So, what is Ghost Month?
Have you ever heard about Ghost Month? What is it? I'll give you two explanations. The shorter explanation is it's the Chinese Halloween. It takes place in the entire seventh month of the Lunar calendar. The longer version is, this is the period when hungry ghosts come out of their grave to search for food. Yup, we Chinese believe that ghosts get hungry. July 15 (in the Lunar calender) is known as the Hungry Ghost Festival. On this day, the Chinese people prepare lots of food as an offering to both their ancestors plus other wandering spirits.
This is considered the spookiest month of the year (yes, even spookier than Halloween!). This is the time when the gates from the other side are opened to let the ghosts roam free on earth. Hungry ghost = crabby spirit. We wouldn't want a crabby spirit, so we give them what they want -- food. Also, most, if not all, Chinese avoid doing several things during this period to avoid misfortunes and accidents. Just as there are good and bad people, there are also good and bad spirits. During Ghost Month, some spirits are out there looking for victims.
I'm not familiar with each and every taboo for the Ghost Month even if I'm a Chinese. My sister found an interesting article on Cnyes and shared it with me. Several Taiwanese netizens had picked the top 10 things that they would avoid during this period. Whether you're a Chinese or not, you'll find it amusing! To be honest, even my parents don't know about most of these taboos!
1. Avoid visiting the hospital
Chinese believe that since births and deaths take place in the hospital, hospitals serve as portals of the spirits. Unless you really have to, it is best to avoid going there at all, or else you might bump into Casper.
A dear relative of mine had been hospitalized due to a chronic illness. My family had visited him a few times during the Ghost Month. He died a month later. Though it's a taboo to go to hospitals at that time, I never regretted visiting him. He was a good man. I will write about his funeral in the near future.
2. Avoid travelling and any night activities
Going to a new and unfamiliar place makes you more likely to encounter a ghost. Save those trips for another time. It will be hard to sleep in hotels and lodgings which have magically become haunted. Nocturnal activities such as riding with a motorcycle gang (a very common activity among Taiwanese college students) are not recommended to avoid accidents.
3. Don't play with your camera
Credit: Rainy Kua
If you've watched ghost-hunting reality shows, you'll see that most hunters use cameras to catch paranormal things. They'll get inside a room and take random shots until they find orbs or something of that sort in their images. Granted, this is not the best time to take random pictures or videos. Perhaps you should avoid selfies as well for the meantime. You wouldn't want to see a ghostly image floating behind you in the picture.
4. Don't put your arm around anyone's shoulders (and vice versa)
As strange as it may sound, this is one of the things that Taiwanese people avoid during the Ghost Month. It is said that we have three "fires" on our body: our head and both of our shoulders. If one of these three is "missing", the ghost could easily possess the person. It is also best to avoid patting someone's shoulder. Odd, isn't it?
5. Do not play with water at midnight
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This is quite easy to avoid, because seriously, why would someone play with water at midnight? Water is a cold element. Spirits love water. Thus, the Chinese believe that it is unsafe to go swimming during this month, especially at night. The bad guys in the water may try to hurt you. If a person drowns, not one Chinese will think of it as an accident.
6. Avoid weddings and moving house
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Since the first time I learned about Ghost Month, I've been aware of these taboos. There is not a single wedding or engagement announcement in my local Chinese newspaper in the seventh month. Some Chinese would even avoid any kind of celebrations. I've heard a grandma moving her birthday party to another date so it wouldn't fall on the Ghost Month.
7. Do not burn ghost money arbitrarilyCredit: Rainy Kua
My mom always tells me, "If you're not sure how to do something, don't do it." This is true when you're dealing with the dead. Do not burn ghost money just because someone tells you to do so. Even with a good intention, your lack of knowledge will do more harm than good. If you don't know the proper way to do it, ask the experts or do some research first.
Ghost money or joss money is the currency used in the afterlife. The Chinese burn these money for their deceased loved ones so they'll have money to spend. We burn ghost money not just during Ghost Month but also on other occasions such as death anniversaries and birthdays of the deceased or saints. If you're going to burn ghost money for the first time, remember not to touch your eyes. During my grandma's funeral many years ago, my mom was folding the money as she was wiping her tears. Her eyes got irritated and a small lump formed beneath her eye.
9. Avoid whistling
Refrain from whistling even if you've seen a hot chick. You're not just likely to get a slap, but you'll also attract ghosts. They are believed to respond to whistles.
10. Avoid hanging wet laundry at night
Credit: Rainy Kua
This one creeped me out the most. I do this all the time! As I've mentioned above, ghosts love water. Hanging wet clothes will not just attract them, it will also trap them inside your home since the clothes block their way to the exit. And I thought ghosts can pass through objects and walls!
These are only some of the many taboos for Ghost Month. Sharing this article doesn't mean that I believe everything in it. I just want you to be aware that most Chinese have these beliefs. Now you'll understand why your Chinese friend gets angry when you whistle, or why he/she suddenly becomes aquaphobic, or why your Chinese roommate freaks out when you do your laundry at night.
© Rainy Kua 2014. All Rights Reserved.