Hungry Ghost month this year starts early, on 1 August and ends on 29 August 2019. It always falls into the 7th month of the Lunar Calendar and the culmination is Hungry Ghost Day (the day of the full moon), which is on 15 August this year.
Hungry Ghost month is one of the things you can’t ignore when you live in Asia. According to Chinese mythology, during Hungry Ghost month the gates of the underworld are opened up to allow the souls of the dead to return to earth to visit their living relatives. At the same time, wandering ghosts and spirits obviously also have the opportunity to escape and will roam about the streets. Most of these spirits are good-natured, but some of them are stuck in the “Bardo”, a restless in-between state, where they still try to find a new body to be re-born into. Such spirits might cause you harm if your own energy level is low or exhausted and the Chinese therefore believe that it is important to be extra careful during Hungry Ghost month, especially during night time. It is a time when the yin forces are very strong.
I am a strong believer in “rather being safe than sorry” and would like to remind you of a few things to avoid during Hungry Ghost month:
- Avoid staying out late at night, especially children, young adults and pregnant women are advised to stay indoors after dark as they are particularly susceptible to spirit possession.
- Do not wait alone under a tree or a bus stop in the dark, as the spirits love hanging out in such places.
- Do not go jungle trekking or camping as these are places the ghosts love too! There is increased risk of injuries, spirit possession and even death by accidents.
- Do not go swimming in the Sea or lake as it is believed that evil spirits who previously drowned might try to pull you down and drown you in order for their re-birth.
- Avoid moving house or starting a new business during Hungry Ghost month as it is considered an inauspicious time for such activities.
- Avoid getting married, as weddings are the most obvious place for jealous female spirits to attack! They may curse and cast spells on the wedding couple – please be aware!
- Drive carefully to avoid accidents and don’t speed. Wandering spirits who died in car accidents will be on the hunt for new victims they can use for their re-incarnation.
- Avoid placing your hands on your shoulder. It is said people have three flames on their body: one on the forehead and two on the shoulders. Placing your hand on your shoulder will “put out” the flame and thereby weaken your internal energies, making you more vulnerable to spirit possession. For the same reason you should also refrain from covering your forehead.
- Protect the main entrance of your home with Chung Kwei or the White Umbrella Goddess. Both are revered as protectors against ghosts and evil spirits
Instead, it is good to have your home brightly lit during this dark time. Wear protective amulets and brightly coloured clothing and play music in your house! This is proof that there is life in your house, making it less attractive for the ghosts. This is also one of the reasons why Chinese temples are holding celebrations and opera shows during Hungry Ghost month – to distract the wandering spirits and give the people an additional opportunity to pray for them. Many events also take place in public places for the community. If you happen to see any of these events, note how the front row of seats is left empty – for the spirits!
During this time, it is customary to appease the roaming ghosts and spirits with food offerings and incense left outside for the hungry ghosts and dead relatives to enjoy. In Singapore, you can see quite a lot of these! Often, people also burn so-called “prosperity items” made of paper, eg paper money, a paper house, paper car, or anything you wish your ancestors to have. By burning these items, they are sent on to the other world for your dead relatives to receive, offering them some material comfort when they return to the underworld at the end of the month. Many Chinese also believe this is a way of earning merit and good fortune.
So, if you see any food offerings, incense, or burnt items on the roadside or other public places, please treat them with respect and pause for a moment to send a loving thought to the universe – because now you know what it’s all about!
31 July 2019