Taiwan

Beware! The Dos and Don’ts of The Hungry Ghost Festival in Taiwan

It’s the hungry ghost festival again, that time of the year when the doors to the underworld is open, and the spirits of the deceased roam the world of the living. At least this is what Taiwanese folklore says. The door remains open for one month (July in Lunar Calendar), hence the name “ghost month”, so for an entire month people avoid the taboos, and hope they don’t get caught by the roaming phantoms.

The festival lying right in the middle of the ghost month is the Hungry Ghost Festival. During that day, you can see people laying out vegetables in front of their houses to treat the homeless spirits, preventing them from getting angry. Who doesn’t get irritated by empty stomach? At least we do. Believe in the legends or not, it’s good to know some taboos of ghost month and Hungry Ghost Festival. If you are unaware, you might accidentally violate them, and enrage that grandpa on the MRT before you even enrage hungry ghosts. Even the governments work accordingly to these taboos, so now you know the extent of it. There are too many Hungry Ghost Festival taboos on the Internet it’s overwhelming, so here we list some of the most widely believed dos and don’ts growing up Taiwanese.

• Do not turn your head if someone pats on your shoulder:

According to legend, three protecting flames exist to protect one’s soul, two on the shoulders and one on the head. If a ghost pats your shoulder from behind, you might snuff off your protective flame by turning your head, making you vulnerable to evil spirits. To avoid this, turn your whole torso at once.

• Do not pat on people’s shoulders:

Because, again, you might snuff off their protective flames.

• Do not lean on the wall:

Apparently walls are cooler, so spirits like to stick on them. Lean on a wall and spirits might stick on you instead.

• Do not leave your clothes drying outdoors at night:

One saying is that since clothes resemble human silhouette, they can be easily possessed by ghosts. Another saying is that the wondering spirits have stayed in the cold dark realm for so long that, once they see clothing, they’ll eagerly put them on to keep warm. Neither is good omen.

• Don’t sit in the front row of Gezaixi shows:

This is probably one of the biggest pitfalls for rookie foreigners during ghost month. Gezaixi are chinese music concerts, and during ghost month, it is said the front row is reserved for spirits. You can imagine just like most of us, seeing someone in out seats won’t be too enjoyable.

• Refrain from going to beaches and riverside, especially at night:

This one is an infamous taboo also. Parents always tell us the spirits that passed away accidentally while swimming will be eager to look for a “replacement” while the door is still open. Personally, spirit or no spirit, I think it’s just wise not to go swimming in rivers after nightfall.

• Don’t open umbrellas in your house:

Umbrellas have long been used by professionals to catch evil spirits because how folklore says they tend to seek shelter in the cool shades. By opening umbrellas in your house you might release the spirits you accidentally caught outdoors into your home.

• Don’t whistle:

Whistling after dark is thought to be a way of attracting ghosts.

• Don’t take pictures or selfies at night:

This is voted the most widely believed taboo during ghost month. After all, isn’t this how almost every ghost movies begin? Seeing someone that shouldn’t be there in a photo?

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