How to pray on Hungry Ghost Day

A guide to worshiping on Hungry Ghost Day in Taiwan

(Image by flickr user Max Chang)

(Image by flickr user Max Chang)

TAIPEI (Taiwan News) -- Today is Hungry Ghost Day (中元節), the 15th day of the 7th month of the lunar calendar which marks the peak of Ghost Month (鬼月), a time when many Taiwanese provide offerings and prayers to their ancestors, gods, and ghosts.

Ghost Month is traditionally observed during the 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.

Offerings typically given on this day include rice wine, fruits, chicken, pork, and fish, snacks, incense, and joss paper. Gold joss paper is burned for the gods, while silver joss paper is burned for ghosts.

Blogger Ryan Wang has come up with a list of which gods to pray to, when and how on Hungry Ghost Day:

1. Three Officials of Heaven Earth and Sea 地官大帝(三界公)

Best time to pray:
Today is the official birthday of the Three Officials and worshipers usually pray between 11 p.m. on the 14th day of the 7th lunar month and 1 a.m. on the 15th day of the 7th month. Alternatively, worshipers can pray on the 15th from 9 a.m. to 11 a.m.

How and what to pray for:
The main focus of worship on this day is to ask the Three Officials to forgiveness for small mistakes made over the course of the year, thereby allowing the future to be more fortuitous.

Women preparing to burn joss paper.

2. The ancestors (祖先)

Best time to pray:
The first and 15th day of the 7th lunar month.

How and what to pray for:
Before lunchtime, place copious amounts of food for the ancestors to feast on. For lunch, allow children and grandchildren to eat the food.

Woman tossing rice wine for spirits to drink.

3. Home Spirit Deity (地基主)

This is a deity that stays in your home to protect the living occupants of the house. They may have either been wandering spirits appointed by the City God or Earth God to guard the home, or they are the previous owner of the house.

Best time to pray:
The first and 15th day of the 7th lunar month. Prayers for this god usually start in the early evening, starting from about 5 p.m.

How and what to pray for:
Worshipers ask the Earth God to bless their home.

4. Por Tor Kong (普渡公(大士爺))
Before the Good Brothers can be worshiped, Por Tor Kong must be given offerings to thank him for making Ghost Month possible, he is the deity charges with leading the spirits from the underworld.

Best time to pray:
The 15th day of the 7th month is not only Hungry Ghost Festival, for which he is in charge of, it is also his birthday.

How and what to pray for:
Thank the Por Tor Kong for making it possible for the those from the spirit realm to visit the land of the living. Offer at least three incense per person as well as gold joss paper. The joss paper and offerings should be consistent with birthday gifts with symbols such as peaches and the word 壽 (longevity) imprinted on them.

5. The "Good Brothers" (lost souls, 好兄弟)
The terms "Good Brothers" and "Good Sisters" are considered the preferable terms to politely refer to lost souls, as opposed to "ghosts," to avoid offending them. These apparitions are not worshiped by anyone as ancestors and can vary from pitiful to dangerous.

Joss money with items "Good Brothers" could use such as clothing and grooming supplies.

Best time to pray:
In general, any day throughout Ghost Month can be used to pray to the Good Brothers. However there are three days that are considered the most important:

How and what to pray for:
I. The first day of Ghost Month, when the gates of hell open. This day is often referred to as the "start of the filial month" (孝月頭).

II. On the 15th day, after praying to and providing offering for the Three Officials and Por Tor Kong, it is important to also prepare abundant offerings for the Good Brothers, including lots of silver joss paper. Leave a bucket of water below the offering table to allow the Good Brothers to wash their hands and face before taking offerings.

III. On the last day of the 7th month, when the gates of held close again, what is also known as the "end of the Filial Month," (孝月底), prayers are usually offered to the Good Brothers as they are escorted back to the underworld. However, it is important that prayers are conducted in the afternoon and before dusk, between 2 p.m. and 5 p.m. It is taboo to worship them the night of the last day.

Note bucket at bottom for spirits to wash their hands and face.