HERE we have a scene in a Turkish burial-ground. To all appearances, a body has recently been deposited in one of the graves, around which the friends of, the deceased have come to weep and mourn. As you behold their expressions of grief, your sympathy is aroused, for it would seem that such agonizing expressions must be caused by the deepest sorrow. But in this we may be mistaken; for we learn that it is the custom in that country for the women of a bereaved house to visit the grave every morning for many weeks after the funeral, and weep over it, whether their sorrow be real or not; and that, when they are not disposed to go themselves, they hire professional mourning women to go and weep for them. Thus showing that it is not always genuine sorrow that causes them to weep, but that often it is for fear they will not be respected by their friends unless they keep up the appearance of great sorrow.

Although the custom of hiring mourners may seem strange, yet it is very ancient. Jeremiah says: "Call for the mourning women, that they may come, .... and take up a wailing for us;" showing that they were common in his day. Such mourners were often hired to attend the funeral to assist the relatives of the deceased in expressing their sorrow, and by their doleful tones and wailing to extort grief from those present.

Even the children in the streets through which the procession passed, often suspended their sports, and joined with equal sincerity in the lamentations. Hence our Saviour's illustration: "Whereunto shall I liken this generation? It is like unto children sitting in the markets, and calling unto their fellows, and saying, We have piped unto you, and ye have not danced; we have mourned unto you, and ye have not lamented."

A recent writer, speaking of these mourning women, said: "It is not necessary that they should know the family at all; money is all that is needed to start their tears, and tune their voices to the most doleful lamentations."

Another common way in which the ancients expressed their grief was by rending their clothes. "In performing this ceremony," says a Jewish writer, they take a knife, and holding the blade downward, give the upper garment a cut in the right side, and then rend it a hand's breadth." 

For a father or mother the rent is made on the left side, and in all the garments.  It was also customary in Scripture times to put earth upon the head as a sign of sorrow. The Benjamite who brought Eli the news of the death of his sons, came with "earth upon his head." When the Israelites were defeated at Ai, Joshua and the elders "put dust upon their heads." 

And when Job's three friends mourned with him, they "sprinkled dust upon their heads toward heaven."  In the British Museum there is a tombstone on which is a representation of a funeral procession, the mourners in which show their grief by throwing dust upon their heads. The Egyptians had an ancient tradition that their god Noum taught their fathers that they were but clay or dust. And the practice of putting dust on their heads is supposed to have been symbolical of their origin from dust, and to show their humility in view of that fact.

Many other signs of sorrow were employed by the ancients, such as fasting, shaving the head, plucking the hair, putting on sackcloth, smiting the breast, and cutting and lacerating the flesh, the latter being still practiced by the Arabs, Persians, and Abyssinians, also by the New Zealanders.

So it is; in all countries and in all ages, people have been called to mourn. It matters not how this is done, whether the grief is borne in silence and seclusion, or with loud acclamations and in public places; the loved ones are gone from us to return no more till the resurrection morn.

Dear readers, none of us know bow soon we may be called to mourn for dear friends, or they to mourn for us. We are in the land of the dying. Change is written upon everything. Even the budding trees and the springing grass remind us of the time when they must wither and die as did those of the previous year. Today only, is ours. Who of us will so improve it that we may be among the redeemed of the Lord, when they shall come unto Zion with songs and everlasting joy, and when "sorrow and mourning shall flee away."

M. K. W.