• Home
  • Blog
  • What Are Professional Mourners?

What Are Professional Mourners?

A black and white photo of some mourners

Photo by Library of Congress / Wikimedia Commons

What are professional mourners?

Professional mourners, or moirologists, are people paid to attend a funeral and mourn, despite usually not knowing the person who has died. The profession has existed since ancient times and is still happening around the world today.

What do you mean by mourners?

A mourner is someone who attends a funeral and mourns for the deceased. Mourning is the act of feeling or expressing sorrow.

Mourners at a funeral may have been close friends or family of the person who has died or they may have been affected by the work of the person who has died, without knowing them personally. Alternatively, they may be hired mourners.

What is a hired mourner?

A hired mourner is someone who has been paid to come to a funeral and express sorrow for the person who has died, despite not necessarily sharing a personal connection with them.

While professional mourners aren’t hugely popular in the UK, they are an integral part of some cultures around the world. China, for instance, has a history of very elaborate funeral processions and professional mourners have been a common element of them since the 8th Century.

A painting of a traditional Chinese funeral

Photo by New York Public Library / Wikimedia Commons

What do professional mourners do?

Professional mourners are paid to act as though they are mourning for the person whose funeral they are attending. Depending on the culture, the wishes of the person who has died, the wishes of their loved ones and the approach of the mourner themselves, these acts could vary.

Some people and some cultures encourage large outpourings of emotion at funerals. So a professional mourner at such a funeral would be expected to mourn in an exaggerated way. Some cultures or people might lean more towards quiet and dignified exhibitions of emotion, and a professional mourner would be expected to reflect that.

Why were there professional mourners in the bible?

There are professional mourners in the bible because the Hebrew people trace their roots back to ancient Egypt. Many of the traditions of Ancient Egypt found their way into the Old Testament of the Bible, which in large part is made up of Hebrew scripture.

What did Ancient Egyptian professional mourners do?

Ancient egyptian professional mourners would attend funerals and act as representations of Isis and Nephyts, two Egyptian gods who were significant when someone died.

An image featuring Egyptian mourners with hieroglyphics above them

Photo by The Yorck Project / Wikimedia Commons

Unlike more modern examples, these professional mourners seemed to fill a religious need rather than purely adding more numbers to the funeral procession or more volume to the mourning.

Ancient Egyptian professional mourners would commit their lives to the profession and would even have the names of the deity they represented tattooed onto themselves.

Were their professional mourners in Victorian times?

There were professional mourners in Victorian times and they were known as ‘mutes’. They would be hired by wealthy families to enlarge the funeral procession and make the funeral of their loved one seem well attended. A painting of some Victorian mourners

Photo by Leeds Art Gallery / Wikimedia Commons

Unlike many professional mourners, Victorian mourners would have been much quieter and more sombre, in keeping with the austere attitude of the time.

One famous example of the Victorian mute would be Charles Dickens’ Oliver Twist who in the book was hired to attend children’s funerals. Dickens himself was highly critical of the concept and sometimes mocked the profession in his work.

We have many other blogs about funeral traditions and culture that you can browse. These include posts about famous mausoleums, what a catafalque is and many more. If you’re looking for help and support in any aspect of arranging a funeral then our help and resources section should answer your questions.