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Have you ever felt like this time of year can be such a drag? Despite August sharing the same number of days as March, May, July, October, and December, it can still feel longer. Sure, this dragging feeling might be due to erratic weather patterns, but according to Chinese customs, the "Hungry Ghost month" may have a hand in the month’s general misfortune.
This is the time of year where many Chinese people (or countries with Taoists and Buddhist influences) avoid major events like weddings, business deals, parties, or traveling by air and sea. They also set up food, incense and other offerings in temples or create makeshift altars in the streets to appease hungry ghosts.
This year (according to the Gregorian Calendar) the Ghost month started on August 22, and the Ghost Festival itself will be on September 5. In the Chinese lunar calendar, the festival is celebrated on the fifteenth day of the seventh month, even though the entire seventh month is regarded as the 'Ghost month'.
According to lore, the nether realms are opened for Hungry Ghost Month, so ghosts are free to roam the earth. That means it wouldn’t just be our deceased ancestors and relatives, but also the souls of the damned or the ‘hungry ghosts’.
The Origin of Hungry Ghost Month:
There are two widely known versions of the Ghost month's origin. In one version, Buddha’s disciple Mulian, who had clairvoyant powers, saw his father in Heaven and his mother in Hell. He tried to save his mother from Hell (where she was competing for food with other hungry ghosts) but when he tried to offer food for her, it would burn. Hence, Buddha taught him how to make offerings for other hungry ghosts so they wouldn’t come after his mother’s food.
In another version, it was said that Mulian traveled to Hell, bringing an offering on the fifteenth day of July while asking for his mother to be released from Hell. Mulian’s filial piety paid off, and his mother was spared from further suffering.
The Hungry Ghost Month’s western equivalent is Halloween, but unlike the festivities and legends we celebrate on Halloween for fun, the customs, rites, and the superstitions of Ghost month are observed more seriously. If you don’t celebrate Ghost month but you do believe in luck and superstitions, below are a few tips to keep in mind – and a selection of movies that realized those fears on the big screen.
1. Don’t Move Into a New Place
If you're planning to move into a new place during this time of year, postpone it. Like starting business ventures or getting married, any major milestone like this shouldn't be done during ghost month as it's considered inauspicious. Thai horror flick The Cursed House has this superstition down to a tee - and perfectly displays why one must observe them during this time of the year.
2. Don’t Make Fun of Ghosts
Imagine a scenario of teens huddled around the campfire somewhere in the woods, sharing ghost stories in a peculiar and mocking tone; or perhaps a get together even challenging the bravery of a friend who proudly says they aren't afraid of ghosts – and then the Ouija board is brought out. Since the realms of Heaven and Hell are said to be open around this time of year, how sure will we be that the spirits we attract are our ancestors and not some malevolent ghost or another evil entity?
Poking fun at ghosts and telling ghost stories might attract unwanted attention is said to incur the wrath of malicious spirits. So, if you're superstitious you might want to avoid summoning them with ouija boards or, like in Ouija, people might get sick - you wouldn’t want that, would you?
3. Avoid Bodies of Water
To be more specific, avoid traveling by sea or going swimming; the former also applies to longer travels (either by sea or air) because there might be delays due to weather. The latter is said to be because ghosts of those who drowned might pull you under the seemingly bottomless pit of any water forms. According to tradition, hungry ghosts aren’t just hungry for food, they're also thirsty and will pull you under water – so you can be their replacement and they can be reincarnated.
However, if swimming cannot be avoided, make sure you get out of the water before sunset!
4. Don’t Go Wandering Alone at Night
As a general rule of safety, kids and teens aren’t encouraged to stay out after dark and if you're a parent, it's seen as especially important to keep a close eye on your kid during Hungry Ghost Month. In superstitions, it should be avoided to go out alone because it is believed that the wandering spirits can easily possess or play tricks on kids because their life energy isn’t strong enough yet.
Such was the case in the 1973 movie, The Exorcist. Regan's mom barely had time for her child, so the little girl played with an Ouija board and got possessed.
Wandering also includes driving alone, so bring someone to accompany you and drive carefully. Of course, road safety must always be practiced to avoid accidents, but is also believed that spirits of those who died from accidents are particularly active searching for victims so they can be reincarnated.
5. Feel Good
Emotional instability can make a person weaker and the sadder our spirits are, the easier it is to be kicked out of our meatsuit and possessed by a restless spirit, just like Kat in The Blackcoat's Daughter.
So, stay strong, assemble your squad, and pray to the heavens that everything will be alright.
6. Don’t Snuff Your Protective Flame
Elders would advise that when feeling the slightest tap on our shoulders, we mustn't instinctively turn our heads. This is supposedly because we might extinguish a “protective flame” we have in our shoulder. When this accidentally gets snuffed, we’d be prone to ghostly tricks, mortal danger, or possession. So, if you ever feel cold spots or goosebumps, just ignore it or walk away. And if you're called from behind, be sure to calmly turn your whole body.
There are still a couple of weeks before Hungry Ghost Month is officially over, so remember to be respectful of other people’s customs, beliefs, and traditions – especially the veneration of the dead. And as #Supernatural taught us, iron and salt can be effective to fend off wayward spirits. Keep safe, folks!