Capsula Mundi Burial Pods: An Interview 3

Capsula Mundi

Capsula Mundi is an Italian company aiming to redesign the way in which we bury the deceased. The two founders, Anna Citelli and Raoul Bretzel looked at the codified position that the coffin and the tombstone play in our Western society, and approached it with a fresh perspective, one which they believe is more eco-friendly and personal than our current method of committing a body to the earth.

The Capsula Mundi is an egg-shaped pod into which the body is placed in the foetal position. This pod then germinates and grows into a tree; a living memorial to the person we’ve lost.

Keen to find out more about a proposition that bears all of the hallmarks of a revolutionary approach to burial, we caught up with Anna & Raoul to discuss how their project has been received, and what hurdles they face to bring the Capsula Mundi into the mainstream.


Capsula Mundi Burial PodsRead first:

How to arrange an eco-funeral

If you’re keen for an eco-funeral, you may wish to take out a funeral plan to ensure that your funeral wishes are recorded. Or if you’re looking to arrange a green funeral, start by finding your local funeral director who offers this service.


 

How did the idea for Capsula Mundi initially come up?

Capsula Mundi tree burial podsAs designers by trade, we believe that design can be applied as a solution for improving not only everyday objects, but also to projects that have a cultural impact on society at large. We started to think about how death was entirely left out of the design world. Death is often dealt with as a taboo, even though it has a very high environmental impact. Capsula Mundi comes from these reflections. It has the aim of fundamentally changing the cultural approach to death and to comply with a holistic vision: after dying we’ll still be part of the cycle of life and we should leave behind a positive legacy for our loved ones and for the future of the Earth.

 

What has the public reaction been like to your product?

Capsula Mundi burial pod treeAt the first exhibition of Capsula Mundi we were afraid of how the public would react. But actually many people who approached our stand got curious about this strange brown egg suspended in a completely white room, with a green tree on the top and they asked us, smiling: “What’s this?” We would reply, “A coffin!” and we could see the expression on their faces changing suddenly! But when we explained the whole project to them, a radiant expression would come back onto their faces! Everybody was enthusiastic and fascinated. We think that people need to be free from the taboo of death that weighs on the Occidental culture, like an immovable stone, and from the reaction that we’ve had, it seems that people are open to a paradigm shift in this area.



How are the pods/cocoons made? What are they made from?

Capsula Mundi UrnThe pods are made from a fully biodegradable bio-polymer. We use a production technique that requires human hands, so that each Capsula Mundi burial pod is unique, and has that human touch to it.

The body pod is at the moment still in a conceptual phase. We need to do some further legal and scientific research on it. We have, however developed an ‘urn,’ which is a Capsula in a smaller size for ashes, and is available for sale through our website.

 

Are there many legal hurdles to overcome?

Capsula Mundi burial podsIt’s difficult to categorise the legal hurdles which we face, as they differ from country to country, and sometimes even within the same country. Most of the European countries allow the dispersal of ashes, including our country, Italy, but green burial is permitted in only a few.

In England, however, and in the Anglo-Saxon countries in general, green burial is a viable option, a reality.

 

In which countries is the Capsula Mundi available?

Capsula Mundi Ashes

Bearing in mind the legal obstacles (see above), the Capsula Mundi is available anywhere through our website.

 

Do you market the Capsula Mundi to funeral directors, or just to members of the public?

We are currently marketing the Capsula Mundi urns through our website shop. We are always open to those funeral directors who are interested in spreading more trees on our planet getting in touch with us.

 

How do you think we will be burying our dead in the future?

There are more and more human beings on our planet with each day, which leads to the problems of a lack of space, and an ever-increasing environmental footprint. At the same time, funerals are getting more and more expensive. These forces are putting pressure on the traditional way in which funerals are approached, and we believe that in the future there will be more space for ‘unconventional’ options, and certainly for greener options, where people want to return to Nature and respect the environment with their death.

