The Hungry Ghost Festival – the 7th month in the Chinese calendar – marks the opening of the Gates of Hell, allowing restless spirits to roam the Earth.
Think of it as a Chinese Halloween, if you will. And if it makes you feel any better, it’s not a bad festival meant to spook you out – the Chinese also believe that it’s also a time for the souls of the undead to visit their living relatives.
Need a little more spook in your life? Check out this video of ghost hunter Noel Boyd and his exploration of the former Kampong Wak Hassan.
Then, check out the gallery below to protect yourself during this Hungry Ghost Month by understanding the beliefs and practices behind it.
Hold back those tears – getting emotional in the middle of the night is said to attract spirits and give them an opportunity to possess you. Then you’ll really be crying.
If you find insects like moths, butterflies and grasshoppers paying you surprise visits, it’s best not to kill them. The Chinese believe that these bugs are manifestations of spirits – ancestors in particular – who’ve come to visit or watch over the living.
The urge to jump into the pool during this hottest season of the year is real, but hold up! It’s said that spirits who drowned to death in their previous life would try to drown the living in order to be reincarnated. Others believe they’re simply vengeful and determined to take the living with them.
While the rest of us are concerned with not getting up in the spirits’ businesses, some “mediums” will invite ghosts into their body so that these spirits can reveal winning lottery numbers to them. However, some consider it inauspicious and risky.
The Chinese believe that there are two torches of fire on your shoulders, and turning your head over your shoulder will put them out, causing an imbalanced energy which makes you more vulnerable to spirit possessions. If someone calls you from behind (is there really someone to begin with?), turn your whole body instead.
Getais (“stage performances” in Mandarin) are live stages with vibrant performances put up to entertain the ghosts. It’s an interesting sight, especially for expats unfamiliar with local culture, but don’t be too eager to get in on any front row action. The first row of seats is “reserved” for the ghosts. You didn’t make the VIP list (phew).
You’ve probably already seen metal bins all around. These are temporary altars where people burn offerings in the form of paper money, as well as joss paper folded into golden ingots, and more. You’ll probably also see stacks of food on the sides of the road. Each of these offerings are said to reach the spirits so that they can enjoy an afterlife of abundance and riches. As such, avoid stepping on the burnt ashes or food offerings. Why? I mean, how would you like it if someone stepped on your stuff? If you accidentally do so, apologise, or risk offending the spirit and have them follow you around. Also, refrain from making jokes or complaining about the altars and offerings.
An inauspicious month, it’s been suggested that if you do any of these three things listed above, you’ll be asking the spirits to stay in your home, or disturbing the peace. Some also theorise that it’s because these ghosts are hiding from guards that want to bring them back from the other side!
But, if you aren’t superstitious, this is actually a great time to purchase new property as prices tend to be lower.
They may look pretty and sound nice, but the sound of metals clanking during the seventh month may signal to spirits that your house is open to visitors.
If you are superstitious, you should abide by a curfew during the Hungry Ghost Festival. Be home by sunset, as that is when spirits are the strongest. Don’t forget to wash your feet right after you arrive home!
Already considered a cultural faux pas – this position resembles joss sticks for the dead – doing so during seventh month is even worse. Hungry ghosts may mistake your food as offerings and take over your body to consume it.
Leaving your door ajar may invite ghosts into your sanctuary. Keep the negative energy out by keeping your doors closed.
By Pinky Chng, August 2017 / Additional reporting from AsiaOne, Updated, August 2019
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