|Street Bonfire of Symbolic Paper Offerings|
Western cultures have traditional days of the dead or ghost days, part of tribal folk religions before the advent of Christianity. In Britain, Halloween originated from the Celts who believed the last day of October was when ghosts crossed the boundary from the spirit world to ours. On the other side of the world, the Chinese hold a similar belief. On the days of the Ghost Month and especially on the night of the full moon, a bridge exists between the here and hereafter, and people take additional precautions to honor the dead. If a spirit isn’t kept happy, perhaps because of an unfortunate death, improper burial or no descendants to perform rituals, it becomes a ghost (sometimes called a hungry ghost.) Ghosts aren’t necessarily evil. Some are just, let’s say, dis-spirited. Ghosts may attack human beings to prompt them to meet their needs or at least draw attention to their plight.
Ceremonies guard against vengeful spirits and honor ancestors or famous people of the past. In return, happy ghosts can be helpful. Ghosts receive the most attention during Ghost Month, the seventh month in the Chinese lunar year. The Hungry Ghost Festival occurs when the moon is full near the end of summer. For this reason, it’s often referred to as Chinese Halloween.
The First Day of Hungry Ghost Month
|Food and Offerings Left for Ghosts|
One the first day of the month, the gates of the spirit world open wide and an army of hungry ghosts leave to haunt the living, eat food, drink wine, and collect ghost money. (Sounds like Sunday supper at my house.) People put up red painted paper lanterns in businesses and residences and burn make-believe paper money in towns, along roadsides, in fields or temples. Incense is lit and sacrifices of food offered to the hungry, unhappy ghosts. The belief is ghosts won't create mischief or throw curses after eating food sacrifices and collecting money. (I have the same belief about my relatives.)
The Last Day of Hungry Ghost Month
|Paper Objects Representing Symbolic Gifts|
The last day of the seventh lunar month has a special festival to celebrate the closing of the afterlife’s gates. Colorful papers are burned, symbolizing money, clothing or luxury objects for ghosts to take back with them. Lanterns made from wood and paper are inscribed with ancestors’ names and floated at night down a river so ghosts follow the lights to the spirit realm. Taoist monks even have a chant thought to be unpleasant enough to force any reluctant stragglers to hurry on their way.
Safe Practices for Ghost Month
|Lanterns Floated on River|
Customs vary from place to place, but here are a few simple rules to follow to keep safe during the Ghost Month:
Don’t stay out late. You may run into a ghost.
Don’t spit on a tree. It can offend its spirit.
Don’t step on or kick the ashes of offerings on the street.
Don’t whistle alone at night. Something may sing along with you.
Don’t walk at night near walls unless you want to attract a ghost to your peripheral vision.
Don’t turn your head if patted on the shoulder from behind. The hand may not be from a human.
Don’t swim at night. Something in the water may pull your legs.
About the Author
L. A. Kelley writes fantasy/sci-fi adventure stories with humor, romance, and a touch of sass. You can connect at