During the seventh lunar month (which begins August 10th, this year) it’s believed that the gates of heaven and hell are opened up and spirits are free to roam the earth where they seek food and entertainment. These ghosts are believed to be ancestors of those who have forgotten to pay tribute to them after they had died or who suffered deaths and were never given a proper ritual for a send-off are trapped between the realms and simply unable to move on. Spirits from the Heaven Realm come to visit their descendants, as well. Hungry ghosts are so desperate to be fed that if left unappeased can bring misfortune to those whose chi energy levels are depleted or whose luck is low.
People burn joss paper effigies of worldly goods such as houses, cars, cell phones, money and televisions to provide their comfort in the afterlife and please the ghosts.
There will be night-time performances of Chinese Opera and dramas are performed at night at very high volumes to please the ghosts and the front rows of seats are always left empty for them to sit!
All through the month, Buddhist and Taoists hold ceremonies to relieve ghosts from their suffering often throwing rice in the air in all directions to “feed the hungry ghosts”.
Traditionally, the Chinese believe that this is a time when travelling, moving house, starting a new business, signing contracts, buying real estate, getting married, swimming, taking evening strolls or giving birth (if at all possible!) are avoided.
Please see my accompanying blog post to see Feng Shui ways to protect yourself this month.
Here are some ways to honor the Hungry Ghosts:
1. On the first day of the month (August 10th), ancestors are honored with offerings of food, incense, and ghost money - paper money which is burned so the spirits can use it. These offerings are done at makeshift altars set up OUTSIDE the homes and businesses.
2. Every night of this lunar month, burn sweet-smelling incense every night in front of the door to your home or you can circumambulate with it clockwise around each room as well as the entire home with your favorite prayer or mantra.
You can use this Sanskrit one to Avalokiteshavara if you’d like: “Namah sarva tathagatha avalokite om sambhara sambhara hung.”
After you’ve completed your incense ritual, dedicate the offering to the spirit protectors and landlords of your land as well as to ancestral ghosts and wandering spirits and ask for their protection.
3. On the fifteenth day of the month (August 24th) it’s Full Moon and the time to give the ghosts a sumptuous feast to please them and bring good luck to your own family. Taoists and Buddhists perform ceremonies on this day to ease the sufferings of the deceased.
4. On September 7th, two weeks after the Festival, put paper lotus candle lanterns outside your home as well as float them on the river to help the ghosts find their way back home.