Ghost Wedding
rating: 0+x

Basic Information

A Ghost Wedding is a funerary practice performed by some ancestor venerating cultures to ensure that a person who dies unmarried does not remain single in the afterlife. Real world cultures that follow this sort of tradition tend to be concentrated in East Asia, with China being a particular example.

The least alarming version involves the wedding of two already dead singles. This will be set up with all the care usually taken in an arranged marriage in the host culture, albeit relying more on astrology and the testimony of others given that the arranger can't actually interview the prospective spouses. Once a match is made, the families then conduct a wedding feast with effigies of some kind standing in for the happy couple and a dowry and wedding presents paid in grave goods (in China this will be "hell money" and pictures of goods and houses which will be burnt alongside food and drink so that it passes on to the bride and groom in the afterlife). The remains of the "wife" are then (re)buried in her "husband's" grave and the couple considered married thereafter.

There is also the tradition of marrying the living to the dead - Taiwanese families with a deceased, unmarried woman will sometimes lay out packages in a public place containing money and locks of hair or nail clippings from the dead woman with the understanding that any single man who takes the package commits himself to be the dead woman's husband. The Taiwanese are not alone in this. Something of the same ilk was also instituted in France during the darker days of The Great War to allow women to marry men killed in action - usually for reasons of inheritance and/or the legitimisation of children.

Most worryingly, there is also some suggestion - especially in the murkier parts of China - that more aggressive ghost weddings are being arranged. The milder variety involves grave robbing the remains of dead women for an otherwise semi-traditional ceremony, whilst the extreme end involves creating a new dead woman through abduction and murder. These phenomena are said to arise from a mixture of the gender disparity caused by China's population control policies and unprecedented labour migration which leads to large numbers of young men working a long way from any kind of community in which they might marry1, but this is definitely more explanation than excuse.


An article from the BBC concerning the darker side of Ghost Weddings … and some context.

1. full source reference

Game and Story Use

  • Where undead are involved, this provides endless plot hooks.
    • Not least an actual ghost that can only be laid by, well… actually getting laid. Which could be tricky.
    • In the right sort of setting, "ghost wedding arranger" could be a perfectly legitimate job description.
      • In others, it could be a legend for a con-artist.
        • Again, where undead are a thing … hilarity may ensue.
    • This might be the origin of a "part-undead" PC, if that is somehow possible.
  • Where they aren't … there's still grave robbing, human trafficking, murder and … at the very least … some "fascinating cultural colour" to alarm foreigners with.
  • Being married to a prestigious dead person could be a significant honour - more so if it doesn't require becoming dead yourself - and might be a way of creating a marriage alliance where a living spouse cannot be found or would be inappropriate.
    • Bernard Cornwell's Warlord Chronicles features just such a marriage in an attempt to usurp the throne of Dumonia.
  • Perhaps some celibate orders might actually be married to a dead person - a sort of "brides of Christ" thing for ancestor worshippers - being married to an ancestor spirit might be a source of potent abilities… or just a requirement to become a priest of the ancestor-cult.
    • This sounds … about par for the course … for a RuneQuest Daka Faal shaman… in some cults anyway.
  • There was, allegedly, a case right here in the UK where a man whose fiancĂ©e had died was then sued for breach of promise by the executor of her estate - and, amazingly, cast in damages. Fortunately the ruling was swiftly reversed by a higher court and the executor denied leave to appeal - otherwise some arm of the UK state would have found itself faced with a marriage which, in the British vernacular "took the piss".
  • Having a ghost spouse might be useful in some circumstances - especially, for example, for a shaman for whom the spouse could serve as a spirit ally. Given the sometimes strained gender identities of traditional shamen, a dead spouse might be less trouble than a live one…
  • Of course, there is always the possibility of someone who picks up one of those Taiwanese style ghost-dowry packets and ends up with a ghost following him about for reasons he doesn't understand. Especially if he doesn't speak Cantonese.
  • If you can get a ghost wedding, can you also get a ghost divorce?
  • Likewise, can you immediately claim to be a widow(er) given that your spouse is deceased?
  • Given that other quaint Chinese cultural tradition of Nine Familial Exterminations, a suitably bloody minded magistrate might decide that even a ghost wedding connects you to a state-mandated massacre…
  • The legal fictions surrounding ghost weddings can also lead to fun:
    • A wealthy spinster dies without a will, and a medium shows up claiming that she wants to marry their client. The next-of-kin of course claims that this is utter bunk.
    • A ghost wedding is performed to seal an alliance (presumably, between divorcees), resulting in two entire families becoming step-relations. Aside from changes in the political landscape, this also turns several existing relationships technically incestuous.
    • Someone already married ignorantly picks up a ghost-dowry packet, and later finds an enemy accusing him of bigamy.
    • A child of such a marriage would likely have questionable paternity status: while clearly a product of adultery, their legitimacy was never actually challenged by anyone with standing to do so.
Unless otherwise stated, the content of this page is licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 License