9 Hungry Ghost Festival taboos

In the Chinese lunar calendar, the seventh month is regarded as the Ghost Month, where the gates of hell open for the ghosts and spirits of the deceased to visit their living descendants. In 2015, this month begins on 14 August and ends on 12 September.

The most important day (or night if you are a spirit) is the Hungry Ghost Festival which falls on the 15th night (or 14th in southern China) of Ghost Month. This year, the date is 28 August. On this night, the spirits are most active as the “yin energy” (what spirits are supposedly made of) is the strongest.

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To keep safe, here are some things to avoid doing:

  1. Do not stay out at night. During the seventh lunar month, especially on the 15th (or 14th), it’s best that you go home early. Since the “yin energy” is the heaviest on this night, you might see a ghostly procession if you’re alone in the wild. Night owls, you have been warned.
  2. Do not poke your chopsticks vertically into your rice. This looks like incense used when praying to ancestral spirits. To the ghosts, they may think that you’re inviting them to share your meal.
  3. Do not play in “dangerous” waters such as the open sea, lakes or waterfalls. It is said that the water spirits are looking for someone to replace them so they can be reincarnated.
  4. Do not pick up money on the streets. These money (yes, real money too!) are used to bribe the guards of hell–the Bull Head and Horse Face. If you offend these guards, they may make life difficult for you.
  5. When you’re outside, do not look back even if you feel that someone is calling out your name. It might be spirits that are trying to contact you.
  6. Similarly, do not call out to others at night; use code names instead. Or else the spirits might remember your names.
  7. Do not burn the midnight oil. A human’s “yang energy” is the weakest at midnight. A ghost’s “yin” is strongest late at night. If you’re working too late, the spirits will find it easier to possess you.
  8. Do not eat the offerings. These are the food for the spirits. If you haven’t asked for permission to eat the offerings, you’ll find yourself getting into more bad luck.
  9. Avoid hanging red thread, bells or wind chimes as these are said to attract spirits. Try not to go out at night.

Do you know of other taboos? Share with us in the comments section.


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