“It’s late at night and she’s sound asleep. She begins to dream about someone controlling her movements and awakens suddenly. When she opens her eyes, she sees the figure of an old man standing near her bed, quietly watching her. Unable to move her body, she’s terrified. Her thoughts race but she’s powerless. Finally, her mind goes to an incantation and the creepy old ghost-like figure disappears. She can move.” (-Wayne Chen / a Taiwan Ghost Month tale)
It’s here once again, Taiwan Ghost Month when the gates of hell open up and flocks of ghosts are released for their annual summer holiday. Many of these ghosts are angry, all are very hungry, and they’re sick and tired of living in hell.
Travelers to Taiwan this month may wonder – why the hell are ghosts released from hell and what’s the best way to deal with it?
First, a little ghost history…
The Du Cheng Huang Temple (“City God Temple”) in downtown Hsinchu is the oldest temple in the area, built in 1748, and also the highest ranking Cheng Huang Temple in Taiwan. The gatekeeper at this temple is responsible for the opening of the hell gates during the seventh month of the lunar calendar, releasing the ghosts and kicking off the official start of Ghost Month. This year (2017), Ghost Month begins on August 22nd and ends on September 19th.
(Check here for a video commemorating of the end of Ghost Month!)
The “stars” of Taiwan Ghost Month. Meet the ghosts…
Angry ghosts are spirits who have been living in limbo somewhere between the human world and the hell of the spirit world. They typically died a tragic death, something like a car accident, drowning or murder, and now are looking for a new physical body to inhabit.
Hungry ghosts are the souls that have been sent to hell to suffer an eternal state of hunger for bad behavior during their lifetime – kind of a “ghost karma”. During Ghost Month, they are set free from hell and have the chance to enjoy their favorite foods and maybe, with the help of family members, gain some good karma for reincarnation into a better life.
All of these ghosts are just happy to be out of hell for a while, feasting on treats, catching a movie, and visiting relatives.
How do we deal with a whole month of ghosts in our presence?
Taiwan Ghost Month Do’s and Don’ts
Do burn paper money – giving the ghosts money to spend in their world
Do hang red lanterns outside your home or business – red protects against invasion
Do leave food outside to feed the hungry ghosts – a satisfied ghost is a happy ghost
Do use incense to worship at the temples – incense sticks will protect from attack
Don’t lean against the wall – ghosts tend to linger there.
Don’t whistle at night – ghosts may think you’re calling them.
Don’t look in the mirror late at night – you may see the reflection of a ghost.
Don’t go swimming – ghosts who drowned will be lurking there. (Empty beaches!)
Don’t move into a new house or buy a new car – ghosts may move in with you.
Don’t turn around if you feel something tap you on the shoulder – it may be a ghost
Don’t go out too late at night – that’s when they’re most active.
My students take ghosts pretty seriously and many have “a friend” who’s had a close encounter with ghosts, so I asked them to share any ghost stories or survival tips for Ghost Month.
Here’s what I learned from these ghost experts regarding Ghost Month:
Jerry – Windbond: “We often go for evening walks around the block to get out of the office and talk about business. During Ghost Month, our walks are cut short and we don’t go outside very late at night.”
Jerry also is delaying a move into his new home until after Ghost Month, not wanting to take the chance on ghosts moving in with him.
Wayne (former student) shared a close encounter story from one of his close friends: (unedited version in an effort to sound more authentically “Taiwanese”…)
“She sleeps at night. She had a dream about someone controlling her movement. When she opened her eyes, she saw an old man standing near her bed and watching her. She was horrified but can’t move her body. She can think but can’t to do anything. Finally, she thought some incantation then the old man disappeared and she can move.”
Wayne’s friend Liam added:
“Haha, my friend also had such experience. The girl lie on his body. And eye to eye. The girl only had a half body, and seemed transparent. Short hair, seems young. My friend says the girl probably comes from the hospital. Because when he left work at midnight, he passed through the hospital. Finally, my friend roared at the girl, “DO NOT BOTHER ME!” “
Sunny – Logitech: “I do believe there are ghosts in the world. In ghost month, I usually go home earlier than usual and I feel a little uneasy when I hear dogs barking at night. Also, this year I bought myself some mugwort soap. Chinese people believe that mugwort can protect us from getting diseases during summer and you often find mugwort hanging on doors during Dragon Boat Festival.”
How Jay – Microchip wears a special jade talisman, purchased at City God Temple, for extra protection from the ghosts. He also has smaller amulets from various other temples, to cover all of his spiritual protection he needs.
Possibly the most important “Ghost Month Rule”- Don’t talk about ghosts. It annoys them. Writing blog posts about ghosts is also probably forbidden but I doubt Taiwanese ghosts read English blogs. I should be safe…I hope.
For a look at the end-of-Ghost-Month celebration, check out this video of our day at a Hakka Temple.