Why Tea Leaves For the Dead Can Bring Good Fortune

The tea leaves helped absorb odors in the tombs and ensured the preservation of the remains. (Natesh Ramasamy/Flickr)
The tea leaves helped absorb odors in the tombs and ensured the preservation of the remains. (Natesh Ramasamy/Flickr)

Since ancient times, tea leaves have been used in burial services by royalty and common people alike. People from ancient times believed that tea leaves served to cleanse and dehumidify the deceased. The tea leaves helped absorb odors in the tombs and ensured the preservation of the remains.

In Hunan Province, tea leaves were stuffed in the pillows of the deceased. The belief was that the deceased would have tea leaves to make tea with in the afterlife. In some areas of Jiangsu Province, a layer of tea leaves and rice grains would be laid down underneath the corpse. After the first layer, another layer of tea leaves and rice grains would then cover the corpse before the coffin was sealed. The purpose was to dehumidify, deodorize, and preserve the corpse.

Since ancient times, people in China would place a bag of tea leaves in the hands of the deceased. People of Anhui Province believed that if the deceased were given a bag of tea leaves, they would not have to drink a magic potion at Meng Po’s booth. People in ancient times believed that after death, ghost guards from the netherworld took the deceased to Meng Po’s booth to drink a magic potion that would erase any memories or awareness of their past life. In other words, this potion caused permanent amnesia. This magic potion was also believed to be used to confuse the deceased in order to torture them, or erase any memories of torture in the afterlife. If the deceased drank the tea instead of the magic potion, they could stay aware and rational, and not be fooled by the ghost guards, or forget their past lives. As a result, tea leaves were, and have become, an important part of funerary objects.

Tea leaves at burial services are mostly used for the deceased. In some parts of China, however, these tea leaf rituals are sometimes performed for those who are living as well. In Fujian Province, for instance, people prepare tea leaves to make a Dragon Seeds Bag for the living. In ancient times in Fujian Province, people hired feng shui masters after the death of a family member. The feng shui master would choose a fortuitous position for the burial of the deceased. Before the coffin was placed in the selected burial site, the feng shui master would place a carpet in the excavated earth of the burial site, and perform a ceremony. He would burn incense, set off firecrackers, and then scatter tea leaves, beans, grains, sesame seeds, bamboo, and coins on the carpet. The family of the deceased then collected these items and sealed them in a bag. This bag would be hung in the family home, and was known as the Dragon Seeds Bag.

It is said that the Dragon Seeds Bag is a symbol of the fortune left by the deceased. The tea leaves can expel demons, protect future generations from sickness and trouble, and help the family to prosper. The beans and grains symbolize the bountiful harvest reaped by future generations, and the coins are said to preserve the wealth of future generations.

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