Is a Viking Funeral Legal in the USA? Can You Have One?


Whether on television or reading up on Viking history, there’s a lot we now know about Viking funerals. Depending on the source, you may have seen different ideas of a Viking funeral and how they performed it. So, let’s talk about the different styles of Viking funerals and if they’re legal here in the USA. 

A viking funeral is not legal in the USA. The modern version of a Viking funeral featuring a body burned in a boat at sea is illegal. More traditional Viking burials like burying the body in a boat and burning the body on a funeral pyre are also illegal in most states. 

Let’s talk more about Viking funeral customs and how you can represent them, even though they’re illegal in the USA. 

Why Are Viking Funerals Illegal in the USA?

The United States has laws regulating the cremation of a dead body. Vikings performed open-air cremations for their loved ones. The smoke created by the funeral pyre was a way for Vikings to successfully reach the afterlife. So, it was common for Vikings to burn their loved ones. 

Viking funerals are illegal in the USA due to burning ordinances in every state except for Colorado. There are some ways to emulate a Viking burial in every state. However, traditional Viking funeral customs remain illegal. 

Where pop culture took over the Viking funeral tradition was regarding cremations. It actually wasn’t historically common for Vikings to burn bodies as they floated on the water. Instead, Vikings burned bodies in a funeral pyre on land or buried them in a boat with their possessions. 

So, burning a body on a boat and sending it out to sea is actually not a traditional Viking funeral custom. This idea actually combines the two traditional funeral customs of Viking culture. Let’s break down cremations and burials within Viking culture and why they limit them in the USA. 

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Cremation

Whether it’s the pop culture-influenced version of the Viking funeral or the traditional cremation process, it’s actually illegal in the USA. There are very strict standards when it comes to cremation in the USA. Burning the body of a loved one outside, even on public property, is currently illegal in the USA. This makes Viking-style cremations impossible. 

Throughout the United States, only Crestone, Colorado has the permission to cremate bodies outside. The facility that performs these outdoor cremations is the only one of its kind in all of the United States. Unfortunately, this service is only extended to the residents of the local community in order to keep wait times and scheduling under control. 

Burning a human body can emit harmful chemicals that aren’t healthy for humans to breathe. This is part of the reason why crematoriums have such strong guidelines, which they must follow to keep workers and nearby residents safe. So, burning a body outdoors in the United States is illegal in an attempt to keep us safe from harmful emissions. 

Burials

Viking funerals involve burying the deceased in a boat. While similar to sending them out to sea, this instead involved laying the deceased in a boat with all their prized possessions and burying them underground. 

This is a much more reasonable funeral tradition, as you can do this in certain states. There’s no federal law demanding that you bury the body of a loved one in a closed container. What may still prevent you from achieving this is the rules of cemeteries. 

Most cemeteries require you to bury a loved one in a closed container because of sinkage. It’s common for graves to sink when the dirt settles, or construction vehicles ride on top of them. So, cemeteries usually have certain requirements for what you can bury your loved one in. Sometimes, a cemetery may even require a burial vault to go along with the container. 

Since these rules may be difficult to circumvent, some people may choose to bury their loved ones on private land. Most states allow this. So, this may be the best option if you don’t want to be restricted by the cemetery’s rules. You’re free to bury your loved one on your own property in whatever way you prefer. 

Burning Fire Flames on a Raft in the Water on River during Sunset

Could Viking Funerals Become Legal in the USA?

Viking funerals could become legal in the USA, as the traditions and ideas surrounding death are rapidly changing. The growing favoritism of cremation has changed the choices people have made when it comes to death and funerals. 

With these significant changes over just the last decade, we can only assume those changes will continue. So, let’s talk about some of the changes that we’ve already seen when it comes to traditional funeral practices and how they may lead to the return of Viking funerals in the USA. 

Rise in Cremations

First, let’s talk about how much cremations have risen just over the last decade. 2015 was the first year in US history that we had more cremations than casket burials. Since 2015, we’ve only seen an increase in cremations. Researchers expect cremations to keep steadily rising in the future. 

There are many speculations as to why cremations have significantly risen over the last decade and continue to do so. Overall, cremations have a few benefits:

  • They save on cost 
  • They’re better for the environment than burial 
  • They allow the family to keep their loved ones’ remains close. 

If you’re looking for more of a financial breakdown of funerals, check out our article here

This rise in cremations could bring about change in the cremation process. Notably, Maine considered a bill that’d legalize open-air cremations in the state. So, lawmakers are considering bills like this one that’d make Viking funerals no longer a thing of the past. 

Going Green

When it comes to funerals and posthumous decisions, people are more frequently choosing options that are better for the environment. People are commonly choosing green caskets, forgoing embalming, or selecting cremation for themselves or their loved ones. This push to go green certainly changes the way we approach death. 

