Traditional joss paper, or ancestor money, originates from the East in countries such as China & Taiwan. It is commonly burned at temples during holidays, prosperity rites, spirit festivals, and other special occasions. There are large furnaces and cauldrons outside of the temples where joss paper can be burned year-round.
It is also burned to appease yokai who wander the earthly plane. These spirits, also called hungry ghosts, can cause misfortune for their relatives and locals if not treated well. These offerings are commonly made at the location where the yokai is usually spotted.
They are incense papers made out of bamboo or rice paper, cut into squares, and decorated with symbols, engravings, seals, and motifs particular to the region they’re created in. Some have a gold or silver foil square in the center.
Joss Paper Types
There are three main types of joss paper, and each one is associated with a certain category of spirits. These distinctions should be kept in mind when purchasing & using joss paper in your rituals, to avoid insulting or discombobulating the spirit(s) you’re working with.
Golden joss papers (Jin) are dedicated to deities & the Jade Emperor.
Silver joss papers (Ying) are given to ancestral spirits. These are specifically used for burnt offerings in ancestor veneration or deity worship.
Cash and money notes are given to newly deceased spirits and unknown spirits. This category is also known as “copper” and includes copper coins as a kind of offering. (Interestingly we see pennies offered to other spirits of the graveyard, such as Oya, and gatekeepers like Legba)
This may vary depending on what kind of ancestor money you use. For example, many ancestor money cash designs are based on Hell Bank Notes & feature the Jade Emperor & his palace, and so can be used to honor him alongside traditional golden joss papers. However, you should still keep these classifications in mind for the most optimal success when using these tools.
The Jade Emperor
The Jade Emperor is featured on the face of the many ancestor money bills. He is the guardian of all physical and spiritual wealth, and he is appealed to for abundance and prosperity. It is said that if you burn them, the flames will burn green if your offering has been received by him.
Hell Bank Notes
Hell Notes, or “hell money,” are a form of joss paper made to resemble bank notes and paper bills. Though they are just like other joss papers, and serve the same purpose, they are notable for their ornate designs & high denominations. These are the inspiration for many of the modern designs of ancestor money that we see today.
This can be a bit discomforting for people who are only familiar with western spiritual dogma. However, “Hell Notes” are not offerings to demons or the currency of some eternal place of damnation. In the East, and most other cultures outside of the Abrahamic faith, “Hell” is another name for the afterlife or purgatory. There is no separation between Heaven and Hell, good & evil like there is in the west. Everyone that dies goes to the same place, “the underworld court” as it is also called, to be judged before the next life.
There is a popularly held story which claims that when Christian missionaries came over to China and preached that all non-Christian Chinese people went to “Hell,” the native people misunderstood this to be the word describing the afterlife. Thus, the word was adopted as such. This would make sense as both Japan & China are known to incorporate other languages into their own.
And so, a “Hell Note” is the official currency used in said unified afterlife. Some of these notes replace the word with “heaven” or “paradise” to correct the aforementioned misinterpretation. As stated before, these notes work the same as all other forms of joss paper, though the “heaven” notes are more commonly found in joss paper packs meant for offerings to deities.
In the West
There are several new and westernized forms of ancestor money available all over the Internet, and tons of video tutorials on how to use them. Most of the people who offer and talk about it are non-Asian individuals, and though this provides new methods of use, it could also be considered a form of appropriation. But more on that in a moment.
The use of ancestor money & joss paper has become extremely popular in the US over the last several years, and with that popularity has come many more methods of use. Some individuals use ancestor money as a part of personal money spells & prosperity rituals, while others burn it as an offering to non-local ancestors.
Non-local ancestors are ancestors which are not directly related through bloodline, but may be part of a particular community or tribe.
Practitioners of Hoodoo, Voudou, Ifa, and other African-based religions may find that ancestor money greatly complements their work. This is for many reasons —and I have a post coming one day on the link between the two cultures— but the main one is the focus on honoring and venerating the spirits of the dead. Ancestor veneration plays such an integral part of both Asian & African traditional belief systems, and can provide a bridge or understanding between the two cultures.
However, I am aware that there is a dislike and lack of respect for Asian peoples by people in the Black Diaspora, and vice versa. Though there are both valid, and invalid reasons, for this —and a history that goes as far back as Mu & Atlantis— it is my strong suggestion that any person of color looking to work with Eastern mystic tools, such as ancestor money, should do the necessary work to understand & innerstand the people who created them. This will lead to more success in your rituals using them, and less chance of disrespecting the ancestral spirits of their makers.
Though there are plenty of places to buy ancestor money online — Amazon has over 200 different sellers offering a myriad of different kinds. And I guarantee you they got tons of ‘em on Etsy. You’ll find several traditional designs, along with modern renditions that resemble US bills and even ones with African deities, symbols, and currency denominations. I recommend getting your ancestor money from someone who understands the origin culture that they come from, treats them with the proper respect and care, and has done research on their traditional uses. Stay clear of people who embellish and improvise without study. The results are usually hit and miss.
There is a rampant appropriation of Asian practices and tools in the spiritual community. Though many of these belief systems are open to all, they should be observed within the context of the culture they come from. One way to combat this is to educate yourself on Asian religion, spirituality, mysticism, and magick, and purchase tools from people who are similarly informed.
How To Use Ancestor Money
Ancestor Money is best used when burned or buried. Most rituals that include joss paper will include one or the other.
Still I’ve got a few extra tips and tricks that I’ve gathered from my research and use of joss paper over the years. Note: these tips work best for traditional joss paper, and I can not confirm their effectiveness when using plastic bills.
Ancestor money is meant to be folded, separating it from actual money. As is held in many magick traditions, fold the money towards you three times to call in prosperity & good luck. Joss paper with gold and silver squares are folded in the shape of ingots before burning. There are many other ways to fold the paper to enhance luck, and I recommend finding the version that fits you and your practice most. I particularly love making the ingots because they look awesome in the cauldron before burning.
Folded bills should not be thrown down or crumpled up. Treat the bills with value and they will provide you with value in return. Add them to the fire or furnace gently. Some people say that “making it rain” is acceptable, while traditionalists advise against it. To stay on the safe side, I recommend not doing that.
Other Ways to Use
Easy Ancestor Money Ritual for Wealth & Prosperity
Herbs: patchouli, cinquefoil, chamomile,
Oils: bergamot, lemongrass, grapefruit
Stones: clear quartz, jade, pyrite
Incense: sandalwood, frankincense
If this article was helpful, drop a comment and let us know! And feel free share any info or tips about ancestor money or joss paper that I might’ve missed
Author - Imani Christina
This is where I gather tips and tricks, current events, astrology overviews, and other fun stuff.