With the numbers of people choosing cremation over burial on the rise, scattering is quickly becoming a popular final disposition method. It's important to have a meaningful way to put your loved one to rest, so many people ask, "What does scattering ashes symbolize?"
Symbolism of Scattering Ashes
The most obvious symbolic meaning represented by scattering ashes is letting go. As you release the ashes into the water or over the earth, you are literally letting go of your loved one. This can be an important step in your grieving process.
Bright idea: One of the central differences between a 'traditional' burial site and scattering ashes is that there is much less of a specific location you can go and visit. As one commenter wrote,
"im not going to lie to you it does hurt to scatter them, i expect its worse than burrial. the final goodbye. its the knowing that from that point you are never going to see them again in any shape of form or in any place. i used to take comfort that my mother was flying on the wind. but 10 years later i dont know where to think she is."
[via Grief Healing Discussion Groups]
The act of scattering cremated remains is visually quite similar to the act of sowing seeds. Whether you are casting the remains onto land or water, the picture remains of sowing your loved one's remains in death to be raised up again in new life.
This idea looms large in Christian theology, as the apostle Paul teaches to the church in Corinth:
"So is it with the resurrection of the dead: What is sown is perishable; what is raised is imperishable. It is sown in dishonor; it is raised in glory. It is sown in weakness; it is raised in power. It is sown a natural body; it is raised a spiritual body. If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual body." - 1 Corinthians 15:42-44
The idea is a beautiful and appealing one; the bare kernel of a seed being transformed by death into a new and vibrant entity. Scattering ashes provides a lovely reflection of this idea.
Bright idea: Consider mixing in wildflower seeds with the ashes. This provides a visual analogy for new birth, resurrection, and the afterlife. Then, later in the year, you can return and enjoy the beauty of the wildflowers as they bloom.
Water symbolizes the inifinite, as travels from the clouds down to the mountains as rain or snow, through the countryside in rivers and streams, out into the far corners of the globe on the high seas, and back to the clouds to repeat the cycle.
Scattering ashes into water is a symbolic way of identifying your loved one with the neverending, inifinite cycle. This symbolism works especially well when the scattering takes place at a flowing river or into the ocean.
In some eastern traditions, particularly among Hindu and Buddhist adherents, scattering cremated ashes into a holy river (or the ocean) is especially desirable for this very reason. The remains of the departed loved one are spread from the river into the ocean and throughout the world, in a vivid picture of the inifinite.
Bright idea: Consider a Water Scattering Urn, which is made from 100% eco-friendly and biodegradable materials. This holds the remains and begins to dissolve on contact with water, dispersing the remains from the ocean floor as the urn biodegrades. This option lets you scatter ashes at sea without worrying about spillage or wind issues. Shop Water Scattering Urns here.
As you scatter your loved one's ashes, you are engaged in the act of giving their remains away. This can be viewed as a sacrifice - instead of holding on, you are giving up.
In the Bible, offerings are often "poured out" as an act of sacrifice. ( Leviticus 4:7, Numbers 28:7) The idea is that of submission to the will of God and acknowledgement that all things are from him and for him.
This symbolism is taken up by Paul in the New Testament to refer to living as a sacrifice - "Even if I am to be poured out as a drink offering upon the sacrificial offering of your faith, I am glad and rejoice with you all." (Philippians 2:17, see also 2 Timothy 4:6)
Bright idea: Consider giving each family member an opportunity to participate in the scattering by taking turns pouring out the remains, or by providing each individual with a small scattering urn of their own. One way to emphasize the "sacrifice" aspect of the scattering could be to set up a way for participants to donate to your loved one's favorite cause or non-profit organization.