A forum for research into the afterlife
Hi folks ...
I recently attended a ritual to feed the wandering spirits (ghosts), and to help the souls of fetuses, miscarriages and ancestors reincarnate more quickly.
In 'Life between Lives', Dr. Michael Newton talks about a place where souls await reincarnation. The Chinese hold a similar belief, even though the locations are different.
Anyway, for those interested, I have written a short article about the event with a complete photo record of events. It can be found at:
The third section called 'Thursday May 19th – Pu Du Ritual' discusses life after death for fetuses, ghosts and ancestors and is covered in the last 21 photos. The remainder is about Chinese spirit medium practices.
Hope you find it interesting, and if you have any questions to discuss, I can try and answer them for you here ....
Thanks for the feedback ...
Fiona ... thanks also for providing the extra information which is fascinating.
I have come across two different belief systems regarding when the soul enters the fetus in Chinese culture here in Singapore. Both include the hun and p'o which reflects the Taoist system of belief. The first is from the perspective of one particular spirit medium and reflects the general belief held in folk Taoism (from my link), but is by no means representative of folk belief in general. In folk belief, I think that the finer points of conception and the entrance of the soul are rarely discussed as it is a very pragmatic belief system, and the subject is still largely taboo.
The second perspective came from a Taoist priest. It has been paraphrased by myself to correct the grammatical errors, but is as close as possible to the explanation I received:
If a fetus is less than three months old, it is not actually yet in human form. So they will actually be taken back by Heaven from Earth. During the first three months, at monthly intervals starting with the beginning of the first month, a hun enters the fetus, so after two months it has two hun and after three months it has three hun. It only becomes complete with the first p'o which enters at the beginning of the fourth month. Before beginning of the fourth month, it is considered to be just water or a form of meat. Even after eight months, it is not considered to be a complete human form. They have therefore three hun and seven p'o at the beginning of the 10th month after conception. If the baby is not destined to stay in this world, the 11th and 12th months are a critical period. If anything happens to the baby in the first year after conception, Taoists would rather let it go back to the source than try and salvage it for rebirth.
I am not offering this as an answer or contradiction to either of your comments, but as another example from the cultural system that I am studying.
Thanks again ..... Fabian
I just discovered the group so I'm responding to this old thread only now.
According to the "church"--so to speak--I attend, the sould incarnates 8 days after inception, which makes it pretty clear that abortions and miscarriages can be as dramatic as any other form of "death".
Having said that, we also believe that the biological body is composed of a "spiritual" counterpart which is almost as complex and detailed as the body itself (with parallel hieratchical systems, etc..)
In particular, we have a mind being a spiritual counterpart of the brain, made of millions of spiritual elements, and which is a distinct from the "soul" itself (or spirit as we call it)
Therefore, considering that the biological body is under formation at the same time the spiritual counterpart is, such a date of incarnation after 8 days should not be interpreted as "fully incarnated" in terms of every detail that such a process entails. Perhaps it might be better stated that incarnation *starts* right after 8 days.
FWIW, we once conducted a "mediumnimic experience" where we could "see" what happens during an abortion, a little after 3 months, and you could see the soul desperatedly fighting for his life (well, that's how it looked like at least). He was constantly and rapdily bouncing around the mother, the doctor and the nurses as if he was tyring to scream "stop, I'm here".
In the end, when the Fetus was completely removed and disposed, he simply stayed with the mother.
Thank you for your input, it was interesting to read. Sorry that my original article is no longer available, but unfortunately the site where it was posted has shut down. I have kept a copy of my original writing, and here it is for your reference.
Thursday May 19th – Pu Du Ritual
On the 19th the tua held a pu du ritual for ancestors, miscarried babies and aborted foetuses, and for wandering spirits. The cooperation between the Taoist priest and spirit medium was superb, and they had consulted prior to the event to make sure that every detail was prepared and enacted correctly.
I was impressed with the care that had been taken in providing for every element of the hungry spirit world. As can be seen in photos, starting from the entrance to the tentage closest to the road, there were offerings to the wandering spirits, then to ancestors, then to spirits of the disabled and then to miscarried or aborted babies and children. In the photo ‘Offerings for Wandering Spirits and Ancestors’, the tables in the foreground are to the wandering spirits, and the tables behind for ancestors. The food for them was sumptuous (or in Fabian language “scrummy”)
The explanation offered by the tua for offerings to the ancestors is that: “It is to fulfil one’s gratitude towards their ancestors by transferring their merits to the deceased so that their suffering in the Netherworld (地狱) can be reduced and head for reincarnation faster. By treating ancestors to a dinner banquet, it is one’s way of feeding them after death. 大爷伯 frequently teaches our devotees to be grateful to our parents as they painstakingly brought us up by providing us in all aspects hence, we must do the same when they grow old and thereafter as a remembrance. Providing food is a basic need thus, this is a great example of an act of filial piety” (from: http://pasiris.multiply.com/journal/item/60).
