Tuesday, August 2, 2022

Do's and Don'ts Around Hungry Ghosts

 Ovidia--every other Tuesday

Friday 29 July was the first day of the 7th Month of the Chinese calendar and the 'Hungry Ghost Month' covers the following 15 Days to 13th August.

This is a time when the souls of the dead are believed to return from hell to visit. It's also believed that it's the only time of year some of them get to eat and if they don't get fed or feel bored, they'll get up to mischief, so people provide food and entertainments to keep them occupied.

One of the things we're not supposed to do is photograph the offerings--but I made a quick collage just to give an idea of the food offerings on foot paths, under trees, outside shops...

I believe these are intended for random passing spirits. Most offerings for spirits of ancestors and deceased relatives are burned in homes, cemeteries or in the dark red or clear metal bins placed in residential areas. There, families burn hell money and paper offerings of cars, jewellery, televisions and computers.  

There are also big neighbourhood parties with dinners, auctions and stage performances where people and hungry ghosts can dine and be entertained en masse.

And this is a sketch I made of a man at a roadside pop up altar...

It didn't feel right to photograph him, but I was so impressed by the practicality of the set up. Paper money, incense sticks and coils can be bought behind the altar that's all red and gold.

But I wanted to talk about some of the Do's and Don'ts of this time of year. 

1. Don’t make major life  changes (marrying, moving house, major investments) because the energy disruptions can disrupt your judgement and also because there's a chance that some spirits might seize the opportunity to move into your new home/ relationship with you.

2.  Don’t help yourself to the food you see. This can be a contentious point because freegans and animal rights people say in the old times offerings were meant to be taken by the poor and scavenging animals.

3. Don't step on or kick over roadside joss sticks and offerings. There are stories of people who've been dogged by bad luck or bad digestion until they returned to the spot to apologise. If you accidentally knock over something, it's best to say 'Sorry' out loud and walk on.

Which contradicts:

4. Don't answer if you hear strange voices singing or whispering or calling your name when you're out at night. Who these voices are depends on where you are. Along South Buona Vista Road where I used to live, people report hearing and seeing things. It's also a high accident area, near Kent Ridge, where Singapore’s Malay Regiment fought the Japanese in one of the worst battles of WW2. Those who survived were tortured to death. But surprisingly perhaps, the voices aren't hostile. 

I haven't seen them myself but apparently they ask for cigarettes and tell you to appreciate your loved ones.

5. Don't sit or put things on the altar tables. An urban legend says a woman who perched her toddler on the offering table while she prepared her offering panicked when the child got terribly sick. Doctors were unable to find anything wrong till a medium contacted the spirits who told him 'we thought the child was an offering so we took his life force'. (the child was restored after compensatory offerings were made)

6. Don't wear white (colour of mourning) or red (attractive to spirits) clothes. 

This one's going to be a problem because Singapore's National Day is on 9th Aug and everyone will be out wearing red and white. But maybe there's safety in numbers!

But most of all it's a time for reflecting and remembering as we move on. 

Happy Ghost Month and Happy August everyone!


  1. So interesting, Ovidia. (I have spelled your name collected here, but it is underlined with red dots, as it was yesterday when I answered your so cogent comment. I hope autoINcorrect will not change it again today.)
    I love learning the rules for treatment of hungry ghosts. I confess I am sometimes possessed by such a spirit, always when I am in the presence of chocolate.

    1. It changed “correctly” to “collectly” but at least it left your name alone. ARRRGGHH!!

  2. LOL also DON'T walk around when it's really windy or you may have pieces of burning paper rushing at your ankles!! This Canadian learned this the hard way during a trip to Malaysia.