can't follow! Wake up, Mr. Frodo! O wake up, Frodo, me dear, me dear. Wake up!'
"Then anger surged over him, and he ran about his master's body in a rage, stabbing the air, and smiting the stones, and shouting challenges. Presently he came back, and bending looked at Frodo's face, pale beneath him in the dusk. And suddenly he saw that he was in the picture that was revealed to him in the mirror of Galadriel in Lórien: Frodo with a pale face lying fast asleep under a great dark cliff. Or fast asleep he had thought then. 'He's dead!' he said. 'Not asleep, dead!' And as he said it, as if the words had set the venom to its work again, it seemed to him that the hue of the face grew livid green.
"And then black despair came down on him, and Sam bowed to the ground, and drew his grey hood over his head, and night came into his heart, and he knew no more.
"When at last the blackness passed, Sam looked up and shadows were about him; but for how many minutes or hours the world had gone dragging on he could not tell. He was still in the same place, and still his master lay beside him dead. The mountains had not crumbled nor the earth fallen into ruin.
"'What shall I do, what shall I do?' he said. 'Did I come all this way with him for nothing?' And then he remembered his own voice speaking words that at the time he did not understand himself, at the beginning of their journey: I have something to do before the end. I must see it through, sir, if you understand.
"'But what can I do? Not leave Mr. Frodo dead, unburied on the top of the mountains, and go home? Or go on? Go on?' he repeated, and for a moment doubt and fear shook him. 'Go on? Is that what I've got to do? And leave him?'
"Then at last he began to weep; and going to Frodo he composed his body, and folded his cold hands upon his breast, and wrapped his cloak about him; and he laid his own sword at one side, and the staff that Faramir had given at the other.
"'If I'm to go on,' he said, 'then I must take your sword, by your leave, Mr. Frodo, but I'll put this one to lie by you, as it lay by the old king in the barrow; and you've got your beautiful mithril coat from old Mr. Bilbo. And your star-glass, Mr. Frodo, you did lend it to me and I'll need it, for I'll be always in the dark now. It's too good for me, and the Lady gave it to you, but maybe she'd understand. Do you understand, Mr. Frodo? I've got to go on.'" [LotR: IV: "The Choices of Master Samwise"]
This is far from a normal funeral. It takes place far from the Shire and in less-than-ideal circumstances. However, I can deduce some of what Sam wishes he could do for Frodo. This gives some hint to what hobbit funerals normally did. (Keep in mind that the following are my deductions from this passage; other interpretations are certainly possible.
1. Sam hesitates to leave Frodo alone, unburied. This suggests that hobbits normally buried their dead.
2. Next, Sam "composed his [Frodo's] body, and folded his cold hands upon his breast." This suggests a normal posture for bodies being buried.
3. Sam "laid his [Sam's] own sword at one side, and the staff that Faramir had given at the other". The "burial" with sword can actually be taken two ways. Sam might be trying to recreate the barrows of the old kings, suggesting he thinks Frodo worthy of a kingly burial (the text does draw a connection between the two events). Alternatively, Sam might be burying Frodo with his most prized possessions out of those that were available at the time, or the tools that Frodo was using daily at the time he died. Hobbits living in the Shire would probably not bury their loved ones with swords, as most hobbits were not soldiers and did not have a strong connection to their weapons. They might, however, be buried with other tools.
4. Frodo was buried with his "beautiful mithril coat from old Mr. Bilbo." This might suggest that Sam took comfort from the fact that Frodo was wearing his finest clothing. It's not unreasonable that hobbits would likewise bury the dead in their finest garments.
5. Sam then "wrapped his [Frodo's] cloak about him." This could be inspired by a custom to bury the dead in their best clothing, as was Sam's comfort at Frodo wearing his mithril coat, but it could also suggest that hobbits wrapped the dead in a shroud. This makes logical sense: those hobbits who could afford to do so lived underground; they would not fear being completely surrounded by it when they died.
*~* This segment borrowed with permission from Marta’s research article, “Hobbits.”
The Rohirrim honored Theoden’s horse: “but for Snowmane they dug a grave and set up a stone upon which was carved in the tongues of Gondor and the Mark: Faithful servant yet master’s bane, Lightfoot’s foal, swift Snowmane.” (The Battle of the Pelennor Fields, RotK)
These were often just burned, but after the Battle of Bywater, “The dead ruffians were laid on waggons and hauled off to an old sand-pit nearby and there buried: in the Battle Pit, as it was afterwards called.” (The Scouring of the Shire, RotK)
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