I think it is excellent that this tua takes the time to explain to it’s followers the reasons, purpose and morality behind their actions and rituals. I have heard from people as diverse as taxi drivers to religious specialists that Taoism is losing ground to Christianity and Buddhism because people do not really understand the religion and no-one explains it. Older people often remark that when they were growing up, one didn’t ask “why do we do this?” or “what does this mean?” and so on, and if they did, a common response may be “because that is the way it has always been done”. I therefore particularly admire this tua as they encourage questions and offer answers to their followers. As an academic, I can only see the spreading of knowledge as a positive thing, and a deeper understanding of the rituals and morality of Taoism as positive for Taoism as a whole, especially so as we live in what has become to be known as the “information age”. Anyway …
Similarly, an explanation is provided to followers why offerings are given to wandering spirits: “Frequently, many wandering spirits are the cause of unjustified deaths (冤死). When their families do not perform proper 普渡 rites, they would continue to wander in the Mortal World (人间) endlessly thus going without clothes, food and shelter for the longest time. Again, if a rite is done for them, their suffering will be reduced. The temple has handled many spiritual cases that arose from direct or indirect association with wandering spirits. Conducting 普渡 ritual is a way of appeasing them. 大爷伯encourages all devotees to help these wandering spirits, not only to lessen their misery and placate their spirits but to gain spiritual merits for oneself and their family members (from: http://pasiris.multiply.com/journal/item/60).
However, according to Chinese tradition, wandering spirits, commonly known as ‘hungry ghosts’ are only allowed to eat during the Lunar 7th month, referred to by some as ‘Ghost Month’. At other times, their throat constricts, and the food burns in their mouth and throat before it can be swallowed. How was it therefore that they could participate in this feast? Alvin explained this in detail:
The seventh month is the official holiday for the wandering spirits when they are allowed to eat, and they can also be invited to eat on the anniversary of their deaths. In the case of the rituals that were performed during the yew keng, they invited the Jade Emperor to witness the rituals that they performed. During the inviting of the Jade Emperor, the Taoist priest laid out exactly what the temple would be doing during the entire event, including feeding the wandering spirits. The Jade Emperor had therefore given his permission and blessing before the event could be held. “We are not helping them to jailbreak, okay? We are bringing them out to give them food as a charity to them, and after that we will have to ensure that we send them back.” In the process, the temple accumulates merits, and also helps the wandering spirits to accumulate merits as the Taoist priest chants from scriptures including those which relate to repentance on their behalf. It should be noted that the wandering spirits invited were from the same locality as the tua, and it was not a universal call to all wandering spirits.
There is also a paper deity in the corner sitting on a unicorn with an umbrella, and this deity changes every year. From the very start of the event, this deity witnesses what the temple has done up until the next event when he is burnt in order to report to the Jade Emperor on what the temple has done in the entire period. This includes reporting on the events that go on during the annual celebration including inviting the wandering spirits, giving them food, and sending them back.
Moving further into the tentage there was an offering that was explained to me as food for the crippled or the handicapped who couldn’t sit at the tables to eat. As can be seen in the photo, it was also laid out on the floor where it would be accessible, and there was plenty of it. Lastly, there were offerings of food and toys for the souls of lost children from miscarriages and abortions … a moving tribute which had been laid out with care and attention to detail.
The organizers explanation of these offerings is that: “A foetus or a baby has a life of its own. Hence, when one of such is lost through a miscarriage or an abortion, it is considered an unjustified death (冤死), just like any other accidental deaths. If a rite (普渡) is not done, the soul (of the baby or foetus) will roam the Mortal World (人间) without clothes, food and shelter till its natural life span ends. But if a rite is performed, its suffering will lessen and the little soul will be brought to the Netherworld (地狱) to await faster reincarnation (投胎)” (from: http://pasiris.multiply.com/journal/item/60).
