What are professional mourners?

picture of a professional mourner in a black suit

What is a professional mourner? And what do they do? Learn more about the history and meaning of this ancient funeral practice.

What's a professional mourner?

Professional mourners are people who are paid to go to funerals. They don’t know the person who has died. But it’s their job to feel sad – or at least look sad – no matter who the person was.

What do professional mourners do?

The role of a professional mourner varies depending on culture and location.

In ancient Egypt, for example, professional funeral mourners were expected to look as pained as possible. The louder they were, the better – mourners would cry, wail and smear their bodies with dirt.

On the other hand, professional mourners in Victorian times were much more reserved. They dressed in smart clothes and often walked quietly alongside the coffin as it was taken to the burial ground.

Some say professional mourners only exist to increase the number of people at a funeral and make the person who has died seem more important. While there might be some truth in this, it isn’t the only reason people hire professional mourners. Often, they play an important cultural or religious role at the funeral and are highly respected in their society.

What are professional mourners called?

Professional mourners are sometimes called ‘moirologists’. This comes from the Ancient Greek moîra, meaning ‘fate’, and lógos, meaning ‘speech’ – literally ‘fate speakers’.

You might also hear them called ‘hired mourners’, ‘funeral criers’ or ‘wailers’. In Victorian Britain, they were known as ‘mutes’.

Where did professional mourners originate?

It seems that no one is quite sure where professional mourning started, though we know it goes back many hundreds of years. Professional funeral mourners were once common in the Mediterranean and ancient Egypt.

Professional mourners appear in the Bible too. For instance, this passage talks about inviting ‘wailing women’ to mourn for their fallen homeland:

 

Consider now! Call for the wailing women to come;

send for the most skilful of them.

Let them come quickly

and wail over us

till our eyes overflow with tears

and water streams from our eyelids.

This is just one of many mentions of professional mourners in the Bible. Because they appear so many times, we can assume that professional mourning was considered normal when the Bible was written. The passage above comes from the book of Jeremiah, which was probably written around 580 BCE.

Do professional mourners still exist?

Yes, there are still professional mourners.

Here are a few places where professional mourning is practised today:

China

There is a long tradition of professional funeral mourners in China. Historians believe they’ve been part of Chinese funerals since the 8th century CE.

In those days, the mourner’s job was to provide entertainment, as well as grieve for the person who had died. Once the main funeral rite had taken place, they would act out scenes alongside the funeral procession.

It’s not too different today. Modern professional mourners often act as funeral officiants and sing songs, as well as performing their mourning duties.

India

In the north Indian state of Rajasthan, there are women called rudaalis (meaning ‘professional mourners’). Their job is to go to the house of the person who has died and perform loud displays of grief.

Rudaalis once played an important role in Rajasthani society. It was considered inappropriate for high-class women to grieve openly, so when their husbands died the rudaalis would mourn on their behalf.

As time goes on, though, it’s becoming far less common to see rudaalis at funerals.

Greece

Professional funeral mourners still exist today on the Peloponnese peninsula in southern Greece.

The mourners are all elderly women who perform a special ritual that’s believed to date back to ancient times. A group of mourners gather around the body and take turns chanting stories about the person who has died. These stories are improvised, meaning they’re made up on the spot.

This ritual was once seen as an essential part of a funeral. Ioanna Sakellaraki, an artist who has taken photos of the women, explained:

Families were asking for women to do this process because it was just so important — it was an important sort of collective goodbye to the person.

Hiring professional mourners in the UK

Though professional mourners were once common in the UK, it’s unusual to see them at funerals today.

A few years ago, there was a string of news articles that said professional mourning was on the rise again. However, these articles largely focused on one company – Rent A Mourner – which has since stopped trading. If there really was a trend for professional mourning, there’s little evidence to suggest it has continued.

If you do want to hire a professional mourners today, the best thing is to speak with your funeral director to see if they can arrange this for you. Alternatively, you could approach a local talent agency. They may be willing to hire out actors to go to a funeral.

 

Funeral Choice helps people in the UK find funeral directors in their area. If you need help planning a funeral, visit our advice centre.

×

Request Advice

Call a member of the Funeral Choice advice team on 01983 754387

or complete our enquiry form.

