As a culture, Cherokee Indians are very spiritual people that view death as a transition rather than an end. Services are usually conducted by a Cherokee shaman the day after death. The bodies are traditionally buried in the ground in the belief that they will provide nourishment to the earth. Typically, the Cherokee dead are not embalmed nor are their organs donated.
To prepare a Cherokee Indian for burial the body is first washed and scented with lavender oil. The Cherokees’ believe lavender to have strong spiritual properties, among which is the cleansing of impurities. The body is then wrapped in a white cotton sheet and placed into a coffin. An eagle feather is then placed on the body. Cherokees, and most other native American tribes, venerate the eagle is a sacred bird.
The funeral begins with Cherokee prayers led by the shaman. During the service the shaman prays on the behalf of the deceased and offers spiritual lessons to the living. The funeral ends in prayer and the body is carried to it’s final resting place on the shoulders of the funeral procession. Cherokee tradition is that the funeral should take place either on the day of, or the day after, the person’s death; however, if circumstances do not allow for a swift burial the funeral can be delayed.
Traditionally the Cherokee have a seven day mourning period under the auspices of the shaman. This period is considered a spiritual cleansing time, apart from the tribe, for the survivors to be spiritually cleansed. During this time family members are not allowed to be angry or jovial and must restrict their intake of food and water. The shaman ritually cleanses the house with tea and removes any items deemed unclean from the house of the deceased.
Cleansing of Survivors
After seven days of cleansing, the shaman takes the mourners to a river and instructs them to immerse themselves in water seven times, alternating direction of facing east and west. After the immersing ceremony the mourners are presented with fresh clothes, an offering of tobacco and sanctified beads. After the ceremony the mourners are welcomed back into the tribe.