Top 10 things to do during Ghost Month

10 things one should do for good karma during Ghost Month in Taiwan

Zhonggui Conquers Five Spirits of Misfortune. (Image by flickr user 鎮邦)

TAIPEI (Taiwan News) -- Today marks the first day of Ghost Month (鬼月) and because Taiwan news listed 25 things not to do during Ghost Month, it is now time to consider the to do list during this spiritual time of year in Taiwan.  

Ghost Month is traditionally observed during 7th month of the lunar calendar, which this year (2017) runs from Aug. 22 to Sept. 19. It is believed by devout Taoists and Buddhists that during this time of year the gates of hell are opened for a full month for hungry ghosts to roam the world of the living in search of food, money, entertainment, and possibly souls.

1. Pray at a temple

On the first day of Ghost Month, burn incense at a local temple and pray for protection from the temple deity during this period. 

2. Burn joss paper

On the first day of Ghost Month, burn joss paper on the sidewalk in front of your house or business as an offering to your ancestors. On the 15th day of the month, known as Hungry Ghost Festival (中元節), you can burn joss paper for lonely, wandering spirits in a gesture of good will.

3. Set a table

Set a table on the sidewalk in front of your home or business and place chicken, fish, vegetables, fruits, rice wine, bags of salt, beer, and sugar. It is acceptable and expected that the people who placed the offerings can later eat them for dinner.  

4. Go vegetarian

Buddhists practice vegetarianism during this period in order to transmute and absolve the sufferings of the deceased. This is a good opportunity to partake in Taiwan's plethora of tasty vegetarian restaurants all over the country. Many at least abstain from meat on the first and 15th day of this month, and others also continue this practice of avoiding meat on those two days of the month throughout the year. 

5. Wear an amulet

Wear an amulet depicting Chung Kwei (鍾馗), the Taoist deity who specializes in subduing and slaying demons and evil entities, his name will come up again later. Other protector deities that can be worn include Guan Yu.

6. Donate to charity

To build up more positive karma during this Buddhist festival, donate to charitable organizations and do good deeds.

7. Launch water lanterns 

On the 14th day of the month, water lanterns are launched into the sea. The biggest water lantern launching festival in Taiwan is in Keelung, where lanterns of a variety of shapes such as ships, houses, and temples are paraded around Keelung on floats. Each float represents a family clan and this custom during the late Qing Dynasty in 1853 became a way for rival clans to compete rather than resort to warfare.

The lanterns are released into the sea after the parade. The lights are thought to guide water ghosts to land, and the further a boat floats out to sea, the luckier and more prosperous a family will be in the coming year. The water lantern festival is also held in both Luzhou and Sanxia in New Taipei City. 

8. Feast on Hungry Ghost Festival

The 15th day of the month is known as the Hungry Ghost Festival, and on this day everyone pulls out the stops and sets tables of offering covered with chicken, pork, rice dumplings, steamed buns, fruits, crackers, cakes, and candies. Like with the table offering mentioned earlier, it is acceptable and expected that people will eat this feast for dinner.

This sort of feast is held by families, businesses, and temples throughout Taiwan, and in addition to the festival in Keelung, the Huwei Great Worship Festival (虎尾中元祭) in Yunlin County is well-known in Taiwan.

9. Grapple with ghosts 

On the last day (30th) of the month, just as the gates of hell have been closed, to scare away lingering spirits, the "Grappling Ghosts" festival (搶孤) is held in Toucheng Township, in Yilan County as well as Hengchun Township in Pingtung County. The tradition, which dates back to the last Qing Dynasty, consists of teams of men attempting to scale massive 30-meter-tall pillars coated in grease.

The first team to reach the top and capture the flag wins. Sacrificial offerings on the tower's bamboo trestles are then tossed to the crowd in celebration. 

10. Jump with Chung Kwei

On the first day of the 8th month of the lunar calendar, to make sure there are no stray ghosts still lingering around after the gates of hell were shut, the "Jumping Chung Kwei" (跳鍾馗送孤) ritual is performed to drive them back to the underworld and prevent them from missing the living world. The best-known locations where this ritual is performed are in Toucheng of Yilan and Keelung after other ceremonies to treat and respect the ghosts, often after 11 p.m.