Thursday, August 15, 2019

AUGUST is the month of HUNGRY GHOSTS

Posted by: Dani Harper, Author
Don’t whistle.
Don’t go near the water.
Don’t stay out late.
Don’t take selfies.
Don’t buy a house.
Don’t wear clothes with your name on them.
And definitely DON’T get married…

These are just a few of the precautions that may be taken during Ghost Month, which follows the Chinese lunar calendar and occurs from August 1 to August 29 in 2019. At this time of year, the gates of the lower realms of the afterlife are thrown open and the unhappy spirits of the dead are free to wander among the living. (And you thought October was the scariest month!) 

Hungry Ghosts wandering among the living.
According to traditional Buddhist and Taoist beliefs, Hungry Ghosts may be those who left no descendants behind to remember them or whose family failed to hold the proper rituals for them when they died. These troubled spirits may also be people who died by violent means, or they may be the malevolent ghosts of those condemned for their own acts of greed and cruelty. 

Hungry Ghosts are not depicted as they appeared in life, but are distorted, ugly and frightening, with long narrow necks and large empty bellies. This emphasizes that these spirits are perpetually subject to powerful desires that they can never satisfy on their own. 

A meal for Hungry Ghosts. "Tea eggs" are a
popular offering because they keep well. 

A link to a recipe for tea eggs is at the end of this post.
During the month of August, they wander the living world in search of food and drink, entertainment and other worldly pleasures, a little respect and reverence – and many also look to cause mischief and misfortune.

In Western culture, ghosts are usually associated with indoor hauntings. But in Eastern culture, the unquiet souls are generally roaming the streets. This is why so much effort is put into appeasement of them with offerings, in hopes of avoiding the curses and bad luck they might bring to one’s home. In fact, the ghosts are usually politely referred to as “Good Brothers” or “Good Sisters” in order to avoid offending them.

"Hell Money" and effigies of jewelry
and other luxuries being burned.
Throughout the month it’s common to see plates of food and small cups of tea or wine set out at the curb to feed these wandering spirits. Incense is burnt next to the meal, and paper money (called “hell money” or joss) is set alight as well. The currency may not be legal tender in the realm of the living, but it’s apparently quite useful in the otherworld, and the fire transfers it into the hands of the ghosts. 

The hell money is traditionally printed with very large denominations and folded into elaborate shapes (some are even printed to resemble US dollars). Paper effigies of luxury items like TVs, cars, houses, etc. may also be burnt to make the deceased more comfortable in their world. There are even paper cell phones!

Superstitions abound like the ones listed at the beginning of this post. The main premise is to avoid attracting the attention of a Hungry Ghost. Here are just a few of the many, many taboos:

  • Singing and whistling are frowned upon in case a ghost is tempted to answer you. 
  • Don’t wear your name on your clothing lest the ghost find out who you are, and don’t call a friend or family member by name. 
  • It’s considered dangerous to be outdoors at night, especially for children and the elderly, because some of the nastier spirits might attack them. Hungry Ghosts are at their strongest at night.
  • Most people avoid swimming during this month because a ghost might pull you under and drown you. In fact, don’t go near any body of water, even a stream – that means no fishing! 
  • Umbrellas should be left outdoors or not used at all. To bring one inside is to accidentally invite spirits into your house, especially if you open the umbrella to dry it out. Ghosts apparently like to hide inside them.
    Don't take the last bus ... and don't take your
    umbrella into the house during Ghost Month!
  • Don’t ever take the last scheduled bus of the night or a ghost may be tempted to join you on your journey home. 
  • Cameras are believed to be able to trap spirits, so no selfies this month unless you want a ghost to hang out with you indefinitely.
  • Red and black are thought to attract ghosts, so don’t wear these colors this month.
  • Don’t leave clothing hanging on the line overnight. Ghosts may be tempted to try them on and come back into the house with them when you gather the clothes the next day.
An opera in Hong Kong for the Ghost Festival.
Notice the empty seats left at the front for spirits!

Ghost Month is considered highly unlucky for weddings and also for the purchase of big ticket items. In Taiwan for instance, car sales typically plummet in August and property prices drop!

The 15th of the month is reserved for the annual Ghost Festival, which is celebrated not only in China and Taiwan, but in Japan, Indonesia, Korea, Singapore, Cambodia, Thailand and more. 

Both public and private feasts are laid out on tables along the streets or on altars in front of temples for invisible guests. Buddhist and Taoist rituals are performed to redress the spirits’ sins, hopefully freeing them from their current misery so they can move on to a better place in the afterlife. Outdoor performances of Chinese opera, plays and music are held on Festival Night, with the front rows of chairs always left empty for the ghosts. These events are often quite loud as spirits are believed to be attracted to noise!

Floating lotus lanterns to guide the hungry ghosts home.
During the mid-month festival and again at the end of the month, thousands of lotus-shaped lanterns are lit and placed into rivers and lakes. 

As the lanterns float away, it’s believed they guide the spirits back to the otherworld. When the flames go out, the ghosts are gone.

At least, until next year…



  1. Wow I didnt know about hungry ghost at all. Much creepier than Hallowene..... Im off to make some Tea eggs x x

    1. This was new to me too! I had a lot of fun researching it. Hope your tea eggs turn out!


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...