TAIPEI (Taiwan News) — The gates of hell will open this year on Friday (July 29), marking the start of Taiwan's Ghost Month (鬼月), and folk custom expert Yang Teng-kei (楊登嵙) has listed 13 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 July 29 to Aug. 26, 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.
According to Yang, these taboos are derived from ancient folk customs and although people in modern society may find some of them hard to believe, he argues that it is better to be safe than sorry to enjoy the summer with one's mind at ease. The following are 13 taboos listed by Yang to avoid a ghoulish gaffe during Ghost Month in Taiwan:
13. Don't celebrate birthdays at night
Although many people like to go out at night for their birthday, Yang advises that if that birthday falls during Ghost Month, it is best to celebrate it during the day. Otherwise, one may find many Good Brothers crashing the birthday party.
At the very least, do not celebrate the birthday at midnight. Midnight is believed to be the time when yin energy forces are the greatest, thus the moment the birthday candles are blown out could be when a ghost appears.
12. Don't let hair get disheveled
If a person lets their hair become scraggly and unkempt, ghosts may think they are seeing one of their own.
On the other hand, it is advised not to comb or brush one's hair at the stroke of midnight while looking in the mirror as some spectral spectators might show up in the background.
11. Don't hang clothes on the balcony
Good Brothers like to cling to dark, damp places or objects. After sunset, wet clothes left outside can easily attract them as they resemble the human form, and when the clothing is brought back indoors, it is likely to include some uninvited guests.
10. 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.
9. Do not lean against the wall
Ghosts are thought to stick on walls because they find them cooler during the summer heat, or that they are attracted to their yin energy. Either way, people are admonished not to lean against them to avoid making the ghouls' work too easy.
8. Don't take the last bus or train
It is believed 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 disembodied driver or followed home by a phantom passenger.
7. Don't take photos at night
Avoid taking photos or videos in dark corners, especially at night, otherwise, a phantom photobomb might ruin the picture.
6. Don't sing at night
Yin energy (陰氣) is heavy at night during Ghost Month and singing or making noises at night can easily attract Good Brothers. Therefore, it is advisable not to wander alone singing and making noises at night to dodge a direful duet.
5. Don't whistle, particularly in the dark
Taiwanese have a 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.
4. 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.
In addition, it is not advisable to call a friend by their full name in shady, desolate places. Instead, use nicknames or aliases so as not to be followed by Good Brothers.
3. Don't go fishing
Do not engage in fishing activities during this period because it is considered a kind of killing. It is said that doing so will lure in evil spirits and also could result in catching a Good Brother who has morphed into a fish.
2. Don't go near dangerous coastal areas or streams
Although many say it is dangerous to swim at all during Ghost Month, a more nuanced version of the superstition is that one should avoid dangerous coastal areas and streams.
It is said that water ghosts like to find someone to replace them. From a common-sense standpoint, it is probably prudent to avoid places such as Mystery Beach in Nan'ao Township, Yilan County, when typhoons approach and mountain streams when afternoon thunderstorms are frequent during this time of year.
1. Don't travel to mountains or seaside at night
As the weather during Ghost Month is scorching hot, many people yearn to go to the mountains or seaside to gain respite from the heat. However, such places are full of yin energy at night and there are many lonely and wild Good Brothers.
If one's Four Pillars of Destiny, also known as Bazi, are weak, they may attract Good Brothers.