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Report of Meeting on January 27th 2015

Sunrising Natural Burial Ground

Emma Restall Orr is the manager and founder of the Sunrising Natural Burial Ground at Tysoe, south Warwickshire, and describes herself as a mystic. She, her husband and a ecologist friend bought 16 acres of set-aside land near Tysoe nearly nine years ago as ‘an experiment in ethical business’. Her background is in counselling the dying and those caring for a dying loved one. She has worked in hospices, and studied Druidism for 25 years. She experiences continual pain and describes her body as frequently dysfunctional.

The site is on a 100-year lease, ending in 2106, and she reckons there is space for 30-40 years of burials. Already the quality of the land is improving. There are no double graves, so no disturbing of the grave once closed, though ashes can be added to it. No headstones are allowed, but every grave has a simple slate plaque with whatever words are requested. Where the family choose to use her own simple undertaking service, she estimates that the cost of a burial can be at least one-third less than a conventional funeral. A charitable body, Friends of Sunrising Natural Burial Ground, assists with costs for those unable to afford the fees, and will look after the site in the long term. Ceremonies can be made extremely simple to reduce costs. Some 50% of funerals at the site are Christian and 20% atheist. As well as offering funerals without funeral directors, Emma works with local undertakers, but believes that cremation is ecologically unsustainable, as maintaining a temperature of 1,000 degrees over 90 minutes is necessary to consume a body. She is against the scattering of ashes as the nutrients disturb the natural balance of the soil, replacing wild flowers with docks and weeds.

She told us much about her spiritual philosophy, which might be summed up as ‘pan-psychic pantheism’. ‘Nature teaches us’, ‘nature give us courage’, helps us to let go, she said. God is Nature: Nature is God. We are all part of the mind of God, and return back to him in death. Every autumn nature teaches us to die, beginning with the setting of seed in August and September. We need to respect death. She doesn’t believe people who say they are not afraid of death. Gratitude is fundamental, but so is duty – what is due from us, what we owe for what we have been given. She is uncomfortable with Dualism, and looks to find integration of body and mind, body and spirit where ‘the land hums with peace’. We need to look to the ancestors for wisdom.

She is at ease with whatever mourners decide about a funeral, whether music and no spoken words, coffins or shrouds, or a biker funeral with heavy metal music, rum and cigarettes and a great sense of community. Some cheap coffins are full of nasty chemicals. She tries to use only ethically sourced materials and businesses. Anybody is welcome to look round the site and see for themselves the return of wild flowers, and the presence of butterflies, hares and deer.

Christopher Lamb

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