The burning of joss paper is an essential custom of the Chinese. It is a practice that is believed to send money and the material wealth to your deceased relatives and friends. We respect, honor and love our deceased and that is why most of the practices still exist.
If you are keen, whenever you are in China, you will notice small shrines built at the sides of the house walls or outside shops. They normally have loads of fruits and incense. Now, these are the places where the tradition of burning Joss papers take place.
This article aims at showing you the 10 joss papers you can buy while highlighting the uses of joss papers in the society today.
You may want to know about Qing ming festival.
WHAT IS A JOSS PAPER?
You may call them joss papers, ghost money or spirit papers. They all refer to the same thing (the Chinese paper offerings). They are paper objects made from coarse bamboo paper or rice paper and used to appease the dead, for transformation, prosperity wishes, payment of spiritual debts and fertility among other purposes.
The papers are decorated in different ways. It all depends on the purpose of the joss paper. For example:
The traditional joss paper (for ancestor worship) is usually decorated using a square of gold or silver foil to represent the money, stamps, symbols and embossing among others. On the Gold square is a portion where you can write your wish for the wishing purpose joss paper.
The other type is the money kind of joss paper which is also known as hell bank notes. The traditional kind has a bank of heaven and earth seal. While others resemble the legal tender from various countries of the world.
The last uncommon kind is the type that resembles the luxuries or material wealth that the deceased either had or not. They come in form of joss paper cars, joss paper houses, joss paper TV screens among others.
THE ORIGIN OF JOSS PAPER
Joss paper invention dates back to the six dynasties time. This is when life was very difficult in ancient China. Most of the Chinese were farmers but would toil and toil and still get no produce. For this reason, they opted for a method that would lift them out of poverty. This saw the beginning of burning joss paper.
The paper offerings according to archaeologists began about 1000 BC. The money imitations were left in the tombs and must have been offered to appease the dead.
Furthermore, it’s said that when an emperor died in the ancient days, his men were killed so that they would go on and continue working for him in the spiritual realm. However, as time went by people felt that this was inhuman and they, therefore, began burning joss paper. The Taoists began making a human effigy using joss paper to represent the emperor’s servants in the afterlife.
To date, the burning of joss papers is done at the temples, crematoriums, funeral and grave sites. It also happens during the Qingming festival which comes around 4th to 6th April and the Hungry Ghost festival which occurs between August 14th and 12th September.
IMPORTANCE OF BURNING JOSS PAPERS
The Hungry Ghost festival is the time when the deceased come to earth to seek food. The burning joss paper ritual helps to absolve the suffering ghosts. It is the duty of the living to make sure the souls of the dead are satisfied. This way they leave the living alone or become their guardian angels.
They help ensure that the deceased have a good afterlife. That is why we include the joss paper burning during funerals. Most religions believe that there is life after death, therefore, this practice helps to maintain a good relationship with our ancestors.
In China, most temples have large furnaces outside that are used for the burning joss paper ritual. This is believed to bring good fortune to the society. You are expected to make your paper offerings but never ever use real money as burning real money brings bad luck.
They are used when making wishes and honoring the Gods, Ghosts and deities.
The most important use of joss paper is the fact that it helps the living remember their dead ones and thus maintaining a respectful relationship. You see, of all cultures in the world, the Chinese are among the few who take time to care for their dead.
As Chinese, we believe that those in the afterlife have similar needs to the living. Therefore. the joss paper offerings are used to pay off debts, partake in trade and basically make life easier in the spiritual realm.
WHERE ARE THE JOSS PAPERS USED?
Unless you are a Chinese/Asian, you may not know most of these facts. Joss papers are used in various occasions. The uses are all unique in their own way. It’s right to assume that those who have the shrines within their homes, can burn the joss at whatever time they choose.
There are those who practice the ritual on specific occasions while others wait for family gatherings or do it on a day to day basis.
- At funerals
Note that the joss papers or ghost money are basically the currencies used by those in the spiritual realm. The belief is that there is a spiritual bank from which the spirits can withdraw money for their use. The offerings are done at the joss paper squares.
The dead should never arrive the other realm empty handed according to the Chinese beliefs, thus, the burning of the joss papers and household essentials like clothing, jewelry, electronics ensure they remain comfortably happy.
- In memory of the ancestor’s birthdates and death anniversaries
When one passes on, the life doesn’t end there. The Chinese continue to celebrate their birthdates and death anniversaries as though they are alive. We actually hold parties prepping our deceased favorite meals and sharing stories about them. During this time, joss paper is burnt.
Burning of joss paper is part and parcel of this day. In our previous article we actually mentioned that there is the burning of incenses and offerings made during the process. The offerings are mostly to appease the dead and usually involves the joss paper offerings.
- The hungry ghost month
This is another festival that burning of the joss papers is done to calm the restless spirits especially of those without loved ones. It is a time to feed the hungry souls as you venerate them.
- It’s a day to day activity
Some Chinese use this ritual to remember their loved ones every so often. It is also done to bring good luck to their businesses. Festivals like Chinese New Year is used to fondly remember the loved ones.
You will notice that there is an increase in the sale of joss papers just before Ching Ming festival and hungry ghost festival.
