The Hungry Ghost festival is held during the seventh month of the Chinese calendar, on the first night of the full Corn Moon.
This is when the gates of Hell open and Hungry Ghosts are freed from the lower realms to roam the earth, where they seek food and amusement.
These Ghosts are believed to be ancestors of those who forgot to pay tribute to them after they died, or those who were never given a proper send-off.
They have round, ever-hungry bellies and such long thin necks that they cannot swallow food. It is the custom at this time of year to hold community parties with entertainment for them, give food and drink offerings and float paper lanterns lit with candles into the air or running water to symbolically guide the lost souls of the forgotten dead back into the afterlife.
Burning Hell bank notes and desirable items made of joss paper pleases the Ghosts, as these can be used as currency in the afterlife. You should pay tribute to both your own long gone family and unknown wandering Ghosts, as these strangers can otherwise intrude on your life and cause bad luck.
The Ghosts enjoy music performed by the living, so you should introduce a karaoke machine or get a friend’s band to play at your Hungry Ghost festival, always remembering to leave empty spectator seats reserved for the Ghosts.
This “Merry-Making” should be performed late into the night and at high volume, as this is believed to attract the maximum amount of supernatural visitants. Singers should throw rice and small food into the air in all directions to distribute them to the Ghosts.
A table of vegetarian food and drink should be set aside and left untouched by human hand, intended for Ghostly consumption only, and decorating with balloons and paper lanterns is very pleasing to the spectral eye.
I’m making two cocktails for this year’s festival – the China Blue and the Jade Dragon, so I’ll be doing a lot of mixing with the spirits. Read on to discover the Top 10 Taboos for Hungry Ghost month.
1 1/2 shots lychee liqueur
4 shots grapefruit juice
1 shot blue Curaçao
Combine ingredients by stirring gently with ice before straining into a short glass.
The colour blue symbolizes healing calm, and this is a light, fruity drink (lychee liqueur is not powerful). You should avoid becoming too drunk during this month, especially after dark.
1 shot Midori
1 shot vodka
1 shot lemon juice
Jade stone symbolizes the virtues of sincerity, loyalty, justice, wisdom and purity. This is an alternative to the Japanese Slipper, which uses Curaçao instead of vodka.
Both these drinks promote good qualities and calm minds, which are valuable during this vulnerable time.
Taboos for the Ghost Month
For one month from the full moon which falls on Wednesday 6th September you should avoid:
According to the theory of reincarnation, every time somebody dies, that gives an opening for a Ghost to rebirth. Evil spirits may grow impatient and congregate by swimming pools looking for a chance to drown you so they can come back.
If you take self-portraits during this month, look out for Ghosts appearing in the image. If you are distracted by focusing on your own face, it gives them the chance to creep in unseen and start haunting you.
3) New things
New houses, new businesses, new relationships. Avoid all things new as this month is not lucky for new beginnings. Focus instead on what you have.
4) Hanging clothes outside to dry
Roaming Ghosts may try to inhabit your clothing, in memory of when they needed it to stay warm. Once they are in, it may be hard to get rid of them, and you’ll be stuck with haunted underwear, or whatever the item is. A lot of the clothing sold on eBay is haunted, sold by increasingly desperate owners.
5) Found money
Placing coins on the street for the unwary to pick up is a popular trick of Ghosts to get close to you. Avoid these traps.
6) Lingering after dark
After nightfall is when these hungry spirits roam the earth in full force looking for some unsuspecting soul to possess. This is why as humans, we often have an instinctive fear of the dark.
7) Kicking or trampling on offerings
Look out for any Hungry Ghost festival offerings on the streets and be very careful to avoid damaging them or interfering with them. They belong to the Ghosts.
8) Wearing red
Ghosts are attracted to the colour red, as it symbolizes blood, the stuff of life.
9) Sitting in empty front row seats
These seats may only appear empty. In this month they are reserved for the Ghosts.
10) Turning your head when someone pats you on the shoulder
To Ghostly eyes, the living wear protective flames on their shoulders. If somebody whether dead or alive, taps you on the shoulder, turn your whole body instead of your head, as turning your head over the shoulder will snuff out the protective flame, rendering you vulnerable.
So feed the Ghosts, remember these rules, and stay safe!