Cemeteries take up a lot of land space here in the USA. People could instead use this land for farming or other important landmarks. Being able to have an open-air cremation would mean that cemeteries would need less land. This’d leave more land for farming and other activities. 

While many agree that cremations are a lot less harmful to the environment than traditional burials, there’s still cause for concern. Burning a body releases harmful chemicals into the air that include more than just smoke. So, this may not be the most green alternative to embalming and burial. 

The toxins we release during a cremation may be less impactful than burying an embalmed body, but it’s important to consider the harm here as well. As we continue to progress toward a more green take on death, we can only hope to discover ways to honor our loved ones while protecting the environment, and a Viking funeral is a step in the right direction. 

Circumventing the Funeral Industry

There’s a lot about the funeral industry that we’re still learning. Check out our link above if you want to learn more details about the costs of a funeral. Overall, the dying process is quite expensive, and more people want to handle the loss of a loved one themselves, either in a private burial or an open-air cremation. 

One thing that we know for sure about the funeral industry, is handling the arrangements ourselves can save us a lot of money. Whether you choose to cremate your loved ones or bury them on your property, there’s no doubt you’re saving a lot of money. Viking funerals involving open-air cremation can help people save even more money. 

Viking funerals could give people a real chance to save money and avoid dealing with a funeral director at all. While funeral directors are there to help, some people may prefer to deal with death privately. 

Are There Downsides to a Viking Funeral?

There are some downsides to a Viking funeral, like not being able to collect your loved one’s ashes, the smell, and possible trauma. While the idea of a Viking funeral may appeal to many people, it’s important to consider these downsides. 

No Ashes

Part of the cremation process that many families enjoy is the collection of their loved one’s ashes. Families can store these ashes, bury them, or even make unique jewelry from them. So, some families really like the option of having access to ashes. 

A Viking funeral involves an outdoor cremation. This means that you won’t be able to collect all the ashes after the funeral is complete. Wind can carry away any ashes that remain, although there’ll still be some larger pieces remaining for collection.  

While the collection of ashes may cause concern for some families, a Viking funeral won’t produce the ashes that we’re used to seeing after a cremation. During the cremation process, the ashes we receive are ground-up bones. Since bones don’t burn away like other body parts, they’re usually the only thing left after cremation. 

Once the cremation is over, the bones of the deceased are still in large pieces. So, crematorium workers have to grind up the bones of the deceased to get the consistency of ashes that we see. So, a Viking funeral won’t give us the ashes we’re used to. Rather, we’ll have pieces of bones to collect and decide what to do with. 

The Smell

One of the major benefits of cremating a body in a crematorium is the minimal odor. Morticians cremate a body around 1400° to 1600° Fahrenheit (760° to 871° Celsius). The high temperature allows for a quick burning process that helps mask the smell of burning a human body. If we consider Viking funerals, we have to consider the smell. 

Except in the case of Crestone, Colorado, families aren’t going to be able to reach those high temperatures for cremation without proper equipment. So, without the body burning off quickly, the odor of a burning body will fill the area nearby. I can imagine this wouldn’t be a pleasant experience for families or their neighbors. 

So, if lawmakers were to legalize Viking Funerals, there’d be plenty of smell complaints. Unfortunately, there isn’t much we can do about this unless there’s a way to burn the body of a lost loved one in a non-residential area or reach those high cremation temperatures outside a crematorium. There’s still plenty of research to do here. 

Save Money on a Funeral by Buying the Casket Online

Trauma

One aspect of a Viking funeral that we can’t forget to consider is the possible trauma of seeing your loved one’s body burned. For some, this may be therapeutic as a way of saying goodbye. However, others may react differently. It’s important to consider the mental health aspect of watching a body burn before experiencing it. 

Adults and children alike may have a hard time watching their loved ones burn and disintegrate right in front of them. This isn’t a new idea, as many funeral homes allow for witness cremations or the ability to watch the cremation process for your loved one begin. However, it’s important to recognize that this type of funeral may not be ideal for everyone. 

The return of Viking funerals should come with a warning to adults and children who may witness it. While we can’t always predict how we’ll react to something, it’s important to consider the possible trauma it may cause. So, even if lawmakers decide to allow Viking funerals, we need to prepare ourselves and our children for any trauma that might arise from it. 

Final Thoughts

Overall, the rise of interest in Viking funerals is no surprise when considering the increase in cremations over the past decade. The only problem with cremations is the hands-off approach for the family. 

While some families watch as cemetery staff lower their loved ones into the ground for burial, many people don’t witness the cremation process. A Viking funeral can help families cremate their loved ones while still actively watching and participating in the event. 

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Alex Noel

Hi there! I'm Alex Noel and live in Indianapolis, Indiana. I started this website to share my experience. My goal is to provide Americans a more fulfilling goodbye.

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