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3 Comments

  1. i love nature, depending on the season and my comfort level. i don’t like summer at all. winter is usually too cold, but if i’m adequately bundled, a not-too-long exposure in not-windy conditions is refreshingly brisk. spring is undoubtedly uplifting and inspiriting. but the season that gets my juices going the most is definitely the Autumn.

    the crisp aromas of Autumn are intoxicatingly spicy, the beauty of the colorful leaves, the burning piles of leaves lending their smoky incense, the beds of raked leaves to jump on (hey, it’s not just for dogs!), the foods of Autumn: fruits and vegetables, casseroles, soups, braises, mulled wine, and cider, and the Janus holiday of Thanks/Friends-giving. nothing compares to Autumn.

    malheureusement, i’m stuck in central Florida. have been for the past decade. and for 30+ years prior to that, it was south Texas and New Orleans. i have mainly the treasured memories of my youth to sustain me. once i die, though, i hope that Capsula Mundi will arrange for my remains to be enclosed in a biodegradable pod and buried in a forested area up in the Northeast, far enough inland to avoid the inundation of rising waters from the Atlantic yet too distant for the parched midlands of prairie fires. on top of my body, CM will then plant a sapling of my choice (yet to be determined, and dependent upon location and eventual stabilized climate). my body will contribute to the nourishment of the baby tree-to-be. i am so excited by the thought of this, that sometimes i honestly cannot wait to be dead and buried!

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Behind the Scenes at Scattering Ashes 0

The team from Scattering Ashes hold up a mini Viking funeral boat.

With cremations now accounting for an impressive 76% of all funerals in the UK, more and more families are looking for creative – or even spectacular – things to do with their loved one’s ashes.

That’s where Scattering Ashes come in. Founded in 2009 by Richard Martin, this incredibly comprehensive site aims to help its visitors find the perfect way to say goodbye, whether that be a peaceful seaside scattering or going out with a bang in an ambitious firework display.

This month, we caught up with Richard to talk about scattering techniques, Viking funerals – and why you don’t want to leave ashes at Jane Austen’s house.

Hi Richard! Thanks for the interview. How did Scattering Ashes come to be?

Ashes being scattered from a vintage wartime Tiger Moth
Richard and the team can help you scatter ashes from a vintage wartime Tiger Moth plane, among other things.

I worked for the Environment Agency and DEFRA for many years, and it was looking like it might be time to change career. So, I thought, ‘What would I like to do?’

I’d scattered my dad’s ashes years before, and felt that we were left a bit at sea because the funeral directors didn’t have any information. We scattered his ashes at his golf course, and we weren’t made to feel very welcome when we went there –  and we certainly weren’t made to feel welcome when we wanted to go back. It all just felt a bit unsatisfactory.

So, I had the idea that perhaps I could help people by providing information about scattering ashes, because there was nothing out there online. I started blogging and then the business grew from there.

A Viking Longboat urn from Scattering Ashes
The Viking longboat urn from Scattering Ashes actually floats.

What’s your favourite scattering method on the site at the moment?

One thing that seems to have hit a chord with people is the Viking boat.

We do an almost metre-long Viking boat that holds a full set of ashes. You can set it afloat, set it on fire, and it goes up in a blaze of glory. We’ve tested them, and they’re pretty cool, I have to say. When we’ve seen them set sail, they’ve looked amazing! I quite like the fireworks too.



Why do you think people are looking for more exciting things to do with ashes now?

I think society has become more accepting of death. I also think that the old religious practices don’t suit as many people these days – maybe you don’t necessarily want a vicar speaking at your funeral because he never really knew you, and you’re not religious in the first place. And more people are thinking, ‘Well, actually, I don’t want that sort of faux-Victoriana, I want a bit more of a celebratory approach to my life’.

Ashes are scattered directly into someone's face in this scene from The Big Lebowski.
That scene from The Big Lebowski.

You run courses on scattering ashes for funeral directors. Do you have any top tips for a successful scattering?

Mind the wind is my main one.

There’s that scene in The Big Lebowski.

Exactly. Another is to be safe: a chap died last year scattering ashes after he got washed off shore in Cornwall, and the year before that a couple died in Spain doing it, and the year before that a lady fell off a cliff doing it in Ireland. Don’t go to these extreme places, because you’re putting yourself in danger.

A biodegradable water urn shaped like a turtle
This floating turtle urn from Scattering Ashes is completely biodegradable.

