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The Definitive Ash Scattering Guide

Everything you wanted to know about scattering cremation ash

Throughout civilized history the motif of 'a journey of the departed' has played a large part the mourning of a loved one. From 'Journey on the The River Styx' to 'Viking Funeral Pyre Ships' the general concept there is a physical journey of death can be found repeatably across civilizations.

Western Culture has largely turned away from a physical representation of preparing the body for a journey. Lacking the treasures, food, and in some case slaves (thankfully) that physically accompany the body into the afterlife, western society (Judaeo-Christian) has focused on the spiritual representation of a journey; in Christianity the 'stairway to heaven' motif features prominently; Judaism is more abstract with entering a state of eternal bliss (but lacking the self-awareness as in Christianity's heaven.)

Given our world-wide shared cultural history of the physical token of the journey into the afterlife, it is no surprise this motif is re-asserting itself again in the form of ash scattering ceremonies. From scattering cremains (cremation ash) by air, sea or land the act of scattering ash has, I would assert, its roots in an undercurrent of the need to help send dearly beloved onto their next journey.

As you read the following guide to scattering cremation ash, please keep us, Spirit Pieces, in mind if you wish to make a beautiful art memorial of your loved one. We only use a small fraction of ash leaving plenty left for the actual scattering ceremony.

Types of Scattering Cremation Ash Ceremonies

Casting Ash Scattering Services

Casting of cremation ashes is the most common type of ash scattering due to its relative ease and applicability. Pretty much anywhere you can stand and move your arm, you can scatter your loved ones ashes to the wind. From casting of ashes on a beach to doing so in a baseball stadium, there are endless permutations of how you can send your loved ones on the wind.

Some aspects of scattering ashes this way you should be aware of. Cremains are crushed bone from what's left after the actual cremation. It is not uniform in size; some pieces of cremains are light as dust (and will carry far on the wind) and some are coarse and will immediately fall to the ground.

Key points:

  • Cast with the wind so the ash doesn't blow back into your face. Beyond the ick factor (especially if you have facial hair) cremains are quite sharp. It's why the postal service requires it to be sent express and in double sealed bags. If it gets in the eyes it can be a strong irritant (plus nobody wants to be washing someone they loved out of their eyes.)
  • Make sure nobody else is downwind of where you're scattering ash.
  • Be comfortable with some of the ash landing at your feet; quite a lot of it isn't going to go more than a few feet. For those scattering ash in baseball or football stadiums discretely this may be preferable but for most the idea is to get the ashes to lift into the wind.
  • If you're scattering ash as a group, best to do this as a line perpendicular to the wind (see above notes.)

Trenching Ash Scattering Services

Trenching of Cremation Ash involves digging a shallow trench and placing the ashes in the trench, then covering with soil and ideally placing markers on top. Some people simply pour the cremains into the trench, others use a bio-degradable urn for the ashes. Trenching is the closest to traditional burial among the services and some people prefer it as it is a nice compromise with traditional burial.

Some more common trenching occurs along the ocean where people make a trench at low tide and have the ashes presumably wash out to sea at next high tide. Other people might make a trench along a sentimental stand of trees or other natural green area; this is a favored way to intern ashes at green cemeteries.

Key Points:

  • Keep in mind how the land around the trench will change; is it permanent (a forest) or transitory (a beach.) Both are perfectly fine places to scatter ash, you just don't want to be surprised.
  • Bring the proper tools. You don't need to go deep but generally you'll want to get a least a foot.
  • Be sure to put a marker that isn't going to blow or float away; nature can move items with just a bit of wind and over a full year that marker is going to move if not heavy.
  • Make sure you have permission of the land owner to make the trench in the first place.

Raking Ash Scattering Services

Raking of ashes is much like it sounds like; cremation ashes are scattered on loose soil and then literally raked into the soil. Exposed to the air and elements, the cremation ashes break down much faster into the soil and can be quickly taken up by whatever is growing locally. Often ashes are raked into flower gardens or on the topsoil in forests or other natural locales such as a national park. If raking ashes into the soil, be sure to get permission of the landowner first.

