Taoist Funeral Service: Customs, Traditions and Etiquettes to Know Of

As we go through life, funerals are something we eventually witness, attend, or unfortunately participate in. These events often come with much confusion, discomfort and perhaps, even a general sense of loss.

Our four-part series will provide you with the answers you’re looking for, by delving into the funeral customs, traditions and etiquettes of Singapore’s four major religious groups. In this third part of the series, we’ll explore the ins and outs of Taoist funerals. Read on to find out more!

What is a Taoist funeral?

In a country where the Chinese ethnic group is the majority, we’ve all seen our fair share of ‘Chinese’ funerals. These Chinese funerals typically fall into either of two categories—Buddhist or Taoist.

You may already know that within the Chinese ethnic group, there are several different dialects, and each dialect group under the Taoist religion has its unique customs. Though this is the case, the essence of a Taoist funeral is the same regardless of the dialect group.

Most Taoist funerals have priests onsite to offer prayers and meditation, as well as to guide the family through the different rituals.

Taoist Funeral Traditions, Customs and Etiquette

Taoist Funeral Tradition and Customs

So, what exactly is the essence of a Taoist funeral? Well, let’s take a look at some of the customs and traditions!

First, the casket and the body of the loved one are usually sent to the wake site separately. Upon entering a Taoist funeral, you’ll almost always spot an altar with fruits, candles, joss sticks and the deceased’s portrait, alongside an offering of their favourite foods. Unlike Buddhist funeral set-ups, there won’t be any Buddha statue or motif displayed.

Taoist Funeral Traditions, Customs and Etiquette

Taoist funeral setup

Aside from these Taoist funeral traditions that are more visual, you may also come across priests reading the sutras and reciting chants. Some families may opt to have these priests invited throughout the course of the wake, while others may prefer to have them only at certain points of the wake.

Some families of the Cantonese dialect group may also choose to have a priest perform a fire ritual known as “Breaking the Hell’s Gate”. As its name suggests, this ritual symbolises the priest breaking down hell’s door to save the deceased and lead their soul out of the netherworld to enter reincarnation.

Taoist Funeral Traditions and Customs

Taoist (Cantonese) “Breaking the Hell’s Gate” fire ritual

During the funeral, joss paper is burnt, this includes things like hell money, as well as paper cars, houses, phones and televisions. It’s believed that these items will follow the loved one into the afterlife, making their time in the spirit world more comfortable.

Rituals that are practised across all Taoist denominations include the Summoning of Soul (calling out the deceased’s name in hopes that they will be resurrected), burning of joss paper and chanting of sutras.

A procession follows at the end of the wake, where family members of the deceased trail behind the hearse containing the casket. They do this for a short distance before making their way to the cremation or burial site. This procession symbolises the last journey and send-off of the deceased. A marching band is usually part of the procession. The loud music is believed to scare away unwanted spirits.

While funerals traditionally contain more sombre connotations, Chinese customs do incorporate a slightly more celebratory tone if the deceased is above 100 years of age. In such a context, the family serves what is known as longevity peach buns to celebrate the long and prosperous life lived by the deceased.

Taoist Funeral Traditions

Longevity peach buns

Taoist Funeral Etiquette: What do you do at a Taoist funeral?

You might ask, do these traditions extend to us as guests at a wake? Are there things we should take note of when attending a Taoist funeral?

While most of the Taoist funeral traditions are specific to those who are directly involved in the wake (i.e. the family of the deceased), it’s always courteous and respectful for us as guests to familiarise ourselves with the traditions.

For Taoist funeral ceremonies, family members are usually dressed in white. For guests, darker colours are often adhered to, though white is also acceptable. Red is to be avoided (as this is a colour that’s often associated with celebratory occasions within the Chinese ethnic group). In the case where the deceased was 80 or above, white with pink or red accents is acceptable as the deceased’s long life is seen as a cause for celebration.

It’s understandable that some of us may be averse to offering joss sticks, whether due to religious or personal reasons. Offering a simple bow or moment of silence when viewing the deceased are viable forms of showing one’s respect as well.

Other typical forms of expressing sympathy and condolence are through the giving of baijin (condolence money) and the gifting of sympathy stands (whether floral or LED). If you’re intending to gift the bereaved family LED sympathy stands, do be sure to engage a licensed LED wreath vendor as Singapore’s government has recently tightened the rules surrounding the display of such stands.

These days, it’s also becoming more popular for funerals to feature wishing trees and memory books, where guests can leave condolence messages and share fond anecdotes of the deceased.

Taoist Funeral Traditions

Wishing tree and memory book provided by the Direct Funeral Services team

After all, what better way to honour the legacy of those who are no longer with us than to remember the beautiful moments that we once shared with them?

What other aspects of a Taoist funeral in Singapore would you like us to explore? Drop us your suggestion via our Instagram @directfuneralservices! In the meantime, stay tuned for the last of our four-part series, where we explore the customs, traditions and rites of Christian funerals.