Saturday, August 23, 2014

Soul Calling & Breaking Castle (招魂与破城)

In Chinese customs, when a person dies in a foreign land; it is believed that his soul will have no way to return to his homeland even though his body is transported back home. Hence, his soul will linger on in this foreign land and no way of enjoying any of the food offerings given to him by his/her love ones. Of course, he/she also has no way to be delivered through any of the religious ceremonies.


If such condition persists, then his soul will always in a foreign land and no chance of being reborn. We perhaps can imagine that this poor soul will be in a pretty sorrow and pitiful stage.


Unless a ‘soul calling’ ceremony is carried out by the deceased’s next of kin; then could the dead soul return home with the ‘soul banner’ together with its love ones.


It is a norm that the ‘soul calling’ ritual is led by a monk or Taoist with banishing the ‘soul banner’; some folks even bring along a colourful booth with a ‘soul tablet’ (神主牌) inside. The function of a ‘soul tablet’ is to let the soul to temporary attach onto it. It is certainly that the deceased’s love ones must also present or else the dead soul will not follow a stranger.


First of all, the group must go to the place where the deceased passed away to carry out this ‘soul calling’ activity. Before the ritual, candles and incense are burnt together with some joss papers. After that, the Taoist master will hold a ring in his left hand and the soul banner in his right while reciting lengthy pitiful soul calling mantras.


It is believed that only after the soul calling ritual that the dead soul can attach properly onto the soul tablet and hence be brought home for worship.


What was being said above refer to where the body and location of the death can be identified; but what happen if both of the information is unavailable? Then, the soul calling ritual will be fruitless.


What to do?


Have no fear. Taoist has a ritual known as ‘breaking castle’ (破城). As the name implies, ‘breaking castle’ refers to a situation where the dead soul is trapped or imprisoned for some reasons. In order to release this trapped soul, we will have to rely to the powers of gods.


First of all, the Taoist must carve a head out of wood or replace the head with a bun (馒头).


When everything is ready, then the ceremony can be carried out to release the dead soul.


Soul calling ceremony is frequently seen in Malaysia, but ‘castle breaking’ scene is pretty rare now days.


The related Chinese link:




  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. Great article. This never even crossed my mind before, but it makes perfect sense now. So often we hear about ghosts & spirits not being able to cross water and i guess the same applies to our ghost also. Scary thought for all those souls dying away from home.


  3. In Scandinavia, if someone died in a foreign country, a rune stone that mentioned it was raised so that the spirit could find it's way back.