Having had over 20 years of experience in the industry helping my grandfather and father in the business, I witnessed how they handled funeral rites and customs of all religions with the utmost respect for the deceased and their family.
This inspired me to start my journey on this calling so that I can follow in their footsteps in providing a dignified last journey for the dearly departed all while empathising and mourning together with their loved ones.
What is a Taoist Funeral?
A Taoist funeral revolves around the principle of filial piety in helping the deceased repent and be pardoned by deities. All these are to ensure that the deceased can have a smooth passage into the next life.
In Singapore, Taoist funerals are arranged according to the dialect group of the family. A funeral procession of a Cantonese Taoist might be slightly different from one of a Hakka Taoist.
Taoism and Death
Before we deep-dive into the details of what comprises Taoist funeral customs and traditions, it might be helpful to understand how the Taoists view death. This understanding will set the foundation and help in the comprehension of some of the symbolic ritualistic elements covered in the later parts.
Taoists believe in the cycles of life, death and rebirth, called the Tao process (轮回). When one passes away, the individual will be escorted by the Heibai Wuchang (黑白无常) to the ten courts of hell, guarded by the Ox-head and Horse-face (牛头马面).
The individual’s life will be laid bare and a judgement will be passed by the Kings of Hell according to whether the good deeds exceed the sins or vice versa. If the former, the individual will be sent to await rebirth. If the latter, the individual will be directed to one of the other nine courts of hell, where the individual will be punished according to the sins committed.
Preparing for the Funeral Procession
When preparing the deceased’s body, the funeral professionals will clean the body with a wet towel and apply make up so that the deceased will look as natural and presentable as possible.
The individual will then be dressed in their most decent attire or their favourite attire chosen by themself or their next of kin. Bright red clothing is to be avoided at all costs as that is believed to cause the deceased to become a vengeful spirit.
If the deceased had the privilege of living a full life and is blessed with an abundance of descendants, there is an option to dress the individual in special clothes named longevity suits (寿衣). Alternatively, they can also be dressed in their favourite clothes.
Attending a Taoist Funeral Wake in Singapore
• Taoist Funeral Procession
Keeping in mind the Taoists’ views on death will help you with the deluge of symbolism in a Taoist funeral ceremony. In Singapore, some of the common venues to hold wakes are at the HDB void decks of the deceased’s block, a common space within the neighbourhood or even at a funeral parlour.
A Taoist funeral procession will usually last an odd number of days, usually three, five or seven depending on the deceased or the family’s wishes. During this, ordained Taoist priests will hold a number of chanting rituals in order to gain merits for the deceased, separate the deceased from the living, seek forgiveness from the deities and many more.
Setting Up of the Ceremonial Altar
You can often find food and fruit offerings to the deceased at Taoist funerals.
Candles, lamps, tea, rice and water are also commonly seen. Each item carries a symbolic meaning and oftentimes, the rituals performed in a Taoist funeral are meant to ensure that the soul of the deceased has a smooth journey in the afterlife.
Sometimes, a pearl is also placed in the deceased’s mouth. The pearl, with its shiny properties, is believed to protect the body of the deceased and is an enabling element in Hell.
For certain dialects, a bag of rice is placed on top of the coffin.
During the wake, there will be an altar where the photograph of the deceased is placed, usually at the foot of the casket. Family and friends paying respects can light joss sticks and candles on the burner on the altar. The deceased’s favourite food and drinks will also be placed as an offering.
Taoist Ceremonial Service
During the service, priests chant Taoist scriptures accompanied by erhus, suonas, cymbals, drums and flutes. For certain dialect groups, the head priest circles a fire where nine tiles, which represents the many levels of hell, have been placed. He then breaks it to symbolise the emancipation of the deceased from hell.
Paper products are integral for the procession of a Taoist funeral in Singapore.
Paper offerings and paper products such as ‘hell notes’, houses, servants, cars and personal items will be burned as an offering for the deceased to take with them on their journey to the afterlife. To keep up with the times, there are also paper iPhones and other paper electronic gadgets that will be burnt to ensure as comfortable a time as possible for the deceased.
• What to Wear
Guests invited to a Taoist funeral should dress respectfully in solemn and neutral colours like blue, black and white. As for the family of the deceased, what they wear symbolises their standing in the family.
Children of the deceased will wear white tops and black trousers, while the grandchildren will wear white tops and blue trousers. For some dialect groups, the paternal grandchildren will wear black instead of blue trousers.
Small pieces of coloured cloth called mourning pins or xiao (孝) will be pinned on shirt sleeves – left if the deceased is a male and right if the deceased is a female. These mourning pins are traditionally worn for the entire mourning period of 49 or 100 days, though this is not strictly adhered to in recent times.
For immediate family members, the traditional funeral attire are coarse burlap overcoats, hats and slippers to signify that grief has overtaken the need for appearances and personal comfort. However, this is also not strictly adhered to nowadays as people prefer to put on simpler white tops and trousers.
• Funeral Gifts or Flowers
If you want to send the bereaved family a gift as condolences, one of the most traditional and widely accepted gifts is a plain white envelope with money in it. Nowadays, it is also common to drop cash directly into a condolence money box placed at the reception table. Typically, the condolence money is to help with the funeral expenses.
Flower wreaths adorned with chrysanthemums, lilies, daisies and roses are also appreciated. Some families may prefer a funeral to be sombre and serious, while other families may prefer it to be more extravagant. Hence, you should take into consideration the preferences of the bereaved family when planning your gift.
Do You Need the Help of a Funeral Service Provider?
People might choose to take matters into their own hands and liaise with the various points of contact needed to arrange a funeral. However, this not only takes away unnecessary time from properly grieving, it might also end up costing you way more than arranging for a funeral service provider.
Not to mention all the funeral traditions and customs you have to learn overnight. By engaging a funeral service provider, you can spare the hassle to spend more time with your loved ones through this emotional period.
• What can a Funeral Director do?
Funeral directors oversee all aspects of the funeral from the preparation of the nitty-gritty logistical details required for the funeral procession, to providing emotional care and compassionate support for the bereaved family and friends.
They are trained to provide personalised service to respect the last wishes of the deceased and their loved ones in order to give the deceased a dignified and heartfelt final journey. In Singapore, they are required to be trained and well-versed in the funeral rites of various religions and cultures.
• Taoist Funeral Service
Apart from the expertise of the funeral director, funeral service providers should have the usual funeral wake arrangements and a team of professional yet empathetic undertaker team who will guide you along to pay the final respects to the deceased.
Taoist priests will be assigned and Taoist religious funeral paraphernalia such as paper offerings will also be taken care of. This is to ensure peace of mind for the grieving family so that they can pay their respects and mourn in peace.
Embrace Funeral Services provides an all-inclusive pre-funeral to post-funeral Taoist funeral services so that you can pay your final respects and mourn with peace of mind.