TAIPEI (Taiwan News) — Wednesday (Sept. 2) is the Ghost Festival (鬼節 or 中元節) in Taiwan, a time when many Taiwanese send offerings and pray to their ancestors, gods, and ghosts.
The Ghost Festival falls halfway through Ghost Month (鬼月) on the 15th day of the 7th month of the lunisolar calendar, which this year was Sept. 2. Devout Taoists and Buddhists believe that during this time of year, the gates of hell are opened for a full month so that hungry ghosts can 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, fish, snacks, incense, and joss paper. Gold joss paper is burned for the gods, while silver joss paper is burned for spirits.
The terms "Good Brothers" (好兄弟) and "Good Sisters" (好姐妹), as opposed to "ghosts," are considered preferable when referring to lost souls to avoid offending them. These apparitions are not worshiped in the same way as ancestors and vary from pitiful to dangerous.
As the Ghost Festival is considered an important day to provide offerings to Good Brothers, the first five of the following ten taboos relate to the dos and don'ts of worship on this day, while the latter five are key tips for avoiding a spooky snafu at the height of Ghost Month:
10. Don't pray at noon
Yang energy, which is considered unfavorable to Good Brothers, is too strong during the morning hours. It is best to pray between 2 p.m. and dusk.
9. Worship outside
Offerings should be placed outside to avoid having spirits come indoors. Those who live or work in an apartment building should place offerings outside the ground floor entrance.
8. Offer incense sticks
Every offering meant for Good Brothers requires a stick of incense to guide them to it.
7. Open packages of offerings
Do not leave a large package offering still wrapped in plastic. Otherwise, one Good Brother will take the whole thing, leading to a fight with other Good Brothers, which would definitely be a bad omen.
6. Don't steal offerings
Good Brothers have been waiting for a whole year for a feast, so it is inadvisable to steal their food. Just as it is rude to snatch food off the plate of a living person, so it is in the afterlife.
5. Don't set off fireworks
Do not set off fireworks on this day. Fireworks would scare the spirits away and may make it difficult for them to find their way back home.
4. Don't take the last bus or train
It is believed that the early morning hours after midnight are the strongest in yin energy. Therefore it is advisable to avoid taking the last bus or train of the night to avoid being taken away by a phantom driver.
3. If patted on the shoulder, don't turn your head to look
The living are believed to have a protective invisible flame that emanates from either shoulder. Thus, when one suddenly turns their head to look back, that flame is snuffed out. Apparently, ghouls with guile pat their victims on the back in hopes they will suddenly turn their head, making them vulnerable to attack.
The solution is to turn the whole body at once instead of just the head. Ideally, one should avoid patting a person on the shoulder throughout Ghost Month.
2. Don't whistle, particularly in the dark
Taiwanese have fear of whistling in general because they believe it attracts evil spirits that will follow them around and bring misfortune. It is believed that this effect is magnified during Ghost Month, particularly at night.
1. Don't go swimming
It is considered highly dangerous to go swimming, particularly in large bodies of water, because it is believed that evil spirits of people that drowned may try to drown swimmers to gain a chance at rebirth. The upside for non-believers is that the beaches are pretty much empty throughout Ghost Month.