The third thing is probably to be aware of the amount of ashes. People tend to think it’s going to be light. In movies, like The Big Lebowski for example, there’s literally a few handfuls. But in reality, there’s something like six pounds of ashes.

So, people often end up scattering for quite a while, then they upend the urn and get this little conical pile of ashes, and it looks odd. Then they realise, ‘Oh god, we’ve got nothing to move it around with,’ and they’re using their feet, and then they go, ‘This is undignified.’

But with a bit of thought, you can make it quite a poignant, memorable ceremony, which is what we try to educate people about.

You keep a (really very comprehensive) record of places that allow scattering – do people often say no?

More and more often, now. When we first started a lot of football clubs were saying yes, and now many say no. Some are trying to cater for it with memorial gardens instead: they realise the demand, but they don’t want it impacting the pitch.

The more people scatter ashes in one place, the more troublesome they find it?

Jane Austen's house in Chawton
Jane Austen’s house in Chawton, where visitors have been asked to stop secretly scattering ashes. Image by Joaotg, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Absolutely. Two particular places come to mind. One is the top of Ben Nevis: a lot of Scots will have their ashes scattered at the top of Ben Nevis. The ecosystem up there is relatively fragile – mosses and lichens. It might look barren, but it’s not.

Ashes are rich in calcium and phosphorus, so when you put a lot of ashes there, you’re changing the ecology of the place. So, the Mountaineering Council of Scotland has asked people to stop scattering at the summit.

They had to put a press release out for Jane Austen’s house because people were sneaking over the wall at night and upending the urns on the weekend. The gardener might come back on Monday morning and find three piles of ashes that had been dumped, and of course, a rose bed can only take so much.

A panoramic view from Ben Nevis, where people are no longer supposed to scatter ashes.
The view from Ben Nevis. Image by Leo Hoogendijk courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

You won Best Bereavement Resource at the Good Funeral Awards in 2015 – what’s your secret?

Honesty, really. I try not to be partisan, and to look at both sides and just use the facts. I don’t have any particular drum to beat about this; I think people should have the right to choose what they do with ashes, as long as it doesn’t impact others. Also, it’s pretty comprehensive: I’ve phoned up and emailed virtually everyone. There must be getting on to 800 posts on there now.

Impressive! And what’s next for Scattering Ashes?

We’re offering training courses for funeral directors and crematoria staff and celebrants, which is new. We’ll also be increasing our trade offer, putting wholesale options on the site. And we now have a sister site here called My Pet’s Ashes, which offers similar services for pet owners, because they’re part of the family too.

If you’d like to find out more about Scattering Ashes, head on over to the site at www.scattering-ashes.co.uk. And if you have your own ash scattering story to tell, we’d love to hear it! Share your thoughts in the comment box below.

Meet the Maker: Cremation Glass Jewellery 0

Glassmaker Kenny Scott of Ash Glass Design.

Pendant with flecks and swirls in the glass made from the ashes of someone who has died

What do you see when you look at this pendant? To the untrained eye, it might look like … a pendant. But to those in the know, it’s something unusual, and completely unique: those flecks and swirls in the glass are made from the ashes of someone who has died.

In fact, the necklace is just one item in a range of mourning jewellery and sculpture created by glassmaker Kenny Scott and his team at Ash Glass Design. Based in the picturesque village of Clovenfords in the Scottish Borders, Kenny and co. craft bespoke cremation glass jewellery for families who want a subtle way to carry their loved one’s ashes with them.

So, how does one become a cremation glassmaker, exactly, and how is cremation glass actually made? To find out more about this relatively new answer to the question of what to do with ashes, we had a chat with Kenny …

 

How did Ash Glass Design get started?

Kenny Scott and his team at Ash Glass DesignKenny began his career at the tender age of 16, leaving school to take on a five-year apprenticeship in making glass from scratch. 20 years later, he was creating glasswork for museums and clients when he received an unusual request:

“One of my friends who’s a funeral director approached me and asked if I would make a memorial pendant for someone using ashes”, Kenny told Beyond. While at first Kenny wasn’t sure (he describes it as “a wee bit of a Marmite moment”) the family was so pleased with the result that he immediately realised that he wanted to do it again.

