August – in Europe it is usually the hottest month of the summer period and peak holiday season, in Singapore it is the start of the Hungry Ghost month. This year, Hungry Ghost month started on 11 August and ends on 9 September 2018, with Hungry Ghost Day falling on 25 August – the 15th day of the seventh month of the Chinese Lunar Calendar.
I find the Hungry Ghost month fascinating. Legend has it that the gates of the underworld are thrown open, so the souls of the dead can return to earth to visit their living relatives while the wandering ghosts and spirits 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 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. A lot of the smaller shops in Singapore are closed during the festival as they want to leave the streets open for the ghosts. You will also find many taxi drivers finishing their shift before sunset to allow them enough time to get home before darkness sets in.
During this time, the yin energies are very strong and often overpower the yang energy. It is best to take precaution and make sure your home is brightly lit, as dark spaces will attract the ghosts.
To appease the roaming ghosts and spirits, offerings of food and incense are 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”, eg paper money, a paper house, paper car, or anything you wish your ancestors to have, built from paper. 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.
I must say I do like the idea of remembering your dead ancestors in this way. The symbolism is similar to the Christian “All Souls Day” on 1st November, prior to which you tidy up the graves of your dead family members and decorate them with flowers and new candles, making sure they are not forgotten.
As for the Hungry Ghost month, here are a few things to AVOID:
- Children and young adults are advised to stay indoors after dark as they are particularly susceptible to spirit possession.
- Avoid swimming 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.
- Do NOT move house or start a new business this month as it is most inauspicious for such activities.
- Avoid getting married, as weddings are vulnerable to attacks from jealous female spirits. They may cast curses and bad spells on the wedding couple!
- Do NOT go camping or jungle trecking as ghosts love these places! Therefore, chances of injuries or spirit possession are increased.
- No speeding and drive carefully!
Another interesting thing that happens during Hungry Ghost month is the feasts and celebrations that are being held in Chinese Temples and public spaces. These shows are meant to distract the wandering spirits and give the people an additional opportunity to pray for them. If you happen to see any of these events, note how the front row of seats is left empty – for the spirits!
Some things you CAN do during Hungry Ghost month are:
- Play happy music in your home to strengthen the yang energy and keep your own energy level high.
- Wear bright colours to counter the yin energy.
- Burn incense as often as you can. Ideally, you want to burn the incense inside your home, walking through your home in a clockwise direction, and then leave the incense outside your main door until it has finished burning.
- Wear protective amulets, eg the Night Safety amulet, the Ten Hums amulet, a Buddha’s Foot amulet or a Diamond Cutter Sutra Prayer Wheel. Of course you can also carry an amulet of your own faith, eg a cross.
Stay safe during Hungry Ghost month, and if you see any food offerings, incense, or burnt items on the roadside or other public places, please treat them with respect because now you know what it’s all about!