Remember when we showed you a glimpse of the weird and wonderful world of Chinese mythology and the Chinese Courts of Hell? Well, did you know that the underworld denizens get a one-month holiday every year during the seventh lunar month, and that happens to be starting this week?
The gates of Chinese hell open from 3 to 31 August this year, and you’ll see (and smell!) an increase in offerings to the dead. This includes fruits, cakes and snacks stacked neatly by the roadside, or in front of little alters. There will also be burning – lots of burning of candles, joss sticks and joss paper (“hell money”). You might even see a large-scale burning of offerings that include paper houses, cars, electronic devices, clothes, shoes and monogrammed bags that bear suspicious similarities to a certain luxury brand that rhymes with gooey crouton.
Image of offerings by ProjectManhatten.
As a festival that deals with the dead, it should be no surprise that there are a million and one superstitions on what you should not do during the Hungry Ghost Festival to avoid incurring the ire of the spirits that are hanging around. Here are 10 of the more common superstitions and beliefs – don’t blame us if you inadvertently offend something that decides to follow you home!
1) Do not step on or kick offerings or prayer items by the roadside.
This is probably the biggest thing to avoid doing during the Hungry Ghost Festival. If you accidentally do knock over something, put everything back in place with a quick apology to any spirits that might be around to be offended. Same goes for the ashes on the pavement – try your best to avoid stepping on them.
2) Do not sit a child or baby on the alter when visiting temples or prayer sites.
One urban legend has it that a mother noticed her child’s shoe had come off at a temple, and sat him on an alter to put it back on. In the short time she took to put the shoe on, her child had stopped breathing and his eyes had gone blank because everything on the alter is considered an offering to the spirits…
3) Do not whistle or sing at night.
The cheery noise will attract the attention of wandering spirits up here on holiday, and they might just follow you home. Some are saying to go easy on the selfies and other indulgent photo taking during this month too, as you never know what unexpected additions might show up in your pictures.
4) Do not look under the alter or offerings table.
You never know who (or what) you’ll interrupt feasting on the offerings, and they might get very unhappy with you indeed.
5) Do not pick up coins you see lying on the ground.
Don’t be tempted by the money you see strewn all over. In addition to hell notes that are burnt, many people also scatter coins to beef up their monetary offerings. They aren’t meant for you! If you insist on picking them up, the intended parties these monies were supposed to go to might be very offended and cause some supernatural happenings in your life.
6) Do not wear red clothing this month.
This auspicious colour may be de rigueur during Chinese weddings and Chinese New Year, but it’s advisable to avoid red during the seventh lunar month. After all, you don’t want to attract the attention of netherworld inhabitants and have them following you around all day and night, possibly wreaking havoc in your daily life.
7) Do not sit in the front row of getai performances.
Flamboyant and boisterous getai performances are performed all around the island this month, and while it might be tempting you definitely should not to sit in the empty front row even if all the other seats are taken up. This is because the front row is reserved for spirits, and you don’t want to offend them by depriving them of the best seats in the house, yeah?
8) Do not turn your head when you hear someone call your name, especially at night.
Or if you feel a tap on your shoulder. There is a flame of life force that sits on humans’ shoulders, and apparently turning your entire body instead of just your head prevents the flame from extinguishing.
9) Do not stay out late at night, especially if you have a baby with you.
Traditionally, everyone is supposed to be home by sunset, but that’s not really practical – especially when you’re on holiday! – so try to avoid areas with little foot traffic, and stick to brightly lit areas with crowds.
10) Do not linger under trees at night.
The shade that trees provide is so valuable during the scorching day, but are to be avoided at night. This is because the very coolness that is so refreshing during the day is similarly attractive to wandering spirits at night – who may very well decide to latch on to you while you’re standing around.
So there you have it. Follow these superstitions to better protect yourself during the Hungry Ghost Festival, or go against them at your own peril!