I questioned Alvin further on this practice as I thought that an aborted foetus was not considered a complete human in the Chinese belief system as it does not contain it’s three hun (souls) and seven p’o (spirits). Alvin has a wealth of knowledge and experience on all matters of a religious nature that relate to the spiritual realms, and informed me that according to the teachings of this Tua Ya Pek, the very moment a woman conceives, one of the hun already enters, as if it didn’t, how could the baby grow? Something cannot grow without a life. Only something with a life can grow. The second hun enters when the baby is one month old. Chinese celebrate this in a very elaborate way. The third hun enters when the baby is three years old. This explains why a lot of old people say that children should not go out after dark and so on until they are three years old (four years old in the Chinese lunar system) as before their final hun enters, they are vulnerable. In this system, on the day the baby is conceived it is already one day old. Therefore when the baby is born it is already almost one year old. The full seven p’o will only be complete when the child is 16 years old in the Chinese system.
I expressed the idea that I had read that the three hun represent the soul which keeps the individual alive, and the seven p’o are the personality and emotions of the individual. Alvin concurred and expressed the idea that a baby can cry the day it is born and therefore exhibit emotions from the day of birth. As my own understanding of an emotion is of a thought with a physiological reaction, I had to agree with this assumption. Alvin suggested that even though it cannot be proven, the p’o enter at birth, they keep developing until the age of 16. Even though it seems clear from a Buddhist perspective that our personality, emotions and morality continue developing and maturing throughout our lives and are in fact, in common with all else in the Universe, in a continual state of change, hun and p’o, depending on definition, may be acknowledged as an exception to this rule during different phases of their existence. The three hun, as mentioned, are considered to be the soul, and it is believed that upon death, one goes to the Underworld, one remains in the tomb, and one remains in the ancestral tablet. The one that is reincarnated is the same as that which goes through the Underworld, and when it comes back it returns with two more hun so it forms a complete human again. Alvin claims that nobody knows where the extra two hun materialize from, and I suggested they came from the universal Tao. But I have diversified …
A paper palace had also been built to house the souls of the spirit children during the event (see photo 4), and I was impressed by this attention to detail. In this case, the construction of the palace was instructed by Tua Ya Pek. During the 13 years since the temple was established, Tua Ya Pek’s main motive besides helping living devotees has been to do his part for the wandering spirits that have nobody to take care of them, the so called ‘beggars of the spiritual world’. Therefore, Tua Ya Pek has always instructed that if there is a lack of funds, he would rather give up his own annual celebration and spend the money on the offerings to lost spiritual beings. Therefore, as a tua, they try to give more offerings to the wandering spirits in terms of food, paper houses, clothes and silver paper than they do for even their own deities. This is an example of spiritual compassion in action.
Back to the pu du event … At the appointed time after the chanting had finished, many devotees followed the Taoist Priest across the Nai He Bridge while Tua Ya Pek looked on.
This is a totally different bridge from the Ping An Bridge that I have seen in many temple celebrations. Whilst the Ping An Bridge represents salvation, the Nai He Bridge symbolises the crossing from the mortal world to the Underworld. In the Chinese belief system there may be corruption in the Underworld, so if your ancestors have not gained sufficient merits during their lifetimes or do not have enough money to bribe the bridge guards, their journey may be delayed, or they might even be banned from crossing the bridge and therefore be stranded on Earth as wandering spirits, and hence the need for the Nai He Bridge ritual.
In this ritual, it is mostly the descendants of the deceased that carry the ancestral tablets across the bridge. This symbolises that they have the filial piety to bring them over the bridge, and to pay for the passage. Either the Taoist priest or Tua Ya Pek will lead the procession to make sure that all of the deceased ancestors successfully cross the bridge and enter into the world beyond. On this occasion Tua Ya Pek supervised, and the charismatic Taoist priest lead the devotees across the bridge. In fact, in the day’s events, the Taoist priest was the active agency in the spiritual events as he had been chanting for the whole day. He had chanted to the Underworld deities to ask for permissions and made offerings and informed them that all of these ancestors had already repented for their sins on Earth. The priest utilized the scriptures including those of repentance as a catalyst to cleanse the ancestors of their wrong doings and thus to reduce their sins so that the Underworld Officers would show compassion and let them cross.
The event was spiritually overseen by a male incarnation of Guan Yin (Da Shi Ye) who can control the ghosts and spirits when it is finally time for them to leave. It was explained to me that in this transformation the Goddess of Mercy becomes the King of Ghosts - a transformation that I have not come across previously in my research in Taiwan, but one which is known among religious practitioners in Singapore. After the pu du ritual was over, it was time to transport all the offerings to a suitable location to be ‘sent off’ (incineration allows the spiritual essence of the offerings to be transferred to the spirit world). Once again, the Taoist priest took charge of the proceedings, and there was something magical in the moment that Da Shi Ye left (see photo ‘Sending off Da Shi Ye’). A superb ending to a great week of worship, offerings, fine food, conversation, helping, learning and celebration.
