It was a bizzare and unnerving experience. But in the aftermath of the traumatic experience, Susan recalled that she had forgotten to offer her annual Hungry Ghost Month prayers and contributions at a temple.
“I wanted to give a donation to the temple for mass prayers to appease the wandering souls. But I was bogged down by work and could not find the time,” she recalls. She was reminded she had been lax on the last day of the Hungry Ghost Month festival.
“I was driving uphill when my car suddenly went out of control. It spun twice before coming to a stop. Fortunately, there were no cars nearby,” recounts Susan who quickly went to the temple after the incident.
“I made donations to offer prayers to appease departed relatives, hungry ghosts or even departed animals,” she says. The ritual gave her peace of mind.
Susan also observed other practices such as serving an extra cup of tea during her mealtimes in the seventh lunar month.
The Chinese believe that spirits from the underworld are released to roam the earth for a month on the seventh lunar month. This year, Hungry Ghost Month started on Aug 3 and will end on Aug 31.
You’d know that the festivities have started when you see the Chinese offering their prayers by the roadside at night. In housing areas with Chinese communities, makeshift tents would be set up to pray to the God of Hades for protection from these restless spirits. There will be Chinese operas and concerts staged to entertain these wandering ghosts.
A feng shui master who wished to be known as Chong, 39, from Ipoh, Perak, says it is best not to stay out too late at night during this period to avoid running into ghosts.He says one needs to be cautious this month.
“Don’t use harsh words to challenge these wandering spirits and offend them. If you happen to pass by a makeshift tent where the God of Hades is, just pay your respects,” he says.
When you are making offerings, Chong advised parents to make sure their children are not accidentally placed on the altar. They must also make sure their children do not climb and sit on the altar, not even for a second!
“For whatever offerings are placed on the altar would be deemed as offerings to the God of Hades. Don’t kick joss sticks, candles or roadside offerings. You may incur the wrath of angry ghosts who may follow you home.”
He also said believers should continue to offer prayers at roadsides once they’d started. “The wandering spirits will return to their usual spot to receive the offerings. That’s why people are encouraged to continue their worship practice.
“If they stop the ritual, the spirits would roam elsewhere to look for food.”
Chong says it is best not to wear dark colours such as black and grey as they will attract ghosts. Wear bright colours like red, orange, green or yellow.
He explains that a popular belief is that the living has three spiritual lights – two on the shoulders and one on the head.
“Don’t tap people on their shoulders or head or you’ll extinguish the these lights. Without the lights, one is susceptible to seeing ghosts,” he says.
Dos and don’ts during Hungry Ghost Month
Mingguan Feng Shui has a special edition on ghosts and rites this month. Here are some excerpts from the publication:
1. When making offerings of drinks and biscuits, open the package and separate them so that a greedy ghost would not make off with the whole carton of drinks or tin of biscuits. Then, the other ghosts would have nothing.
2. Do not offer these fruits – bananas, pear and pineapples – in this order together. It is an invitation to the ghosts to come over and the ghosts will become strong and more powerful.
3. When praying, don’t talk about ghosts.
4. Avoid cracking jokes about burning paper money. Don’t let children get too near the fire when burning hell notes to avoid attracting bad qi (energy).
5. People who feel unwell or sick can still worship these wandering spirits. Women who are menstruating can pray but should refrain from holding joss sticks.
6. Don’t burn firecrackers. You will frighten the good brethen (polite way of addressing hungry ghosts) away.
Who knows, they may be terrified that they cannot remember their way back home.
7. When making offerings to appease the wandering spirits, wear decent clothes. Women should not be in skimpy clothing but can wear skirts or long pants.
8. Avoid wearing black or grey clothes as they court illnesses or disaster.
9. Don’t kill any large insects because they may be manifestations of your departed ancestors coming for a visit. Killing them is showing them disrespect.