Ghost Month begins tonight. Follow these rules if you wish to survive.
Tonight, on the first night of Ghost Month, we offer a warning. Or perhaps a public service announcement. If you wish to make it through Ghost Month, you must heed the warnings and follow the rules.
The Chinese believe that on the days of Ghost Month, and especially on the night of the full moon, there is an open bridge between the dead and the living.
According to Chinese legend, the seventh lunar month is Ghost Month. Every year, on the first day of Ghost Month, King Yama (The King of Hell) opens the gates of Hell for 30 days, so that spirits may leave the underworld and walk among the living. Not all spirits are evil, but it is said that the ghosts who come back during Ghost Month are spirits whose families did not pay them proper respect after their deaths. This leaves them wanting to cause harm to the living.
In China, there is a tradition of worshiping the dead in Lunar July. This has been in place since ancient times. People offer sacrifices to the ghosts on the first, second, fifteenth, and the last day of Ghost Month.
According to legend, anyone who dies under normal circumstances will reincarnate. However, those who are bad people, or who die in accidents, would wander the Earth as ghosts among the mortals. Sometimes, evil spirits would even purposefully cause the death of mortals by way of accident or disaster. Because of this, those who die unexpectedly during Ghost Month are said to have been taken away by ghosts.
It is believed that performing ceremonies with sacrifices for these spirits will satiate them and stop them from harming the living.
The 15th day of Ghost Month is referred to as Ghost Festival, the date when the moon is full and evil spirits reach their most powerful.
Throughout Ghost Month, a variety of outdoor entertainment is offered for both the living and the ghosts. Common forms of entertainment are public street festivals, as well as Getai shows, or, Chinese music concerts. There are special rules in place if you plan on attending any of these events, which we will detail later.
If you wish to survive Ghost Month, you first follow these rituals, as follows:
First day of Ghost Month: On the first day of Ghost Month, you must honor your ancestors by making offerings of food, incense and ghost money… also referred to as spirit money or Hell notes. Ghost money is made of joss paper, meant for burning. These offerings may be placed outdoors, away from your home. You may place them curbside, by the street, or in a field. Set up a makeshift altar by your curb if possible. You can use pictures of your lost loved ones and small personal items that they like. You must light the incense, and burn the Hell money so that the ghosts will have the money that they need during their month long vacation in the land of the living. Optionally, you may also hang red painted paper lanterns outside.
Second day of Ghost Month: On the second day of Ghost Month, rituals may be performed in public spaces and at businesses, the same way they were done at private homes the day before. Rituals in public spaces are typically attended by the public, and entertainment is put on in the streets for the benefit of both the living and the dead, including Getai (Chinese music concerts).
Fifteenth Day – Ghost Festival: On the day of the full moon, the 15th day of Ghost Month, also known as Ghost Festival, you must prepare a family dinner, and remember to set an extra spot at the table for the departed. After the family dinner is complete, and night time has descended, you are to take your offerings to the spirits outside. Set up another makeshift altar near the curb or in a field, where you will take your Hell Money, gold ingots made of joss paper, incense, and plates of food for the spirits. Leave food such as raw noodles, uncooked rice, peanuts, fruit, and meats. Also leave small cups of rice wine and tea. When you light the joss paper and incense, this part of the ritual is now complete. You must now release paper lotus flower lanterns on the river. Before releasing them, you should write the names of your deceased loved ones on them.
Final day of Ghost Month: On the final day of Ghost Month, there is one last special festival. You must burn more Hell money and incense, along with clothing for the ghosts to use when they return to their Hell society. You must then float lanterns made of wood and paper down the river. The ghosts will follow the lanterns as they float away.
Those are the rituals. But, there are also rules that you must follow if you wish to make it through.
Do not stay out late into the night, or a spirit may follow you home.
Children and senior citizens should not go out at night at all, or they could be attacked by evil spirits.
Do not take photographs or selfies, especially in the evening. If you do, you might capture an image that you do not want to see. Having your picture taken with a spirit is extremely bad luck. Taking photographs is akin to asking a spirit to come hang out with you. Many believe that cameras will trap these spirits with you.
Do not step on or kick spiritual offerings that you may see along the roadside, such as candles, food, incense or joss paper items.
If you do step on or kick any of these items by accident, you should apologize out loud to appease the spirits.
Do not makes jokes about, or complain about altars or offerings that you see along the street.
Do not stare into candle light or burning fire.
Do not shift your eyes if you feel anything while outside. Look straight ahead and continue to walk calmly to your destination.
Do not pick up any strange items that you may find on the street, whether it be money or anything else. It may belong to a spirit. Spirits don’t like it when you steal from them. And sometimes, mischievous spirits may place items in the street on purpose, in order to lure a victim into picking them up, as an excuse to possess them.
Do not open an umbrella at night, especially a red umbrella. Even more dangerous would be to open an umbrella inside of your house. Wandering ghosts tend to seek shelter under open umbrellas.
Do not wear red clothing. Ghosts are attracted to the color red.
If someone taps you on the shoulder, or calls out your name from behind, do not turn your head. It is believed that living humans have two protective flames, one on each shoulder. When you turn your head, you snuff out one of those flames, making you vulnerable to spirits. If you must turn, turn your whole body instead of just your head.
Avoid entering water, especially the sea. This includes swimming as well as sea travel with ferries or ships. It is believed that when someone dies, this creates an opportunity for an evil spirit to be reborn. Spirits of drowned ghosts may try to drown victims to aid them in their rebirth.
Stay away from supernatural games that could attract spirits, such as using a Ouija board.
If your birthday falls within Ghost Month, avoid celebrating at night. It’s better to celebrate during daylight hours.
Do not kill any insects that visit your house during Ghost Month. The Chinese believe that these insects are the spirits of your late loved ones.
Do not wait at a bus stop after midnight, especially after bus service hours.
Do not hang wet clothes outside in the middle of the night. Wandering spirits may wear them. And when you take that clothing back inside, you invite those spirits into your home.
Do not get married during Ghost Month.
Do not enter a cemetery or abandoned house, or you may attract a wandering spirit to come home with you.
Do not wear high heels.
Do not lean against walls. Spirits like to stick to walls because of the cooler temperature.
Do not stab your chopsticks in your bowl of rice, because they resemble joss stick offerings to the dead. If you do this, you may be unknowingly telling spirits that this bowl of rice belongs to them.
Do not cover your forehead. If your hair falls in your face, pin it up as high as possible.
Do not go hiking, jungle trekking, or on camping trips. One is more vulnerable to possession and physical injury during Ghost Month, and the “yin” energy is stronger in the woods.
Avoid home renovations during Ghost Month, or you may disturb the wandering spirits.
While enjoying the public festivities, do not sit in the front row at Getai concerts. The front row at these shows is reserved for the ghosts who are being honored with this festival. Frequently, these front row ghost chairs will be colored red. Ghosts are attracted to red. If you do sit in one of these reserved seats, you may unwittingly be sitting in the lap of a ghost whom you’ve just angered.
Do not whistle or make unnecessary noise at night. If you do, you may attract wandering spirits, as they will think that you’re calling to them.
Do not use black or other dark colors of nail polish, or you may lead spirits to think that you are one of them, and thus, lead you back to Hell with them.
Above all, do not do any of these things at night. The mere mention of ghosts during the night can attract their attention.
For additional protection, you may keep certain items with you to avoid evil spirits, such as prayer beads, coarse salt, amulets, glutinous rice, crosses, or lodestones.
If you follow these rules and stick to the rituals as written, you may just make it through.