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15 Things You Shouldn’t Do During Hungry Ghost Month

15 Things You Shouldn’t Do During Hungry Ghost Month

The seventh month of the lunar calendar, known as Ghost Month to Buddhist and Taoist devotees in East and Southeast Asia, marks the opening of the Gates of Hell.

During this month, spirits of the dead are said to cross over from hell to the realm of the living in search of food and entertainment.

Devotees burning a King of Hell effigy and joss paper in Penang, Malaysia. Image: Getty Images
Devotees burning a King of Hell effigy and joss paper in Penang, Malaysia. Image: Getty Images

While the Hungry Ghost Festival is celebrated on the fifteenth day of Ghost Month, prayers as well as food and drink, hell notes and joss paper are offered to the guardians of hell, deceased relatives and wandering ghosts throughout the month.

Depending on the extent of one’s personal beliefs, some may also avoid doing things considered taboo during this inauspicious period.

Do not touch, step over or kick roadside offerings

A common sight during Hungry Ghost Month, roadside offerings are typically for hungry ghosts who are only allowed to eat at this time of year.

Now think about it this way - wouldn’t you be pissed if a random stranger starts touching your food or stepping on it?

If done by accident, quickly apologise. You should also refrain from talking about or making fun of the supernatural, or complain about temporary altars and roadside offerings.

It is believed that spirits that overhear this may get offended and cause problems for the person or follow them home.

Don’t look under the prayer altar

Makeshift tents for prayers are a common sight in residential areas during this time.

This is where devotees can pray and extend offerings to the guardians of hell and the deceased. Monks and priests may also perform rituals to appease the spirits and invite them to partake in the offerings.

As such, it is not advisable to look under the altar as the spirits may be having a feast there and do not take too kindly to being disturbed.

While we’re at it, those making offerings of drinks and biscuits should open the package and separate them so that a greedy ghost does not make off with the entire carton of drinks or an entire tin of biscuits.

Do not sit on or lean against the offering table

According to an urban legend, a mother who brought her child to a Hungry Ghost Festival event briefly placed him on the table while preparing her offerings at the altar.

When turned around, she found the boy limp and pale. It is said that spirits devoured his life essence, thinking it was part of the offerings.

Children are also advised to stay away when the adults are burning hell notes and joss paper to avoid attracting bad qi (energy).

Do not sit in the front row at street performances

Image: JohorNow
Image: JohorNow

Chinese opera performances and getai (a concert-like stage show) take place throughout the month to entertain wandering spirits, and the front row seats are specially reserved for unseen VIPs.

It goes without saying that those seats are out of bounds for the living, even if the remaining seats are all taken up.

Avoid staying out too late

This especially applies to pregnant women and children, as it is believed that spirits are exceptionally attracted to foetuses and children.

Ghosts are said to be at their strongest after sunset, as yin energy from the moon strengthens them at night, so best get home before sunset.

Don’t stand under a tree or bus stop

It is believed that spirits tend to loiter around under these dark, shaded areas.

It’s also not advisable to go jungle trekking, hiking or camping, as spirits tend to roam in the jungle. You know, where there are trees everywhere.

Avoid leaning on or walking near walls in the dark too, as spirits tend to favour walking or flying along walls and dark corners.

Stay away from water-related activities

It is said that vengeful water spirits lie in wait for a “substitute” to take their place in death, so that they can finally be reincarnated.

Some people even go as far as to postpone any travel by sea to avoid mishaps caused by mischievous spirits.

If you see something strange, ignore it

Don’t pick up anything you stumble across on the streets, especially coins and strange items.

These items may already belong to a spirit, or worse, be a lure to possess the person who touches them.

On that note, you should also ignore strange smells, particularly pleasantly sweet ones, as well as strange sounds like soft whispering or sobbing.

It goes without saying that if you hear an unfamiliar voice calling your name, it’s time to pick up the pace before the spirit reveals itself to you.

(If it’s actually someone you know, they can just WhatsApp you later.)

If you feel a sudden chill, remain calm

Do not scream, cry or even shift your eyes. Just look straight ahead and continue towards your destination.

If you treat the supernatural as though it is part of normal life and just carry on with your business, the spirits will have no power over you and they’ll be less likely to cause trouble.

Refrain from talking to yourself

Sometimes, you just need to think aloud. Well, not when talking to yourself may seem like an invitation for spirits to interact with you.

It is also believed that roaming spirits are attracted to whistling, so that’s one more thing to avoid doing while you’re walking alone at night.

Avoid wearing red or black clothing

You may garner unwanted attention from wandering spirits, as they are said to be especially attracted to these two colours.

Speaking of clothes, avoid hanging wet laundry late at night, as wandering spirits may “try on” the clothes and be brought into the house along with the laundry.

Don’t tap anyone on the shoulder or head

Some people believe there are torches of fire on the shoulders and top of the head, and that tapping these parts during the seventh month will adversely affect one’s luck.

Turning your head over your shoulders may also snuff out one of these torches, causing an imbalance of yin and yang energy, making you more vulnerable to supernatural disturbances.

Avoid moving into a new house

Moving items into a new, previously unoccupied space or holding house parties could inadvertently “invite” wandering spirits into your new home.

Also, try not to leave the main door to your home open to avoid inviting unwanted spirits into the premises.

Avoid taking photographs after sunset

Yep, that includes selfies as well.

Cameras have long been associated with ghosts due to the ghostly images captured on film in the past.

Hence, it is believed that photographs can record and trap spirits, and taking any pictures at night may invoke spirits to associate with you.

Avoid getting married

It’s considered inauspicious for couples to tie the knot during this period, as it is believed that these marriages will not be of the happily ever after kind.

On top of that, you wouldn’t want any “uninvited guests” to crash your party either.

Aside from weddings, you’re also advised against visiting sick friends in hospital, get surgery or attend a funeral throughout the seventh month.

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