A marriage where one or both parties are deceased? That would alleviate the nagging partner wouldn’t it? Some kind of ghost marriages are practiced all over the world even today, but the one I’m talking about here is the Chinese version.

Chinese ghost marriage was set up by the family of the deceased for a number of reasons:[1] the marriage of a couple previously engaged before one member’s death [2] to integrate an unmarried daughter into a patrilineage,[3] ensure the family line is continued [4] maintain that no younger brother is married before an elder brother.

Upon the death of her fiancé, a bride could choose to go through with the wedding, in which the groom was represented by a white cockerel at the ceremony. Assent  required her to participate in the funeral ritual, mourning customs (including strict dress and conduct standards), take a vow of celibacy  and immediately take up residence with his family. A groom also had the option of marrying his late fiancée, with no disadvantages.

The difference between a daughter and a son:

In Chinese customs an unmarried daughter becomes a source of great embarrassment and concern. Traditionally, girls who did not marry were regarded as a threat to the entire family and were not allowed to continue living at home. Even in contemporary Hong Kong, unmarried women are assumed to have psychological problems. Presumably no normal person would remain unmarried voluntarily. For girls that did in fact choose to remain unmarried, “bride-initiated spirit marriage” (or a ghost marriage initiated by a living bride) was a successful “marriage-resistance practice that allowed them to remain single while still being integrated into a lineage.

If a son died before marriage, his parents arranged a ghost marriage in order to provide him with progeny to continue the lineage and give him his own descendants. A man in China does not marry so much for his own benefit as for that of the family: to continue the family name; to provide descendants to keep up the ancestral worship; and to give a daughter-in-law to his mother to wait on her and be, in general, a daughter to her”. A living bride was preferable as a spouse for their deceased son, but if unavailable, a suitable marriage could be set up with a young girl who had recently died. The ceremony itself took on characteristics of both a marriage and a funeral, with the spirit of the deceased bride being ‘led’ by a medium or priest, while her body is transferred from her grave to be laid next to her husband.

If the family was “suitably rich to tempt a [living] girl,the ghost marriage might also profit them with the asset of having a daughter-in-law. Since a daughter is not considered “a potential contributor to the lineage into which she is born,” but rather “it is expected that she will give the children she bears and her adult labor to the family of her husband”, the wife of a deceased son would benefit her husband’s family by becoming a caregiver in their home.

Once the deceased son had a wife, the family could adopt an heir, or a “grandson” to continue on the family line. The purpose of the daughter-in-law was not to produce offspring, as she was to live a chaste life, but she became the “social instrument” to enable the family to adopt. The family preferred to adopt patrilineally-related male kin, usually through a brother assigning one of his own sons to the lineage of the deceased.

Ghost marriages are often set up by request of the spirit of the deceased, who, upon “finding itself without a spouse in the other world,” causes misfortune for its natal family, the family of its betrothed or for the family of the deceased’s married sisters. This usually takes the form of sickness by one or more family members. When the sickness is not cured by ordinary means, the family turns to divination and learns of the plight of the ghost through a séance. Or a spirit may appear to a family member in a dream and request a spouse.

taosim symbol

Taoism symbol Yin-Yang

Obviously the Chinese believe in the after life. Their main religion is Shenism, which today incorporates Taoism and Confucianism (33% of China and 6% of the world ) which includes mythology and the worship of Gods, Goddesses, deities, animals and cultural heroes.

Spirits of the dead lay in the tombs and must be appeased with gifts. Spirits are both good and evil and include demons, devils and ghosts. Evil spirits are afraid of light, which is why so many festivals incorporate lanterns and fire crackers. It is also believed that they can only travel in straight lines. It can be seen with many Chinese restaurants how by having to turn to enter the building it helps to prevent the mono-directional evils spirits from entering. It is also believed that they are afraid of their own reflection, explaining why mirrors feature greatly in doorways.

Makes you look at Feng Shui in a total different light…no pun intended!

  5 Responses to “Ghost and Spirit Marriages”

Comments (5)
  1. Do you mind if I quote a couple of your articles as long as I provide credit and sources back to your blog? My website is in the very same area of interest as yours and my visitors would certainly benefit from a lot of the information you provide here. Please let me know if this okay with you. Regards!

  2. I love this entry! This is the second time I have read it, and I can’t remember if I commented on it or not so if this is a repeat, forgive me. I just find it interesting how throughout history people have subverted the cultural laws their lives are embedded in and have created a space where they can live as they choose but remain socially “accepted”. I wonder how many of these Chinese women who participated in these marriages were artists or writers? Throughout history, female artists tend to be one of these groups that were forced to create a societal cover in order to hide their uncoventional desires from the world.
    Thanks for sharing, Fran, and thanks for giving my brain some much needed exercise this morning :)

    • @Krista: That’s a thought Krista…you are looking under the blanket of culture. It is sad that through out history women have had to cache the creative desires of their hearts and their brains.
      Can you imagine if women were to let loose all over the world???

  3. another good read! very interesting

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