“After I made the pendant and met the family, it was the best feeling I’ve ever had when making something for someone”, Kenny explained. “They were so happy, and it’s such a precious thing that you’re making for them, that I thought, ‘Oh, I really like doing this.’

“Basically, that was it: I put a wee range together, and from there it’s kind of grown. I love doing it.”

“Nobody would know what it was other than them, and I think that’s the beauty of it.”

Why do people like cremation jewellery?

CreAsh Glass Design's cremation glass mourning ringmation jewellery isn’t for everyone ­– but while some find the concept morbid, others like the idea of keeping a loved one close in a subtle way. “I speak to all the customers, and I think for them the nicest thing is the fact that they can have their loved one with them all the time, and it’s not in your face. It doesn’t have a big sign saying what it is – it’s just a lovely piece of jewellery”, Kenny said.

“Nobody would know what it was other than them, and I think that’s the beauty of it. Everybody says that they get so much comfort out of having it.”

In Ash Glass Design’s range, rings are the most popular option: “Somebody said to me, it’s like they’re still holding my hand.

“We do lots for weddings as well, my goodness. For somebody who has maybe lost a parent, it’s like [their loved one] can be there on their wedding day. It’s a lovely way to have them with you.”

“There’s always something you want to try and create differently and try and adapt.”

How is cremation glass jewellery made?

Making cremation jewelleryThe process of making cremation glass jewellery is long and somewhat delicate, with great care taken to make sure the right ashes (“labelled, bagged, boxed, bagged again”, Kenny reports) are used.

At Ash Glass Design, everything is made in-house. After a discussion with the family about the design, Kenny melts their required colour of glass to make a base. He then carefully adds the ashes before sealing it over with clear glass to make a perfect finished surface.

After some time spent in the kiln – it takes a day and a half to gradually cool the hot glass down – the glass is polished down with diamond tools and set into the gold or silver using a traditional technique. Any ashes left over are returned to the family along with the finished piece.

“You have to know the procedures for cooling glass down, how to heat it up, how compatible it is with other materials, so it’s quite a wee science on its own,” Kenny said, adding that “there’s always something you want to try and create differently and try and adapt. You’re always making new designs as well, to stretch the boundaries a bit.”

“I still get phone calls three or four months down the road from some of my customers saying how happy they are, and what it means to them”

Do you take requests?

Because Ash Glass Design is a small company (Kenny, his wife Emma and “amazing” goldsmith Joanna) the team are able to take requests to make each piece of glass unique: “If somebody wants a bespoke colour in their jewellery, we never charge any extra … We do what we can to help folk get what they want. If [a customer] wants something to be adapted somehow, then we look into it for them”, Kenny explained.

“Sometimes it’s not as feasible as they might think initially, but we can talk them through it, and find the best option for them.”

Customers appreciate this personal service: “I still get phone calls three or four months down the road from some of my customers saying how happy they are, and what it means to them. Even a couple of years down the road, we still get them phoning back, asking how we are. It’s lovely.”


Want to find out more about Ash Glass Design? Check out their website, www.ashglassdesign.co.uk, give the team a ring on 01896 850447, or contact Kenny at [email protected]


About mourning jewellery …

A Victorian mourning ring with hair sealed into the gold.
A Victorian mourning ring with hair sealed into the gold. Image by Charles J Sharp, via Wikimedia Commons.

Mourning jewellery dates back as far as the 1600s, when stern memento mori-themed rings (‘remember that you must die’) were gradually overtaken by more personal tokens of grief. Examples from the British Museum demonstrate how gruff messages like “learn to dye” were replaced by kinder tributes, such as “not lost but gone before” and “not dead but sleepeth”.

At its peak in the Victorian era, mourning jewellery was worn as part of a strict dress code for the bereaved. Mourning rings were joined by broaches and lockets, and were often made with jet (a precious stone that, being black, was thought to be mourning period-appropriate). Many contained a lock of the hair from the person who had died, or a miniature portrait.

Popularity eventually declined as life expectancy increased – by World War One, mourning jewellery was out of vogue. But the desire shared by bereaved families for physical mementos of their loved ones never really went away.

Now, the rise in cremation – 70% of people in the UK choose it over burial – and increasing openness about death are leading to a rise in interest, with companies like Ash Glass Design offering a more contemporary take.