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Faux Pas, Spirits and Keeping Cremated Ashes in the Home

The champagne cork sailed across the room, shattering an urn prominently displayed on the mantel. In horror, all polite conversation ceased. The ashes and broken porcelain crashed in slow motion onto the hearth, drawing the curiosity of the cat who promptly peed in the pile.

As only Hollywood can portray, the shock (and humor) of this scene's unintended faux pas sets the stage for Meet the Parents. Greg, played by Ben Stiller, had brought the celebratory champagne to dinner in honor of meeting his girlfriend's parents for the first time. The porcelain cremation urn held the ashes of her father's beloved mother. Greg's unfortunate attempts to gain approval failed - at least on this occasion.

While bad luck events like the one in Meet the Parents are rare, we deal with plenty of superstitions surrounding cremation ashes daily. Is it bad luck to split ashes? I've run into people who wonder if it's bad luck to keep ashes at home. When bringing home an urn with cremains, many people have many questions: is it bad luck to open an urn? Is there energy in cremated ashes? While Hollywood might have ideas about disrespectful things to do with ashes, less significant superstitions are more commonplace and depend heavily on your own beliefs. Maybe that depends on whether you believe in spirits, and if they're considered good or bad to have around.

Why Families Choose to Keep Ashes in the Home

There are countless ways to care for cremated ashes as our previous blog discusses. But many times, cremation ashes are kept at home. Why?

Rob Gutro, an author, paranormal investigator and medium, offers a unique dimension on the topic. "Ashes in urns have a residual energy of the people or pets they once were and when someone who loved them comes near, it gives them energy to come back and visit. The love you shared continues to bind you together. Spirits also help guide and influence us to make decisions that will benefit us." The movie Chocolat offers a great illustration of Gutro's point.

In the movie, Vianne and her young daughter Anouk move frequently from place to place with the wind, Vivianna's transient childhood with her South American mother. Vianne carries a pottery urn of her mother's ashes, wrapped tenderly in a shawl. The urn imparts a strong spiritual presence.

Anouk comes to love their new French village, its people, and the chocolaterie her mother opened. When Vianne suddenly decides that it's once again time to move, Anouk resists. In a tug-o-war with their suitcases, the cremation urn falls. Ashes and shards cascade down the stairs. Frantically Anouk fumbles to gather the ashes. Vianne, speechless, puts the salvaged bits in a small box.

Later, with a mystical change of heart, Vianne releases the remaining ashes to the wind, symbolizing her mother's permission and blessing to release old patterns that had kept them from an authentic life. She and Anouk stay, settling happily in the French village.

Many people find relief and comfort in keeping ashes at home. Bad luck can be a common fear, but the benefits often outweigh the potential cons. Feeling the residual energy of a lost loved one can be a spiritual experience, even if you don't necessarily believe that ashes hold power. For many, it is simply a matter of being near their lost loved one.

Other reasons for keeping ashes in a home are widely varied.

  • It could be a cultural practice. A Chinese family I know has a small shrine in their home for urns. They honor their ancestors with daily offerings of fresh fruit and rice. Other Asian cultures have similar rituals.
  • Sometimes keeping ashes at home is simply due to uncertainty, such as unresolved feelings of grief and loss, making it difficult for the survivors to make decisions.
  • Conflicting opinions among family members about where to bury or scatter the ashes is another reason. Until the time comes when a consensus is reached, the ashes remain in the home.
  • Then there's personal preference and preplanning. As reported on, Bob Champion of Somerset, England, says that his wife's ashes rest in a double wooden urn atop their bed's headboard just above where she slept. To a casual observer, the urn seems unobtrusive, looking much like a jewelry box or part of the furniture. When he dies, his ashes will be mixed with his wife's in the companion urn.
  • Finally, there's the possibility of a tangible connection to the spirit who may want to be in touch.

But beyond having reasons for keeping ashes, how long can you keep an urn at home? The answer is as long as you are comfortable with it. There are many alternative options, like scattering ashes, keeping them in a columbarium, burying them and splitting them among family members. Each method has its benefits, and many who keep ashes at home decide to move them in the future.

Though unlikely to happen anywhere but on the screen, the Meet the Parents scene with the crashing cremation urn brings up practical concerns about keeping cremated ashes in the home. Where will the urn be placed?

  • Will it be in a protected area such as on a bookshelf or in a bedroom? A ceramic piece such as the parade elephant cremation urn, or a glass piece such as the red rose stained glass cremation urn could be an appropriate choice. And the urn would be protected.
  • Will the urn be in a high-traffic area of the house, sitting out on a table or mantel, where there could be risk of accidental damage? In this case, a metal or wooden urn with a tight lid might be preferable.

You might also be wondering, is it bad luck to separate ashes? The common practice of splitting ashes among family members has led to many superstitions over the years, especially with regard to cremation jewelry. Like the Meet the Parents scene, many of these ideas find their origins in movies and other pop culture phenomena, not in reality, though the thought will surely spook some people. Fortunately, many people keep ash jewelry and urns for ashes in their homes without ever experiencing any negative consequences - so this superstition is probably just that and nothing more. But outside of superstition, are there any negatives to keeping ashes at home?

Are There Consequences to Keeping Ashes at Home?

So, what are the negatives to keeping ashes at home? Fortunately, there aren't many concrete reasons not to - aside from the potential for accidental damage, urns of ashes don't frequently cause problems due to their physical nature. However, keeping ashes at home can sometimes have an emotional effect many don't anticipate before placing an urn inside. It can prove to be too difficult for many to have a loved one's ashes in the home, but if relocation can be simple if this is the case.

If ashes are kept in the home and then you move, is it necessary to disclose this in an Agreement of Sale? My research says no. Additionally, the Paranormal Society says any spirits related to the survivors, will "move" with them rather than staying in a house in which the family no longer resides.

However, if a house is alleged to be haunted with sightings of ghosts, written disclosure is recommended. Regulations on this vary from state to state. Interestingly, a survey by revealed that 26% of buyers would buy a haunted house, 36% said they might purchase such a property, and 38% said no way. But of the 26%, most said that if they saw levitating objects, it would be a deal breaker.

In the end, while keeping ashes at home might have its own rumors of the paranormal and of bad luck, housing a loved one's cremains is something that's done commonly by many - without a single report of accidents or otherwise.

Want to read more like this? Check out our blog post How Does It Feel to Keep an Urn for Ashes in the Home?