As August comes to an end I wanted to highlight what this month really means to the majority of the people living in Taiwan.
The Hungry Ghost Festival in Taiwan, also known as Zhong Yuan Jie ( 盂蘭節), is a traditional Buddhist and Taoist festival. In the Chinese calendar, (which is lunisolar) the Ghost Festival is on the 15th night of the seventh month but according to the Gregorian calendar, which is used in Taiwan, it occurs on the 15th night of the eighth month.
During this month it is believed by many that ghosts and spirits, even those of deceased ancestors, visit the living. It is said there are two kinds of spirit that visit: the good, called shén (神) and the bad, called guĭ (鬼).
Bad spirits are described as those who died an untimely death. To appease their suffering, feasts are prepared in their honour so that no harm may come towards family members still living. Large meals, often of the vegetarian variety, are placed on long tables that are made up as if someone is actually about to eat from them! Water and towels can also be left for dead spirits, so that they may cleanse themselves.
Other rituals can include burning incense, joss paper, and releasing miniature paper boats and lanterns on water, which signifies giving directions to the ghosts, spirits, or ancestors who may be lost in the spirit world.
On the last day of the month it is said that the ghost gate to the world of the living closes. To conclude Ghost Month or Zhong Yuan Jie, there is an event called grappling with the ghosts, held each year in the city of Toucheng, in the province of Yilan.
Picture a real life version of Disney’s Mulan, recall the scene where she climbs up the tree trunk, except now its a greased up tree trunk with not just one person but a group of Taiwanese men trying to get to the top using only a cloth and each other to boost them up.
After they reach the top they must swing themselves over an elevated platform, and then scramble up bamboo lattices to be the first to cut down a flag. The team who wins receives cash prizes and admiration! Often winners sell the flags to fishing boat captains who believe that the flags will protect their boats and employees through another year.
Crowds of people gather to watch the different teams, where it seems both food and music is enjoyed. Here’s footage from last years event: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7GunohPGgqk
In case you want to visit Taiwan during this month, here’s an interesting list of just some activities that you should and/ or shouldn’t do:
1.DON’T go swimming : arguably the most popularly followed rule, it is believed evil spirits who may have drowned will try to gain a chance at rebirth.
On the plus side, if you’re a nonbeliever you’ll have the beach to yourself.
2. DON’T just turn your head around if someone pats you on the shoulder
It is believed that the living have two protective flames, one on each shoulder. If a ghost pats you on the back and you only turn your head, you’ll snuff out a protective flame, thus making you vulnerable. To avoid this, turn the whole body at once instead of just the head.
3. DO consider being a vegetarian for the month
Those of the Buddhist faith abide by this to help absolve the sufferings of the deceased.
Luckily, Taiwan has an abundance of yummy vegetarian restaurants to choose from.
4. DO burn hell notes
Burning joss (blank) paper on the sidewalk or in front of ones house is an offering to ones ancestors and on the 15th is considered a gesture of good will towards lonely spirits.
And probably my favourite,
5. DON’T pee on a tree!
Apparently, it is believed that urinating on a tree could anger tree spirits who will seek vengeance upon you!
Personal belief here but you should probably always follow this one? Just saying…
Want to learn more? Continue your quest for knowledge here:
Ghost Festival( Hungry Ghost Festival )
Top 10 taboos to avoid during Ghost Month in Taiwan
Chinese Vocabulary for Ghost Month
Grappling With the Ghosts