Marrying a ghost may sound like the plot of a paranormal horror movie, but even today posthumous marriage continues to exist. What’s more surprising is that it’s not just in far-flung corners of the globe that the idea of marriage after death is still a thing; In modern-day France it’s legal to marry someone who has already passed away.
In India’s Karnataka and Kerala states, families celebrate Pretha Kalyanam , meaning “ marriage of the dead.” Once they reach marriageable age—typically 25 for boys and 22 for girls—the centuries-old custom is believed to ensure that spirits of deceased children find happiness through marriage, bringing luck to their families.
According to local beliefs, restless spirits of unmarried children bring misfortune, particularly to relatives trying to conceive children or who are still unmarried. “This practice helps parents cope with the grief and brings them closure,” explained Anny Arun, the cousin of one ghost bride, on Twitter.
Vice reported that Indian spirit marriage continues to this day, with families representing their dead relatives with effigies, dolls or even clothing, while enacting discreet nuptials similar to a regular wedding. While the tradition is no longer widespread, the ancient Indian practice of posthumous marriage continues to provide closure, although it is not recognized by law.
The Guardian argued that ghost marriages in China “may date back to the 17th century BC,” making them over 3,000 years old. If you’re unfamiliar with the concept, the purpose of Chinese ghost marriages was to ensure companionship for the deceased in the afterlife.
The aim of the Chinese tradition of ghost marriage was to prevent departed souls from becoming lonely or restless. ( funkenzauber / Adobe Stock)
However, the motivations of living family members were not solely selfless. In Chinese culture, a woman’s ability to receive a proper funeral was wholly dependent on the support of her spouse’s family. Therefore, their aim was also to prevent the departed souls from becoming restless, thereby avoiding any potential haunting or bad luck for their living relatives.
Banned by the Chinese Communist government in the 1940s, ghost marriages continue to thrive in rural communities. Black market ghost matchmakers have emerged, selling corpses to facilitate posthumous marriage customs attained through tomb-raiding and bodysnatching. There are even reports of women being killed to become afterlife brides, and in 2021 VICE reported that funeral home employees snatched a TikToker’s ashes for a ghost wedding.
Posthumous marriage is a relatively recent tradition in France, adopted during World War I to allow women to wed their departed fiancées and avoid children being stigmatized as illegitimate. Also known as necrogamy, posthumous marriage was made legal in France following the 1950 Malpasset Dam tragedy. One victim’s pregnant fiancée petitioned the President, leading the National Assembly to pass a law authorizing posthumous marriages as long as the consent of the deceased could be established.
Top image: The practice of posthumous marriage continues to take place. Source: AIproduction / Adobe Stock