×

Funeral Director fees

The price quoted contains the Funeral Director fees for a simple funeral. This includes:

  • Funeral Director fees for meetings, paperwork and running the funeral
  • Collection of the deceased and care prior to funeral
  • Hearse or appropriate vehicle for transport to the funeral
  • Basic coffin

The Funeral Director fees quoted do not include third party costs (often called disbursements). The Funeral Director will guide you through your options. These costs are:

  • Cremation or burial fees
  • Medical certificate for cremation
  • Clergy or officiant fee for conducting the ceremony

In addition to the disbursements you may want to discuss optional costs with your Funeral Director - these could include:

  • Funeral flowers
  • Memorial (venue hire, catering etc)
  • Memorial headstone
  • Orders of service
Close
×

What is a Direct Cremation?

A Direct Cremation is an alternative to the traditional funeral. This involves the cremation of the deceased without a funeral service. A Direct Cremation is generally the most economic option because costs of the coffin, preparation of the body, funeral service and expensive transportation are not included. However, many people choose Direct Cremations for reasons other than expense, for example:

  • - Wanting to have a memorial at a different time to the cremation
  • - Expressed desire from the deceased to not have a ceremony
  • - Individuals with relatives who face big physical or geographical challenges in coming together for a ceremony

The prices quoted for Direct Cremations include:

  • All charges, meetings and paperwork for the cremation
  • Collection of deceased and care prior to cremation
  • A simple coffin and urn for the ashes
  • Cremation fees and delivery of ashes to the family
Close
×

Attended funeral

This is Funeral Choice’s best estimate of this Funeral Director’s fees for an Attended Funeral, which is where family and friends have a ceremony or service for the deceased person at the same time as they attend their burial or cremation.

This price includes the following:

  • Taking care of all necessary legal and administrative arrangements
  • Collecting and transporting the deceased person from the place of death (normally within 15 miles of the funeral director’s premises) into the funeral director’s care
  • Care of the deceased person before the funeral in appropriate facilities.
  • Providing a suitable coffin
  • Optional viewing of the deceased person for family and friends, by appointment with the funeral director
  • At a date and time you agree with the funeral director, taking the deceased person direct to the agreed cemetery or crematorium (normally within 20 miles of the funeral director’s premises) in a hearse or other appropriate vehicle

In addition to the Funeral Director’s fee, there will be third party costs to consider (sometimes called disbursements) to cover the other aspects of a funeral (such as the crematorium or burial fees). Your chosen Funeral Director will be able to provide these for you.

Close
×

Unattended funeral

This is Funeral Choice’s best estimate of this Funeral Director’s fees and the crematorium fee for an Unattended Funeral, which is where family and friends may choose to have a ceremony, event or service for the deceased person, but they do not attend the burial or cremation itself. This is also known as a Direct Cremation.

This price includes the following:

  • Funeral Director's fees
  • Crematorium fee (for an unattended funeral) as selected by the Funeral Director

In addition to this fee, there might be additional third party costs to consider (sometimes called disbursements). Your chosen Funeral Director will be able to explain these for you.

If you wish to attend the funeral, you should view the “Attended Funeral” price instead.

Close
×

Why is this price Estimated?

We work hard to ensure the Funeral Director Fees we display are accurate and up to date. However, unlike with our partners, we cannot guarantee this price is correct today.

Funeral Director fees

The price quoted contains the Funeral Director fees for a simple funeral. This includes:

  • Funeral Director fees for meetings, paperwork and running the funeral
  • Collection of the deceased and care prior to funeral
  • Hearse or appropriate vehicle for transport to the funeral
  • Basic coffin

The Funeral Director fees quoted do not include third party costs (often called disbursements). The Funeral Director will guide you through your options. These costs are:

  • Cremation or burial fees
  • Medical certificate for cremation
  • Clergy or officiant fee for conducting the ceremony

In addition to the disbursements you may want to discuss optional costs with your Funeral Director - these could include:

  • Funeral flowers
  • Memorial (venue hire, catering etc)
  • Memorial headstone
  • Orders of service
Close
×

Funeral Choice charity donation

To redeem the £20 charity donation all you have to do is select the charity from the dropdown list in the Make Contact form. Once you have confirmed arrangements with that funeral director send us an email to info@yourfuneralchoice.com confirming the service has been arranged. After we receive this email we will make the donation to the chosen charity and confirm back to you.

Close