TAIPEI (Taiwan News) — The gates of hell opened on Wednesday (Aug. 19), marking the start of Taiwan's Ghost Month (鬼月), and folk custom expert Yang Teng-kei (楊登嵙) has listed 12 taboos observed by many Taiwanese during this period.
Taiwan's Ghost Month, observed in the 7th month of the lunar calendar, which this year runs from Aug. 19 to Sept. 16, is when Taoists and Buddhists believe that the gates of hell are opened for "hungry ghosts" to roam the world of the living in search of food, money, entertainment, and possibly souls. A "hungry ghost" is a being that has been sent to the underworld to suffer an eternal state of hunger for their misdeeds or for not having a proper burial.
The terms "Good Brothers" (好兄弟) and "Good Sisters" (好姐妹) 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.
The following are 12 taboos listed by Yang to avoid a macabre misstep during Ghost Month in Taiwan:
12. Don't start construction projects
Starting construction in the 7th lunar month is easy to disturb the Good Brothers. It is best to wait until the 8th lunar month to break ground on a construction project. If the project had already gotten underway before the 7th month, the construction can continue during Ghost Month.
11. Don't move into a new home
A few small household items or small appliances can be moved into the new house, but large items, furniture, and appliances, or even deities and ancestral niches are not suitable. Entering the house in the 7th lunar month provides Good Brothers with the opportunity to enter the abode.
10. Don't buy a house
Housing sales drop significantly during Ghost Month in Taiwan. The upshot is that it is more of a buyer's market during this period. Nevertheless, it is best to make the deposit and sign the paperwork when the month is almost over.
For the actual transfer of ownership, renovations, or moving into the home, it is best to wait until the 8th month of the lunar calendar.
9. Don't hang lanterns
On Ghost Festival (普度) day, the 15th day of Ghost Month, lanterns are lit on temples to guide lost souls to come and gather, rest, and enjoy the rich offerings left by people. If one hangs lanterns on the doorway or balcony of their house in the 7th month of the lunar calendar, Good Brothers think that they are calling for them, especially white lanterns.
8. Don't hang windchimes
During the 7th month of the lunar year, if a wind chime is hung above a doorway, balcony, or window, and the sound of shaking is heard, the Good Brothers think that it is a signal for them to enter, especially copper bells.
7. Avoid darkness
In order to save electricity, whether its day or night, some people leave only a bare minimum of lights switched on. If a home has very few windows, the house will be even darker, creating a very hospitable environment for Good Brothers. It also gives the appearance there is no one at home, thus attracting the attention of thieves.
6. Avoid dampness
According to folk beliefs, Good Brothers like dark, damp places. During the day, try to let sunlight into the home in order to absorb the yang energy (陽氣) and drive away the yin energy (陰氣).
As for the evening, Feng shui expert Hsieh Yuan-chin (謝沅瑾) suggests installing three-inch high-intensity halogen bulbs to lower dampness and brighten up the home.
5. Don't use exclusively dark colors for interior decoration
Black, gray and other dark color schemes easily gather yin energy, which will have a negative effect on one's fortune and mood. If the home's interior is dominated by dark colors, this can be counteracted with bright furniture and decoration. Choose red, orange, yellow, and other warm colors, and open the home to more natural sunlight to enhance positive energy and neutralize the negative magnetic field.
4. Conceal arches and arch windows
The shape of the arch resembles a tombstone, which will attract yin energy. Thus it is advisable to cover up the arches with decoration.
3. Keep trees pruned and free of pee
If there are too many overgrown trees in the courtyard or balcony of a home and the leaves are dense enough to block out the sun, Good Brothers will find the shady areas to be a comfortable place to rest. It is best to prune the trees in advance before the 7th lunar month, but if Ghost Month has already arrived, a quick fix is to wrap a red cloth around the trunks of the trees to convert yin energy to yang energy.
In addition, do not pee on trees because this is thought to anger tree spirits, which will seek vengeance upon the person who does the peeing.
2. Don't place shoes facing the bed
When sleeping at night, the toes of one's shoes should never face the bed, instead turn them to face away from the bed. The direction of the shoes indicates to spirits where a person is located.
If the shoes are pointed toward the bed, Good Brothers could hop in too. This could lead to a situation of being pinned to the bed by a ghost (鬼壓床).
1. Don't keep too many dolls in the house
It is not a good idea to keep too many dolls, figurines, or statues of deities in one's home because it could lead to an invasion of Good Brothers. To prevent this, cut red paper into circles about the size of an NT$10 coin and stick them on the base or feet of the dolls to keep the Good Brothers at bay.