Hungry Ghost Period in 2018
(August 11th – September 9th)
Many people believe in the existence of ghosts. Furthermore, they believe that anyone who meets their end violently or is guilty of some crime or sin when they die, do not go to Heaven or Hell but rather get trapped as lost souls or ghosts in the Earthly Realm, preying on or disrupting the lives of vulnerable individuals. Those who have perished rather unexpectedly through accidents or catastrophe, particularly during this Hungry Ghost period, are also considered to have been taken away by Ghosts.
This is pretty scary, right? Wait, there is still more: During the Hungry Ghost time, which falls on the 15th day of the 7th lunar month, the gates of Hell are supposedly opened wide allowing those other restless and spiteful spirits with their vendettas to escape into the Realm of the Living. Is it any wonder that superstitious folks are filled with such trepidation and dread during this time?
The night-time, early morning, and late night are considered a particularly vulnerable time and most dangerous as these vengeful ghosts and other evil spirits are at their most potent then.
To overcome this pervasive fear, perhaps to placate evil spirits and to ensure one’s safety, the Hungry Ghost period is generally transformed into a lively Festival: This is a time where prayers are offered and sacrificial ceremonies are conducted in temples. The burning of incense and Hell-money at the roadside and the decoration of houses and halls with bright lanterns present a pretty picture. And let us not forget the lively performances by the theatrical troupes in open air banquets or street festivals that draw in the big crowds. On the last day of the 7th lunar month, the Gates of the Underworld then are supposed to close, containing these malevolent spirits till next year.
To ensure further safety, here are few do and don’ts to follow:
In the Ghost Month, particularly in the dark hours, evil spirits may target children, senior citizens, and weak or sensitive people; therefore they are advised to remain indoors.
Also, it is advisable to avoid any risk by swimming in a body of water such as a pool, pond or the sea. And stay away from any supernatural acts or games. Why tempt fate?
For those that are superstitious, keep items, such as amulets, prayer beads, coarse salt, glutinous rice, crosses and lodestones close at hand as an added protection from evil spirits.
Be safe and have fun.
(Below is a classic story from the book of “Strange Tales from Make-Do Studio” by a Qing Dynasty writer, Pu Songling (1640 – 1715). Revised by BoSt)
Hsi Fang P’ing, a native of Tung An, was an intelligent and hardworking youth who spent his long days helping his father to farm. On his scant spare time he buried his head in books to advance his learning. His father was a sincere and honest man well thought of by his neighbours; unfortunately however, he’d fallen on bad terms with a powerful rich man called Yang who happened to live in the same district. Yang had many bad attributes and delighted in hurting people; eventually his evil ways caught up with him and he died.
Several years after the death of Yang, old Hsi, who was actually robust for his age, suddenly succumbed to a mysterious illness. One day, in the throngs of high fever he suddenly sat up from his bed and cried out:”Yang has bribed the devils to beat me.” Next instant he gave out a terrible scream, spat blood and collapsing, died.
Hsi Fang P’ing, wowed to avenge his father, certain that his father had been killed by evil spirits. With full determination to go to the nether world and redress the injustice, he avoided all contact with others, virtually locked himself in his study and stopped eating and drinking. As he refused to light the stove for warmth, the bone chilling cold of winter and ravages of sleepless nights soon took its toll on him and his soul took flight from his emaciated body. It drifted high and escaping from chimney, floated over the fields and beyond, until it arrived in the nether world.
Once in the nether world, Hsi Fang P’ing followed behind the group of newly deceased that were being led in chains towards a strange looking town. Separating from the group, he went to search the area, till he came across a holding prison. There, to his dismay, he saw his father lying in a yoke looking utterly miserable. When the old man looked up and saw his son, he wept bitterly and told Hsi Fang P’ing that the jailers had been bribed to beat him brutally and he was a mass of bruises. Hsi Fang p’ing cursed the jailers loudly. He took out a writing brush and wrote a complaint, and went straight to the town government to lodge an accusation.
When Yang heard the news, he bought off all the officers in the town high and low, so the Town God paid no attention to Hsi Fang P’ing on the pretext that he had no evidence. Therefore, Hsi went to the prefecture government to protest. But his complaint was kept there for half a month and then sent back to the Town God. The Town God beat Hsi Fang P’ing and as he was not really dead, sent the youth back under escort to his own home.
Hsi Fang P’ing refused to enter his home. As it so happens, by this time, his body had truly expired and he became a true spirit. Before he was hauled away however, he successfully freed himself from his captors, and snuck back to the Underworld. He travelled all the way to the capital of Hell, and there, cried loudly about his grievance in front of the Palace of Hell. The Town God and prefecture magistrate sent him a messenger, who promised to give him a thousand ounces of silver if he would withdraw his complaint, but again, Hsi refused.
When Hsi entered the Palace Hall, he saw that the Yama was angry, and for no reason, he was flogged. Hsi cried:”What have I done wrong?”but the Yama turned a deaf ear to him. Flustered and exasperated, Hsi Fang P’ing shouted:”It’s because I haven’t got the money to bribe you!”This infuriated the Yama ,and he ordered that Hsi be scalded on a hot iron bed.
Hsi’s flesh was burned till it was black, and the Yama asked him whether he still wished to complain. Hsi replied:”Yes, my grievance is not yet redressed.”Enraged, the Yama gave orders to cut Hsi’s body in half with a saw.
Two goblins seized Hsi Fang p’ing and began to saw him in half. Unable to stand the pain, Hsi promised the Yama that he would withdraw his complaint.
The Yama ordered two goblins to sent Hsi Fang P’ing back to the earth. Hsi had learnt that the nether world was even more unjust than the world of man, and he could not appeal to the Jade Emperor. Yet, he knew the Second God in Kuan-k’o was both wise and just, so why not go to him? On his way to Kuan-k’o, he was set upon by devils and captured. He was carried to some other cottage where he was reincarnated as a baby.
Hsi Fang-p’ing cried and cried and would not take any milk, and finally died three days after his birth. His soul then went in search of Kuan-k’o. He had walked quite a ways, when suddenly he saw a group of men of horseback accompanying a God. It was the Second God returning from his tour of inspection. Hsi Fang P’ing hastened to kneel down before him and told him his story.
The Second God questioned Hsi and then ordered him to follow them to Kuan-k’o and wait outside the government office for trial. Once in Kuan-k’o,Hsi Fang-P’ing was called into a courtroom, where he saw the Yama, the prefecture magistrate, the Town God and the goblins in cages. Now his father and Yang stood before the Second God awaiting justice.
The Second God looking up finally announced his judgement:”The Yama and the officers have violated the law and accepted bribes, and they will all be punished. Yang was rich and heartless. He used his wealth and power to buy off gods, goblins and others to do evil for his own aim. The stink of his money has fouled the whole nether world and filled the Palace of Hell with darkness. Therefore for this, his house shall be searched and his property confiscated and given to Hsi Fang P’ing to reward him for his bravery and determination.”
Thus, the wrong done to old Hsi and his son Hsi Fang-P’ing was redressed. The Second God ordered the father and son back to earth, and the Hsi family restored to life, lived happily ever after.