Falling in Love with Joss Paper (2)

I love paper. All kinds of paper, especially origami paper. I have been playing with origami paper for most of my life.

Now I have discovered joss paper. Oh my.

Lots of Joss Paper

At first glance, joss paper seems a lot like origami paper. It is thin inexpensive paper, usually modestly decorative, and is often folded.

Upon closer inspection, however, the two papers couldn’t be more different.

Almost all origami paper is square and comes in solid colors or patterns. Very few types of joss paper are actually square and rarely are they printed in color or in patterns. Joss paper is usually printed in gold, black or red  ink and resembles Chinese paintings and scrolls.

Origami paper is designed to be folded into beautiful models. Students practice for years to master the art of origami. Joss paper is designed to be burned. Period. That is its entire purpose for existence.

Some paper is intended to be folded into offerings for the dead, but it is still meant to be burned. And, by the way,  folding makes it burn better.

How many origami artists create their work just to set it aflame?

There are “paper builders” in Singapore, Taiwan, China, and scattered across other countries who make a living building paper models out of joss paper just so people can set them on fire.

So,  the first reason I fell in love with joss paper: you get to burn it.

jossGhostBoxThere are many more reasons to love joss paper like it’s cheap, it comes in may sizes, shapes and colors, and it’s great for collages and craft projects.

But all of that is true of origami paper as well.

What makes joss paper so unique is the symbolism of each type of paper coupled with the message delivered by its incineration.

Paper clothes to be worn in hell, and Hell Bank Notes to spend.

Prayers to the gods for safety, and gold to honor the ancestors.

The biggest reason I fell in love with joss paper is because it is both sacred and sublime.

Origami paper is for the living. Joss paper is for the dead.


Check out the Hungry Ghost Guide for illustrations of 17 different types of joss paper available in Houston, Texas, USA.