Can You Take It With You?

  • February 13, 2013

    Posted By: Emer Kelly

    Can You Take It With You?

    One of our current mainstage productions, You Can’t Take It With You, is based around the simple premise that the material wealth we accumulate in this life cannot be transferred into the afterlife. This is a belief held by the majority of Westerners today but we thought it might be fun to see how that translates into different cultures, both modern and historical, around the world…

    Ancient Egypt:

    You can, and should, take absolutely everything with you, even your own body.

    The Ancient Egyptians believed that the journey to one’s reward in the afterlife was a demanding ordeal. Therefore, not only was food buried with the body but grave goods were buried too.  These goods could consist of useful household items as well as more valuable items such as jewelry. The higher the status of the person in life, the more grave-goods they had at burial.

    They also believed that humans possessed a ka, or life-force, which left the body at the point of death. In life, the ka received its sustenance from food and drink, so it was believed that, to endure after death, the ka must continue to receive offerings of food, whose spiritual essence it could still consume. It was believed that the ka must be re-united with the body in order to enjoy the pleasures of the after-life, requiring the body to also be preserved, or mummified.

    Ancient Greek and Roman:

    You can, and should, take money with you.

    Greek and Roman funeral practices traditionally called for coins to be placed over the deceased’s eyes, or on their tongue. These coins were intended for use in the afterlife, as the deceased would have to pay the ferryman, Charon, to take them across the lake that separated the living from the underworld. If they could not afford the toll they would be destined to roam the riverbanks forevermore.


    You can take it with it you, but only if it was directly related to your role in life.

    At a Viking funeral it was common for an individual to be buried with the items they used for their trade in life. Therefore a blacksmith could be buried with his tools, a free man with his weapons and riding equipment, and a woman with her jewelry and tools for household activities.

    West African Ashanti

    You can take it with you, but only if it’s important to you.

    At an Ashanti funeral people are buried with objects that are important to them. Women are generally buried with their pots and men with their bows and quivers. If the person is wealthy they can also be buried with coins and cigarettes.

    Taoism and other Asian Beliefs:

    You can’t take it with you, but we can send it afterwards.

    Although many Asian cultures traditionally bury nothing with their dead, a form of after-life currency called Joss Paper may be burned. The belief is that the burned fragments of papers will appear as real currency in the afterlife, and can be used to escape punishment, or to purchase luxury, or necessary goods.

    Joss paper is traditionally made from bamboo paper, although rice paper is also commonly used, and has no monetary value in this life. More contemporary, westernized versions of Joss paper include paper credit cards and checks as well as papier-mâché clothes, houses, cars, toiletries, and even ipads!

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