Key Points:

  • Like in trenching, be comfortable with how the land may change over time. Nobody wants to rake in ashes in a beautiful grassy spot and come back in three months and find a parking lot.
  • Find a heavy marker if you wish to make a marker.
  • Be sure to have the permission of the land owner.

Water Ash Scattering Services

From scattering cremation ash in the Ganges to scattering ash by sea, ash scattering services on the water are among the more popular and iconic ways scattering occurs. This may occur in various ways. For some, scattering ash on an ocean beach, a roaring stream, or a peaceful lake is best handled individually and discretely. Others prefer a more involved service out at sea. In this case, the funeral party books a ship (often promoted as offering sea-based ash scattering services) and have half-day journey relatively far off-sea where the scattering takes place.

Key Points:

  • While some of the cremains will instantly sink, some (especially the lighter components) will float on or just below the surface for a while.
  • Like with ash casting, be very mindful of the wind. This can be complicated by the eddies of wind interacting with an irregular object such as a ship. If scattering ashes on a ship, don't be shy to ask the captain where to stand; you're paying a lot of money not to have ashes blow back into your face so let them help.
  • Regarding the captain, be sure to pick someone experienced in helping families scatter ashes. While most can help in making sure you're not in a turbulent part of the boat, others will be more mindful of the non-tangibles of ash scattering services such as scattering in quieter areas of the ocean and not in the middle of a shipping lane.
  • Consider getting a water soluble urn if you don't want to worry about blow-back of the ashes. This will keep all the cremate in a single place until the urn is broken down by the water.
  • If scattering yourself, obey all local laws. Usually scattering into rivers and seashore isn't regulated but you don't want to have that conversation even if you're in the right.

Airplane Ash Scattering Services

Scattering ashes by air is one of the less common, yet still well known, ways to scatter the ashes of your loved ones over the land. As actually BEING in the air isn't for everyone, services providing scattering by air offer both passenger and pilot only scattering services. This manifestation of ash scattering is most suitable for those that have an attachment to a larger physical area of land; be it a national forest, a strip of beach or the like.

Key Points:

  • More than any other ash scattering technique mentioned above, it's important to work with someone experienced with this service. I talked to a pilot offering this service and he told me horror stories of pilots just trying to toss the ashes out the window, only to have it immediately blow back into the cabin and permanently work its way into the instrumentation. Ideally the pilot/plane you're talking to has special equipment to handle the safe and proper release of the ash.
  • Be comfortable with the ash falling in places you do not have control over (i.e. into a roadway.) At 10,000 feet up at moving at 200mph the ash is going to fall over several square miles, especially if it is windy.
  • If video-taping the scattering is important to you, see if you can find a pilot with video attached to the plane (rather than you trying to capture it from a cramped cockpit.)
  • If you have a lot of family members looking to participate in the ash scattering, this particular service may not be the best fit for you - only so many people can fit in the plane.

Other Ash Scattering Services

What we listed above are the more *common* types of ash scattering services. With that said, there are a myriad of alternative ash scattering services that fit every need and want. This ranges from shotgun shells filled with cremation ashes to hot air balloons. Below are some of the various services we've identified in the 'alt ash scattering service space.'

Shotgun Shells by Holy Smoke (Alabama)

Holy Smokes will take cremains from both people and pets and add it to rife, shotgun and pistol cartridges. About one pound of cremains will be enough for 250 shotgun shells (a single case.) It was started by two former state law enforcement offers back in 2008. http://myholysmoke.com/

Balloon Scattering by Eternal Ascent Society (Nationwide)

Eternal Ascent Society adds cremation ashes to 5 foot biodegradable balloons which are then filled with Helium. The balloons are sent off on their journey up to 30,000 feet. At that point the balloon (or more appropriately the rubber) will freeze and shatter; releasing the ash at great heights. Naturally the exact place of the scattering will happen is variable so be comfortable with that. http://eternalascent.com/

Celestis Memorial Spaceflights

You read that right, they'll fly you're loved ones ashes into frigging space! A few grams of cremains is put into a stainless steel vial and strapped aboard a real-life rocket as a secondary payload. Several offerings are available, from a short orbital hop to deep space. This is the perfect way to celebrate the life of someone who loved outer space and/or science fiction. http://celestis.com/