Symbolism & Significance of the Hearse

    The hearse has an odd relationship with the public.  On one hand the hearse is seen as highly symbolic, wrapped up in meaning and significance, representing a variety of things from death to tradition.  Yet at the same time the public only takes a short glance at the hearse, looking upon it briefly and noticing little past the colour.

    In this post I look at how the public sees the hearse, from my admittedly limited research into this area.

    The hearse is iconic, bound up in so much significant symbolism, it is so much more than just a car for carrying coffins about.

The hearse is seen as a symbol of the funeral industry, inseparable from the industry in fact.  Mourners see the funeral service as the most important aspect of the funeral industry, which is true in a sense, especially from the perspective of the mourner as they arrive for a funeral service, it is the reason for the funeral industry.  This is not entirely true, nor is it actually this simple, but for the sake of time we will take it as such, plus a more in-depth discussion of this would be off topic.

So, if the funeral industry exists to provide funeral services it is the hearse which makes this possible, which makes this happen.  It is the hearse which brings the coffin, which physically and emotionally signals and allows the funeral to start and take place.

In other words the funeral industry exists through the hearse, as the hearse not only defines the boundaries of the funeral service but also makes the funeral services possible.  Without a hearse the funeral service could not take place, and without a funeral service the funeral industry would not exist.  Of course this is not actually the case, it is simply the perceptions I am finding from mourners.

Take for example cases where the hearse was not involved in the funeral service, such as an early delivery at a crematorium,  many mourners still think and imagine the hearse as having brought the coffin.  It is such a telling thing, that in cases where mourners never saw a hearse they still imagine it as an integral part of that funeral service.  To imagine a funeral without a hearse is not natural, not assumed.

A good practical example of this was my grandparents funeral, the service was at the funeral home chapel and then the bodies were to go to the crematorium for a No Service No Attendance (NSNA) afterwards.  Basically the hearse would only be involved at the end of the funeral, to take the coffins to the crematorium.

Yet when we arrived the hearse was there, out the front of the funeral home chapel for all to see.  Despite the fact it would not be needed for about an hour it was there, ready and waiting.  The reason for this was a symbolic one, it was to show the mourners a funeral was taking place in a tangible and recognisable way.

Because a funeral without a hearse is inconceivable, incongruent with current perceptions and beliefs.  So the funeral home provided one, placed a hearse outside to meet expectations and assumptions, to match the desires of the mourner.

We desire and expect to see a hearse on a funeral, so they gave us one, even though it was completely irrelevant to the funeral at that point and time.  The relevance of the hearse is not as important as the perceptions and expectations.

Mourners cannot picture a funeral without a hearse, it borders on the truly inconceivable.  In many media portrails of a funeral we see the hearse, even if just in the background, or driving away at the end as everyone leaves.  Perhaps it is easier, more in line with our expectations, to picture a hearse and funeral surrounding it (such as a cortege or burial with a hearse in the background) rather than a funeral without a hearse whatsoever.

Another important symbolism of the hearse is death, after all, the hearse is heavily involved in this and so it is no surprise many entangle death with the hearse.  The motif of death and gothic is common with and almost inseparable from the hearse.  Do a simple google images search of the word "hearse" and one will find pictures of a hearse with skulls or something gothic in nature.

Which is hardly to be expected, much of the funeral industry has this perception on it, but this it is particularly apparent with the hearse.  The hearse has become a symbol of death, as seen in many movies, especially horror/fantasy style films (such as vampire or zombie ones).

A couple of friends have expressed how the hearse reminds them not only of funerals, but also of death.  One find simple photos of an empty hearse disconcerting as they cannot separate the hearse from thoughts of death.


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