It is easy to find joss papers in China and specifically Sheng Wan district in Hong Kong. However, most people don’t know that when you are in other parts of the world, you could order your joss papers from Amazon.
10 JOSS PAPERS TO BUY FROM AMAZON
1. 300 Piece Chinese Joss Paper Collection in 3 Designs: Hell Bank Notes for Funerals, the Qingming Festival and the Hungry Ghost Festival
This kind of joss paper is suitable for funerals, ancestor’s birthdays, Qingming festival and hungry ghost festival among other holidays. The 300 sheets save you the trips to the shops every so often. The sheets are made to emulate the US dollar, Chinese yen and the bank of the heaven simultaneously.
While it has no cash value on earth, the Chinese believe that the joss papers are valuable in the spiritual realm.
2. ZeeStar Chinese Joss Paper - Heaven Bank Notes - Perforated Paper Money (Leave A Good Name for Posterity) for Funerals, The Qingming Festival and The Hungry Ghost Festival (Pack of 35) (gold)
These papers are made from either white or gold bamboo paper. The papers are burnt to provide money and material goods in the afterlife. It is used during funerals, ancestor’s birthdays and festivals like Qingming and hungry ghost festivals.
A pack contains 35 pieces of joss papers that measure about 9 by 7 inches.
These notes come in different design and each design has 100 pieces in a pack. It is used to appease the ‘Hell Gods’ by giving them monetary distractions to live the living alone. They are also used to requesting for blessings and prosperity of the living.
These papers will ensure the loved ones are comfortable in the other realm as they are able to take care of their needs using the money sent to them in this form.
4. 120 Piece Chinese Joss Paper Money Large Size Hell Bank Note One Hundred Billion ($1,000,000,000,000) - Zhaocai Jinbao 9.6 By 4.7 Inches
The traditional Chinese joss paper money is used for funerals, ancestor’s birthday and festivals like Qingming festivals and the hungry ghost festival. It resembles the traditional Fengshui “Zhaocai Jinbao” and is decorated with the jade emperor’s image.
They like other joss paper money provide money and material goods for those in the afterlife.
This item is made from bamboo paper and a square of gold foil used to decorate it. This is a character that is used for those who wish for wisdom, prosperity and smooth sailing. You could use it as it is or fold it to gold or silver ingots.
It further provides family members with money and material wealth in the spiritual realm. The 100 sheets will be used during funerals, ancestor’s birthdates and festivals.
These are Chinese joss paper hell heaven notes. It resembles the legal bank notes and has been in use since the late 19th century. Although they resemble the bank notes, they have a sole purpose to be used as burnt offerings to the deceased.
The burning of the papers to ‘Hell Gods’ is essential to ensure they are satisfied and therefore giving peace and protection to the living. A pack contains 50 sheets and it features the image of the presiding monarch of heaven in Taoism.
Another modern form of joss paper that is made from folded paper and the gold bars color. This paper is suitable for the various religious festivals that help appease the dead and is also used for decoration purposes.
These are the traditional kind and most common ones. Their sole purpose is for ancestral worship and could be used to make wishes too. They are made using bamboo paper then decorated with gold or silver in the middle.
You can fold them into ingots or just burn them as they are. They are 360 pieces which means you could burn them as frequent as you wish.
9. ValuedTrade 49pcs Incense Paper/Joss Paper High Grade Colorful with Gold Foil (Size Small) for Ancestor Praying 7.5 Inches X 7.5 Inches (Blue)
This is a high-grade joss paper with beautiful gold foil. It is blue in color and is small in size too. The joss paper is offered to the hell God as a way of offering monetary distraction. Apart from being offered to the ancestors, they are also used to request for blessings and prosperity.
The incense paper differs slightly from the joss paper but they serve the same purpose.
This is an environmentally friendly bamboo paper and gold foil that is best burnt as it is or after folding it to your desired shapes. It is burnt to honor the family traditions. You will commonly see them at funerals, ancestral birthdates and festivals like Qingming, new year or hungry ghost feasts.
A pack contains 280 pieces of 7.3 by 6.5 inches of paper.
HOW THE JOSS PAPER BURNING IS DONE
There is no specific procedure to be followed in the burning process. However, the family partaking the process should take time to reflect and present themselves in a sincere and respectful manner.
You should, however, place your food or fruits on the altar or ground when you intend to appease the restless spirits. Light up your incense sticks and present your prayers or wishes in other instances.
After a few minutes and before the incense stick stops lighting, take your joss papers with both hands and present your wish. Example pray to the dead or wandering spirits saying something like ‘I hereby burn the joss papers for you all’
Finally, go out in the open space and burn the papers in metal cans.
They say, don’t remove the speck on one person’s eye when you have a log. Non-Chinese will be quick to judge these rituals or even term it uncouth but believe it or not the rituals do work. While there are claims that this practice is causing an environmental hazard, the people are not about to stop burning joss papers.
The best thing is to recommend to the joss paper manufacturers to use materials that are environmentally friendly. One last thing, regardless of where you are in the world you are welcome to incorporate these rituals for your festivals if you like and understand it.