Sunday, May 26

The Crestone Eagle is a nonprofit monthly newspaper serving Crestone and the San Luis Valley

Notes from the Pyre: Open-air cremations growing in popularity

By Sharon Corcoran

Since open-air cremations were begun in Crestone, unofficially in 1998 and then legally by the Crestone End of Life Project in 2008, open-air cremations, as well as other alternative final disposition methods, have attracted public interest and popularity across the country. 

In October, some of that interest manifested in Crestone with the arrival of Ashley Kohler representing Northern Pyre, a nonprofit organization promoting open-air cremation in Minnesota, and Brett Nicoletti from Smile Productions, a California-based film company working on a documentary about the open-air cremation movement.  

Kohler came to meet with Crestone End of Life Project (CEOLP) board members about the practical aspects of open-air cremation, and Nicoletti came to film interviews with CEOLP representatives, as well as community members impacted by CEOLPā€™s work. 

As Nicoletti hopes to reveal in his film, several organizations, inspired and informed by CEOLPā€™s example and success, are working to increase public access to open-air cremation.  

Two efforts have been on the state level, one in Vermont in a bill sponsored by State Representative Matt Birong.  Birong has stated that his interest in open-air cremation was evoked by his viewing of the film Star Wars ā€“ Return of the Jedi with his late father, who explained to his son that the cremation carried out by Luke Skywalker on the dead body of his father Darth Vader was not the violent act it appeared to be, but an example of an ancient and widespread funerary practice that shows respect for the deceased.  

Birongā€™s bill is awaiting action by the Vermont governor.

Missouri also saw legislation introduced in 2019, a bill named ā€œthe Jedi Disposal Act,ā€ by Senator Jason Holsman.  Holsman was also inspired by the Star Wars film to pursue open-air cremation legalization, but was influenced as well by his northern European, Viking ancestry. His bill passed in the Missouri legislature but was vetoed by Missouri governor Mike Parson.

Citizen-led initiatives exist in Maine, Minnesota, and New Jersey (although the New Jersey project is dedicated to legalizing open-air cremation for Hindus).  

In Maine, Good Ground Great Beyond was founded by Angela Lutzenberger, who has formed a nonprofit and purchased 63 acres as a location for a future pyre and for dispersal of cremains, as well as a place for visitation and reflection.

Ashley Kohler, who recently visited Crestone, is president of the board of Northern Pyre in Minnesota, and is a certified crematory operator. 

Northern Pyre was founded in 2022 and hopes to be up and running within a couple of years.

For more about CEOLP, visit www.crestoneendoflifeproject.org.

Photo: Having a loved one served by CEOLP often leads to a desire to volunteer with the organization.Ā Courtesy CEOLP/Taylor McIntosh

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