Hi Fabian. I loved your article... it is detailed enough to be informative but short enough to allow casual reading.
When one holds a stablished belief system, like I do, the usual first reaction when confronted with someone else's is to nitpick here and there and think "no wait, this is wrong, it ain't like that". But I've learned over the years that almost any "idea" of objective nature is rooted in some objective truth, even if it is, "contaminated"--if you will---by culture, background, etc... so confronting them it's quite difficult, if not impossible, without proper context on both sides. Hence, I avoid that now.
Instead, I speculate on what could be the actual objetive reality that feed the belief (for instance, that wondering spirits need a ritual to move on beyond Earth, or that they need to be feed and shelter as if they still had a physical body, or that there are three huns, etc...). In that regard, the explanations offered by the believers in your article is quite useful.
Having said that, I find uterly important for mankind that we evolve all these beliefs into proper knowledge (scientific knowledge in fact, for a given extended form of Science), for it is not a minor thing what really happens before and after death, and in particular, what are we humans to do with "those of us not currently incarnated". But that's a different topic.
Thanks for your response Fernando and thoughtful comments ...
In response to your reply, I would like to say that if religion (like magic (in the religious sense) or miracles) ever became scientific, they would no longer be religion, magic or miracles, but become science instead. I don't personally have a problem with that, after all, knowing is better than believing (though faith / belief have many advantages, positive benefits and roles to play in human culture too), but I think that religion is also a moral compass as well as a system that has evolved for the benefit of humanity. Moreover, scientific 'facts' have a tendency to change over extended periods of time as technologies evolve to reveal new 'facts'.
Having said that, I feel that the ultimate goal of 'life after death research' and 'paranthropology' (anthropology of the paranormal) is to unravel the mysteries of the Universe and discover the so called 'truth' - perhaps some day that 'truth' can be couched in both scientific as well as religious terms that neither conflict nor contradict. That would certainly be an admirable achievement.
Best wishes ...
You are of course right, specially if we consider the current state of Science and Religion. Yet on the other hand, I believe that the current conflict is rooted on elements which are not really neccesary parts of either of them.
Religion, on one side, is fundamentally about Faith. Faith is that driving force that allows us to have an inexplicable certainty in something we uterly need in order to ease our troubles and/or suffering. While religiously speaking, we have Faith in a paraphysical greater Good that takes care of us from beyond, everyone has faith in one thing or another, whether it is in a better future, in the resolution to a problem, the recovery of a disease, himself, or whatever. So, even the most skeptic is a faithful individual and what changes is that subject of such a Faith. Consequently, a given Religion might, for example, drop all magical or miracleous beliefs yet foster Faith in a greater good, even if such greater good turns out to be as objetively real as our parents. In other words, certain ordinary religious beliefs, like a miracle-doing Deity, is in direct conflict with Science but there *can* exists a Religion with no such things and be equally effective as a Religion. It is not a true requirement that such a greater Good be mysterious, mystical and unknown. That's just, incidentally, the way it is, but is not a neccesity.
Furthermore, Faith in a greater Good which is scientifically found and characterized allows a Religion to objetively determine to direction the Moral Compass is actuallty pointing, as opposed to the direction some artifical authority, or tradition, or plain personal but subjetive conviction says it does.
On the other side, Science does not necessitate to--nor should--divorce itself from the subject of religious beliefs. It does so only accidentally, and simply because mainstream Religions picture such subjects with too many unnecesary, mystic elemens which are in direct contradiction with scientific knowledge.
I strongly believe that "the ultimate truth" can be couched in both scientific and religious terms. In fact, it is exactly this which most interests me.
On this subject, I wrote some basic thoughts here:
and needles to say, I most welcome criticism, specially corrective :)
Thank you once again for your in depth reply - it certainly provides food for thought. I checked out your blog https://medium.com/@flcacciola, and though I didn't agree with all your opinions, it was fascinating, well written and consistent, and made a very interesting read. Thank you for sharing it.
With best wishes,
:) thank you too. That was written sort of recently, but if I read it a few years from now, I'm sure I won't agree with all my opinions either :)
For a long time I thought that I should not write anything until I have studied enough background, discussed the ideas sufficiently, etc... but then I figured that I might never do that so I rather just write what I think at any moment, even if later I write something the outdates that.