All posts by The Hare

falling in love with joss paper (1)


Joss paper is burned in mass quantities during the observance of Ghost Month, resulting in large-scale emissions of smoke, ash and flue gas. In Singapore, for example, the first day of Ghost Month is jokingly referred to as National Pollution Day.

The volume of these emissions has led to the need for environmental regulations for religious ceremonies. It has even spawned a new industry for electronic and low-emission Joss paper burners.

I am coming to appreciate the exuberance with which Joss paper is burned during the Hungry Ghost Festival, and I find myself thinking about the Burning Man Festival. Some of us have a need to play with fire.  Actually, a lot of us do.

PS. Each piece of Joss paper is designed with meaning, purpose, and a prescribed use. We’ve found some helpful websites and have shared those links over here.


The Hunger


What makes a hungry ghost?

They are not the norm. The ghost spirits of most people are believed to dissipate quietly into a second death, but not so the hungry ghosts. They live on and on, tormented by a hunger that cannot be fed. In the seventh lunar month of the year, the gates of hell are opened, and they are let loose to roam the world until those gates are again closed for another year.

So what do these ghosts hunger for?

Some ghosts are left hungry for love and are driven by their loneliness. Their hearts are as empty as their bellies. Spirits who have been abandoned by their families and ancestors who are no longer venerated become hungry ghosts.

Other spirits become hungry ghosts as a result of their evil deeds motivated by fear, greed, anger or ignorance. These are the ghosts of those who are being punished.

Some ghosts are left hungry for justice. Unfair circumstances snatch their lives, oftentimes abruptly as when an airplane is crashed into your office building or an atomic bomb is dropped on your city on an otherwise ordinary day.

What does a hungry ghost most need?  Respect. But offering respect to a hungry ghost first requires time to develop an understanding of that ghost, without which there is nothing to respect other than the ghost of an idea.