What’s Joss Paper?

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Joss paper is paper with representations of worldly goods burned during ceremonies in Asia to honor ancestors and deities. It is also called ghost or spirit money and is not used in all parts of Asia. Burning incense paper, food offerings, and folding the paper into specific shapes are important parts of the ceremony. Joss paper should never be given to a living person or used for decoration.

Joss paper is paper printed with various representations of worldly goods, such as money, that are burned during ceremonies honoring ancestors or deities in some parts of Asia. Paper designed to represent money is the most common shape, although it can also represent houses, cars, credit cards, and an assortment of other things. It is typically made of white bamboo or rice paper and may be decorated with seals or postage stamps.

Traditionally, people burn incense paper as an offering to deities and to provide their deceased relatives with things they might need in the afterlife. This practice is not done in all parts of Asia; some Buddhists, for example, find the thought of sending representations of worldly possessions to their relatives inconvenient. It is quite common, however, that this type of paper is often found in Asian markets and street vendors often sell it near temples.

Joss paper is also called ghost or spirit money, and sometimes as “hell money. In Asia, “hell” does not have the same connotations it has for Westerners; it simply refers to the afterlife, where people are judged. Bills from hell are sent to relatives by burning them so they can bribe the king of hell into fleeing early and so that they can spend lavishly in the afterlife. These documents are often quite elaborate and typically feature a portrait of the Jade Emperor, who rules the afterlife.

In addition to burning incense paper, people typically burn incense and provide food offerings during ceremonies held to honor the dead and various deities. The paper can be folded into specific shapes that are meant to bring good luck, and people typically burn copious amounts to ensure the offering is well received. Depending on the region, the paper may be decorated with seals, stamps, contrasting pieces of paper, engraved designs, or other motifs. The folding of the incense paper is often an important part of the ceremony, as it distinguishes the paper from real money: burning money is considered unlucky in Asian cultures.

Numerous superstitions surround joss paper in Asian society. As a general rule, it should never be given to a living person, because it is considered highly offensive. It is also kept hidden when kept in the house, as it is supposed to bring bad luck when left on display. Joss paper should never be used for anything other than its intended purpose, and while Westerners may be tempted to use it for decoration, they should be aware that Asian guests may be offended or uncomfortable when it is on display, as it is associated with Death .

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