This uses something called “Hell” money. Chinese people use this fake money to show respect and honor to their deceased relatives. It is a way of keeping their memory alive. The Chinese have no “hell” or “heaven” – it is simply the afterlife. It is closer to “purgatory” or a “holding” area. It isn’t a place of punishment – it just simply isn’t a corporal existence here with us. Western missionaries translated the idea as “hell” because they did not understand it. You can obtain Hell money online (I used ArteCrafts on Etsy) or if you are fortunate enough to have a Chinatown section in your town, you can get them there.
If Western culture had a way of showing honor to deceased parents, I’d include it. They don’t. They don’t have a way of respecting and releasing grief. The Mexican Day of the Dead ceremony is very healing – you welcome back your dead ancestors for the day so they are still with you. In Western culture, you visit the grave (maybe) and pretend everything is fine. I’m all for adopting other culture’s ideas if they are healing. This represents my own twist on the idea.
These are the ingredients:
Water to put out the fire if necessary.
Tray to hold the ingredients.
An incense stick for each person being honored.
Regular and gold-orange Hell money.
You need a safe place to burn things – we used a fire pit. This should preferably be done outside, but could be done inside with a fireplace. There should be a way for the smoke to go up and outside.
To begin –
Cover your head – a hat or a handkerchief will do. This is for safety and for reverence. Avoid a ball cap.
Light the candle and put it at the top center of the burning area. This is not in the middle. Consider if the area is a clock. The center where you will burn the items is in the middle, where the clock arms are. You put the candle at the 12 o’clock position.
Light the incense sticks – one for each person you are remembering. Stick them in the burn area at the edge – at the 9 or 3 o’clock position. Angle them in towards the center, but not sharply. Say the name of each person, saying “I welcome (name) into this moment. I honor, love, and miss you.” (or other words that feel appropriate for you and your relationship)
Ring the bell once, calmly and reverently. This marks the beginning of silence.
Then burn the hell money one at a time, taking turns for each person who is participating in the ceremony. Have several different kinds of hell money. Some include representations of clothing or household goods. The idea is that you are “sending” these items to your relatives to make their stay in the otherworld easier.
If it feels right, burn one together in honor of your shared grief for the other’s parent.
Then burn the golden-orange hell money last. Only burn one of each.
Then ring the bell to signal the end of the ceremony.
Leave the incense burning. You can waft over you to bring some of its healing to you.