Grotesque practices, especially when they involve true love conquering all, will always have a special place in the hearts and minds of "diehard" romantics. From Tim Burton's Corpse Bride to the Bride of Frankenstein to Cemetery Man's radiantly decapitated bride (who managed to blush prettily despite her deathly pallor), creepy ghost weddings have always been a staple of cinema and lore.
Some people don't know, however, that necrophilia-style shenanigans like spirit polygamy, combination marriage-and-funeral-rites, and even weddings to actual, decomposing bodies do go on in real life... and in the 21st century, no less. Below are some memorably ornate ceremonies that are probably commencing as we speak, in some church quietly masquerading as a mausoleum by day.
Japanese “Bride-Doll” Nuptials
According to Ellen Schattschneider, a sociocultural anthropologist and professor at Brandeis University, “bride doll” nuptials (which are actually sort of charming in their childlike symbolism) are still practiced in some parts of Japan. Basically, bride doll nuptials came about during WWII when lots of young men were dying in the field of battle, cut down before they ever had a chance to marry. To make up for this, the soul of the dead young man would be married to a consecrated stand-in figure - a doll representing his spouse. In a 2001 study published by Emory University, Schattschneider recalled an incident in which a mother hired a medium to speak with her deceased son. The soldier, speaking through the psychic, apparently lamented “his bitter loneliness in the voids between the worlds,” and he urged his mother to procure him a spirit spouse.
The ceremony took place at a nearby Buddhist temple and involved a bride doll, which was encased in a box with a photograph of the son. The two were presumably wed, and hopefully lived happily ever after.
The Macabre Tradition Of Sati, Or “Bride Burning”
Sati, the Hindu practice of “bride-burning” (a ceremony in which a bride willingly immolates herself on her husband's funeral pyre), is an ancient and particularly ghastly rite. As of 1988 and the Indian Sati Prevention Act, the rite is “officially” illegal, but it's been unofficially banned since 1829, and it's rarely been practiced since.
However, there are some modern-day instances of it. According to a report in the Times of India, a 60-year-old widow tried to burn herself on her husband's funeral pyre in 2009 but was stopped just in time. The last known “successfully” carried out sati was in 1987, and it was said (though never proven) that the family of the widow's husband had aided and abetted the act.
The 400-year-old Rani Sati Temple Complex in Rajasthan, however, has come under fire (no pun intended) for allegedly hosting “discreet congregations” that are said to glorify sati. The temple's official website even claims that the house of worship, which is named after a 13th-century “heroine” who succeeded in sacrificing herself, is inspired by “feminine bravery and spirit" - obviously a horribly regressive whoosh of hot air.
The Exhumed Corpse Brides Of China's "Ghost Marriage" Tradition
Frankenstein-inspired scientific experiment it ain't, but fresh (or not-so-fresh) bodies are still in high demand in some parts of China. In 2013, a court in the Shanxi province sent four grave robbers to prison for black market corpse dealing; the "buyers" were the families of recently deceased people who were in need of similarly recently deceased “spouses.” According to The Guardian, the tradition of ritual ghost marriage is rare in this day and age, but it's not unheard of. The idea is to furnish a deceased bride with a deceased groom (or vice versa) so that neither will be “lonely” in the afterlife.
Wealthy families - those who can afford fresh corpses - apparently pay much higher prices... and really wealthy ones can even “purchase their corpse brides straight from hospitals.” Lower-income families, however, have two options: they can either use a corpse stand-in like “a doughy human-shaped biscuit with black beans for eyes” or “buy an old, rotten corpse at a discounted price, dress it in clothing, and reinforce its skeleton with steel wire.” Plenty of choices for those on a budget.
Corpse Weddings In Present-Day France
Thanks to one of those whimsical, old-fashioned laws that never got around to getting overturned, it's apparently possible to wed the deceased in present day France. According to the New York Times, in fact, the law isn't even all that old; it was first established in 1959, when “the Malpasset Dam in southern France burst, inundating the town of Fréjus and claiming hundreds of lives.” When Charles de Gaulle, the French President at the time, visited the town in the wake of the disaster, a young woman apparently begged him to allow her to legally marry her fiancé... even though he had perished in the flood.
Gaulle consented, Parliament drafted a law, and the woman wed her departed beloved. Since then, apparently, various others have applied for the same nuptial permissions, and, after complicated petitioning procedures, been granted them; one notable occasion took place in 2004, when a woman married her late betrothed and, in the process, “became both widow and bride” in the course of one ceremony.