Shikei

'To Honor the Dead'

First, remove the head. Leave the body for the pile.
  Shikei is the practice of taking the skull of the recently deceased and decorating them with engravings, painted dyes, and more outlandish modifications. The higher the status of the dead, the more impressive the embellishments become with horns, gemstones, great tusks and metal. Through this, the people of Araea honor their dead and display the might of those who came before them.    

Preparing the Body

  The corpse is first moved to the Shikei's workshop. The head is severed and the body is either dumped in a mushroom grove or sold to cave-ranchers for food. The head is set into a pit filled with flesh-eating beetles and the remaining scraps of meat is carefully scraped off. Should the skull be damaged or deformed, the Shikei will attempt to file it down or patch it over.  
Final Supper   Once, it was more common for the family to cook and eat the corpse to honor the dead and take parts of them into their descendents. With industrial pollutant, radiation and more becoming increasingly common, necro-cannibalism such as this has fallen out of favor.
  When the head is completely bare, it is is dried and cleaned before the second stage begins.    

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  The head is adorned with etchings that detail the life and triumphs of the deceased. The Shika use knives of steel or obsidian, but if the deceased was particularly poor, the Shikei will settle for painting the skull instead. Once the carving is complete, the skull is coated with an alchemical solution that hardens the bone.   In some cases, the bone is removed all the way to the hollow of the skull in the same elaborate designs, and some cultures light candles or incense inside as part of the final funeral rite.  
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  For more wealthy clients, the Shikei take the parts of animals and fuse them to the skull with bone-melting ointments. Horns, tusks, mandibles, and the parts of vicious predators are the most common and serve the purpose of giving the skull a more fearsome appearance. The same treatment that bind bone together can be used to soften it, allowing a skilled Shikei to mold bone like clay, creating ridges, horns or deformations.  
The greater the beast, the greater the glory.
  The bones of other humans can be used decorate the skull, though this is rare and is usually meant as a message and warning.  
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  For the most wealthy and powerful, the Shikei adds gemstone or metal directly to the bone. There are integrated into the designs of the engravings and range in scale from rivets and studs, to plating most of the cranium in metal. The skulls of conqueror-queens and merchant kings can become worth more then their weight in gold after the Shikei have added horns, precious metals and stones.    

Purpose and Meaning

  The engravings are meant to tell the story of the deceased, using a highly stylized variant of whatever language is used by the Shikei with symbolic embellishments mixed in throughout. Whatever space on the bone is left is usually adorned with purely decorative engravings. Though the person have gone into the final dark, their deeds and character remain on display for all to see and know about.  
Adding metal or gems is purely to flaunt ones wealth, with no practical or spiritual significance. If there is nothing else to say, at least the deceased can brag about their fortune. This has lead to the saying, "that one will leave a pretty skull" and seldom meant as a compliment.
  Additions such as human or animal bones combine function with form. A fierce warrior's skull might be adorned with the horn of a predator to symbolize power, for instance.    

Rites of Reverence

  When the skull has been decorated and treated, it is returned to whoever paid for the Shikei. In some lands, the skull is set to its resting place with much fanfare while others consider the ceremony to be over once the Shikei is done.   The skulls of deceased family members are often kept in the home, either in small shrines or encased into the walls or beneath the floor. The wealthy might have entire rooms set aside to display and honor their dead, though most make do with more simple means.  

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Shikei

  The name of both the art and those who practice it, Shikei are a respected caste of artisans who combine aspect of priest, mortician, and artist.   Their duties range from the pratical, such as disposing the body to the nearest mushroom-compost, to the work of stripping and treating the skull.   They are part of every step of the funeral and the best of them can demand a high price for their work.      
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Death in War

  During war, armies employ special troops that decapitate corpses after a battle and collect the heads for counting and identification. Assignment to such a duty is usually a punishment, though marching armies sometimes employ low-ranking Shikei to lead the count and process the heads.   Other Shikei derisively refer to them as hack-jobs for the heavy cleavers they use.  
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Piled High

  Should conflict or plague ravage a settlement, or when none remains to pay for disposal and engraving, the normal rituals of Shikei are set aside in favor of expediency.   These skulls get the most simple of engravings and are set into communal temples where the skulls and bones of the dead are used to create morbid shrines.  
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Damn the Dead

  Not all applications of Shikei is meant to honor the deceased. Between some rivals, death is only the beginning.   Just as common is the practice of claiming the head of a conquered foe and desecrating it. This can be meant to display dominance, intimidate others or with the belief that it traps the soul of the slain inside the skull.  
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  The engravings curse and damn the dead, extolling all their faults and failings, and taunting them about their final fate. Instead of additions that meant add a sense of might, the Shikei adds the part of meek and skittish beasts. Other common alterations include wiring or fusing the jaw shut or blinding the eyes, typically with the husk of insect eggs.

Comments

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21 Jul, 2018 13:47

Well this one looks good, I've given you some feedback in its current form, but let me know if you rewrite it.

22 Jul, 2018 17:59

Thank you, your proof-reading is a life-saver. :)

22 Jul, 2018 15:15

What a foreign tradition... severed heads, flesh-eating bugs and even cannibalism. The images really add to it. Great article!

22 Jul, 2018 18:00

It's based on some super-interesting real life things, some of them very modern. Modern skull-museums (which apparently is a thing) use flesh-eating bugs, for example. Learned that from watching Dirty Jobs. :)   Thank you! I'm glad you enjoyed it!

22 Jul, 2018 16:39

Grimly beautiful, the ideas behind this article are gorgeous. It leaves me with a few questions though, first being whether there is any significance to what is done to the skull, does one pattern or bone addition mean something else than another pattern or metal adornment? I also think it might be a good idea to place the cultural reasons of why one's skull is decorated in its own section rather than being interlacing it with the "Damn The Dead" section. It took me a few readings to grasp why they would do this in the first place, and I'm still unsure whether I fully understand.. Correct me if I'm wrong, but is it to set the souls free (as Damn The Dead stated that conquers would trap the souls) and to give the dead more significance in the afterlife?

22 Jul, 2018 17:59

Hey! First of all, thanks for some great feedback!   Those kinds of questions are great for figuring out what's missing from the article! Thanks! :D   To answer them, I added an entire section about the why's, in the "Purpose And Meaning". I kept the Damn the Dead side panel, but I moved it down so it aligns with that sections, so all information is in one place. Is that better? :)   In lieu of answering your question directly, I'll see if the updated article does that! :D

22 Jul, 2018 19:05

That does indeed answer my questions, and with flair to boot. I really like the saying in the quote, an insult in the guise of a compliment. And I'm glad I could help!

22 Jul, 2018 18:26

Wow! This is grim in the best way possible, the images you've used fit the article perfectly. How did this unusual practice become popular?

22 Jul, 2018 18:34

Long story short; there's not much space to store corpses and not really any soil to bury them in graveyard, so they got creative. :)   I'll see about adding a History section to the article! Thanks for the comment!

22 Jul, 2018 20:07

HUG!

22 Jul, 2018 20:14

<3