The 7th lunar month (beginning on the New Moon) in Asia is known as “Hungry Ghost Month”. During this time it is believed that the gates of Hell are open and spirits and ghosts roam the human world for the duration of the month.
There are a number of different traditional practices during this time as well as some superstitions surrounding different actions.
(image on the left is by artist Jim Benton)
This year Hungry Ghost month runs from August 19th through September 16th. The gates are believed to be open from the 1st through 30th day of the month with offerings made on the first, second, fifteenth, and last day of the month. It is common on the first day to offer a meal usually with fruits and deserts to show respect and as an exchange for the ghosts not bringing you any trouble, along with the burning of incense, paper money, and candles. During non-COVID years there are usually lots of cultural activities like community Chinese Opera performances known as getai’ performances.
In addition to all the activities normally carried out there are a number of things to be avoided.
- Don’t stab your chopsticks into a bowl of rice (the ghosts will think it is an offering and may try to possess the person eating the rice).
- Don’t open your umbrella inside the house (if you used the umbrella at night shots might have taken shelter and if you open it at home the spirits will enter your home).
- Don’t leave your front door open at night (this invites negative energy in)
- Don’t kill rare insects in your home (moths, grasshoppers and butterflies might be your ancestors paying a visit)
- Don’t pee on trees (it offends the spirits in the area)
- Don’t swim at night (ghosts of drowning victims might try to pull you down)
- Leave the front row open at cultural events (it is reserved for the spirits)
- Don’t kick the offerings left for the ghosts
- Don’t play games that involve summoning spirits they are more powerful during 7th month
- If someone calls your name from behind at night don’t turn around.
- Do not gossip about ghosts they may try to put you in your place
- Don’t get married or move house during 7th month (the spirits might try to join in when they aren’t welcome.
What are these offerings? The main type of offering is “joss paper” which is paper money as offerings. There is a belief that in order to send gifts to ancestors they must be burned so along with paper, things like paper houses, cars, watches etc. are burned as well.
This massive amount of burning paper also results in a lowering of air quality during this time.
This year of course the usual cultural festivals like traditional Chinese opera are not happening. As another sign of the times a shop in Hong Kong was seen to be selling joss paper masks to send to those in the afterlife. (source)