Death surrounds us. Just as people are born every day, people die every day. We find their names in the obituary articles. We see the funeral procession on its way to the graveyard. On gravestones, the faces of death either kindly or horrific gaze down upon us. In museums, we find the bones of the dead. At Halloween we worry about the dead coming back to life and haunting us. Whether our fascination is because the idea of ending makes us sad, or the idea of burial reminds us of smelly decay or just because of the fear of the unknown doesn’t really matter. We like to pay attention to death.
What Are the Most Common Symbols of Death?

According to J.C. Cooper, the most common symbols of death include the skeleton with scythe, sword, sickle and or hourglass, the veil, serpent, lion, scorpion, ashes and drummer. In Hinduism, a beautiful dancer often symbolizes Siva the God of Death and dance.

Find Death and Symbols of Death on Gravestones in Europe

Some of the most interesting symbols of death are found on gravestones in Europe where the Black Death hit hardest. In St. Stephen’s in Vienna, Austria, a tour will take you into the catacombs below where the bones of the dead were crammed into niches during the Black Death and it is unlikely that anyone knows who they all belong to. In Salzburg, I found a little church inset into a wall of rock and a carving of death climbing out of a gravestone. Many churches have monuments to dead persons featuring lifelike statues of the deceased. England’s Canterbury Cathedral has the largest collection of famous burials I have seen. 

Visit the Remains of the Nazi Concentration Camps from the Holocaust

A visit to any of the Nazi Concentration camps in Europe will educate anyone about the massive destruction of World War II. I visited Dachau outside of Munich and found remains of ovens, prison camp buildings and a museum exhibit with photographs of what Allied Forces found at the camp when they freed it including pictures of the remaining survivors and pictures of the dead. To forget is to allow the same mistake to happen again. Others to visit include Auschwitz near Krakow, Poland, Buchenwald, near Weimar, Germany.

Find Dried Animal Remains and Fossils in Museums

I guess I am odd, but when I’ve come upon the remains of an animal that has died, it is hard not to look and see how the bones and skin and tendons fit together. In the Serengeti National Park, animals that die of natural causes or are eaten by predators leave bones lying on the plain. Once on a farm in New Zealand I came upon a pile of dried hide and bones where a dead steer had been left to perish. On the shores of the Harrison River in winter, eagles leave the carcasses of salmon picked clean on the shore. At the John Day Fossil Beds State Park, Oregon, there is a hike into a chalky pit with the remains of fossilized creatures set out for easy viewing including the tooth of a saber-toothed lion. On an archaeological research group in Turkey, I got to see the remains of a farmhouse and funeral memorial.

Find Information About Mortuary Processes in Books

To get a good idea about how the study of forensics has progressed in the past decades, “Body in Question” provides basic facts and pictures explaining decay processes and evidence that police use to determine cause and time of death.

Celebrate Death during Dia de los Muertos on All Saint’s Day in Mexico or Puerto Rico

When the Conquistador’s arrived in Mexico, the native population was practicing an Aztec ritual that celebrated their deceased loved ones. The Spaniard’s tried to eliminate the practice, but the best they accomplished was to move it to All Saint’s Day (November 1 and 2) to make it more Christian. Expect decorations and celebrations around the country. This is very similar to the United States celebration of Halloween but different.

Find Death Processes at Work in Your Garden or Forest

One of the most fascinating trips I took was on a hike into Seattle’s water control district’s Cedar River Watershed where we were introduced to the huge variety of mushrooms that grow in the region. We spent four hours on a bus, walking and picking mushrooms, and many more trying to identify them in a guide. I found at least a dozen varieties. Mushrooms are one of the most visible reminders of the decay processes that transform dead items into new life. Also look for ants, termites, nematodes, and earthworms, they help process and consume items.