10 terrifying taboos of the Hungry Ghost month

The spirits reportedly visit the mortal realm during Hungry Ghost month. (cavinteo.blogspot.com pic)

In Chinese neighbourhoods, canopies are being erected and triangular flags are being propped up on every signpost and lamppost.

You will catch the sweet scent of incense wafting from burning joss sticks. Maybe the noise from the stage performances every other night might be getting on your nerves.

So, what’s this all about?

Well, it is the seventh month of the Chinese lunar calendar, also known as the Ghost Month to the more traditional-minded members of the Chinese community.

During this month, the supernatural community is given free reign to do whatever it wants in the mortal realm. The Hungry Ghost festival falls on Aug 15 this year.

To appease the wandering spirits, food offerings are laid out and incense and joss paper burnt.

Your grandparents will warn that there are some taboos that have to be followed to avoid angering the wrong kind of company.

Here are some things that Chinese youngsters are taught never to do during this month:

1. Never, ever kick the food offerings

Sure, there may be food offerings placed in the most inconvenient places like pavements and under trees. But it is a terrible idea to mess with them or clear them away without permission.

Doing so is said to offend any nearby spirits who will take it upon themselves to punish you for your impudence.

2. Never, ever step on hell money

It’s also a bad idea to put your foot anywhere near Chinese hell money. These pieces of joss paper are designed to appear like actual banknotes, but are only meant for use in the afterlife.

Just as you would be annoyed by someone stepping on your wallet, spirits are supposedly miffed by living folks prancing about on their money.

3. Avoid opening umbrellas indoors

It turns out that it’s not just the living who need to take shelter from Malaysia’s erratic weather.

According to Chinese superstition, ghosts will hide in umbrellas during hot or rainy days and bringing these umbrellas into your house will smuggle these spirits in.

Instead, you are supposed to hang umbrellas up to dry without opening them up at all.

4. Do not hang clothes at night

For those who do their laundry past sundown, you might just find that something else has a fashion sense similar to yours.

Because of their resemblance to the human body, clothes are apparently magnets for restless spirits who will cling onto them in hopes of regaining their human form.

It is also said that because the underworld is devoid of warmth, spirits will seek clothes to keep warm.

5. Keep away from bodies of water at night

Older Chinese folk are likely to go hysterical if you ever suggest going for a midnight swim.

According to traditional belief, the spirits of drowned people will lurk in bodies of water waiting to drown the unsuspecting living.

This supposedly supplies them with a soul that they can use for rebirth. A soul for a soul, basically.

6. Never sit in the empty front rows of live performances

If you have ever watched the aforementioned stage performances, you might have noticed the empty row of seats up front.

These stage shows are actually meant as entertainment for wandering ghosts and the front rows are reserved for those spirits.

Sitting in the front row is said to result in bad luck and serious ailments.

7. Avoid late-night excursions

During the Ghost Month, old-fashioned parents will encourage their children to stay home and avoid going outside past midnight.

Quite like Western superstitions, ghouls and their ilk are quite the nocturnal beings and will be on the prowl for lone victims to terrorise.

They are said to be more likely to follow said victim home or worse still, possess them.

8. Steer clear of Ouija boards and other séance games

As any sensible person in a horror movie would tell the audience, invoking supernatural beings will bring nothing but trouble.

Supposedly, games that revolve around communicating with spirits from the netherworld are more likely to have a paranormal response during Ghost Month.

The problem apparently arises when the invoked spirit decides not to leave the mortal plane or when the spirit turns out not to be what it claims to be.

9. Do not take photographs at night

Among the most classic of modern Chinese ghost stories involves photographers finding mysterious and ghoulish faces in their pictures.

It is said that taking photographs of particularly dark areas are more likely to result in these photobombing phantoms appearing on screen.

10. Never leave your chopsticks upright in a bowl of rice

Chopstick etiquette already dictates that if you have to pause eating, leave your chopsticks beside the bowl.

Leaving your chopsticks upright in your rice bowl is a massive no-no in all East Asian cultures as it looks uncannily similar to a pair joss sticks at an altar.

Superstition has it that passing spirits will mistake the rice bowl as a sacrifice and will possess the diner to devour it.