Buddhism Wreath-eating Ghost 食蔓鬼

By Xah Lee. Date: . Last updated: .
wreath eating ghost
食蔓鬼. image source

This is one of the sculptures outside of 丰都鬼城 (Fengdu Ghost City).

What does 食蔓鬼 mean? 食=eat. 蔓 means 蔓菁, aka 蕪菁, 大頭菜 , which means turnip. So, with literal interpretation, it means “turnip-eating ghost”. Can that be?

蔓菁 Turnip

Brassica rapa plant
蔓菁, 大頭菜, turnip. image source
turnip flower
Turnip flower. image source
800px-Brassica rapa turnip
Turnip roots. image source

食蔓鬼 Wreath-eating Ghost

But what does it really mean? According to this page: 鬼的种类及业因 By 陈咏明 At www.longyuan.net, quote:


十一、食蔓鬼 有人用鲜花进行祭祀时,此鬼便于此时食花,虽身常饥渴,但不能吃别的东西。因其前生曾盗用装饰佛像的“华蔓”来打扮自己。“华蔓”指用鲜花编织成串的装饰物。

Quick translation:

There are many types of ghosts. The book 正法念经 [a old Buddhism scripture], section 16, lists 36 types of ghosts.

11. Wreath-eating Ghost. This ghost eats the fresh flower given to the gods by the worshippers. She is in constant hunger, but she can't eat anything else, because in prior life she stole the ornamental flowers used on Buddha statues to prettify herself. “华蔓” is a ornamental wreath made of fresh flowers.

wreath-eating ghost head
Head of the wreath-eating ghost. image source

Ok, but why is she suckling a deer?

According to this blog 九州风情之二 丰都鬼城 By Source blog.sina.com.cn. Quote:

鬼门关外道路两侧有神态各异十六罗刹鬼,最美丽的是食蔓鬼,也是我最喜欢 的。食蔓鬼,传说中因为她在世的时候太臭美,把献给佛像的“华蔓”偷来打扮自 己,变成鬼后只能吃祭祀的鲜花,虽身常饥渴,但不能吃别的东西,还要用乳汁 来喂养小鹿。唉唉,每个鬼鬼也都有自己的故事呀。

Quick translation:

On the sides of the road of Hell's Gate , there are 16 sculptures of different ghosts. The most beautiful is the wreath-eating ghost, my favorite. By folklore, when she was a human in her previous life, she's smug and stole the flowers dedicated to gods to prettify herself, so when she became a ghost [due to reincarnation] she has only wreath to eat, and nothing else, even in constant hunger. She also must feed the little deer with her breast milk. =sigh=, even ghosts have their tales to tell.