What's New at Living in Harmony?
Month of the Hungry
by Sheryl F Hamza, PhD
Advanced Feng Shui Professional, Certified Feng Shui Practitioner
Many cultures have myths and legends about times when the veils between the worlds of the living and dead are dropped or dissolved. Some celebrate this as Halloween, others the day of the Dead. For many Buddhist, Taoist, and Asian cultures, this time is commemorated within the 7th month of the Lunar calendar, known as the month of Hungry Ghosts.
During this month, the Chinese believe that the gates of the underworld are opened and the souls of restless spirits are free to walk amongst the living. This period lasts until the gates are once again closed the day before the 8th lunar month. This month is meant to pacify those souls of uncared for, desolate strangers, and others forgotten by mankind. This includes suicide and murder victims, those lost souls who never received a proper burial, and past relatives and ancestors who did not receive the proper death tributes when they died. It should be noted that this month should not be confused with the festival of Qingming which celebrates past ancestors.
The Month of Hungry Ghosts is called this because it is believed that the souls walk about causing mischief in search of food and entertainment. A story is told that a monk sat in meditation and asked about his parents. He saw a vision of his father in heaven but his mother was in the lower realm. He saw his mother as one of the Hungry Ghosts.
These souls are believed to have long, thin, needle shaped necks, and large bloated bellies. This appearance is seen either as a punishment and thus making them unable to swallow, or to represent that they were not properly fed or honored at the time of their burial. This is a similar practice to the Sin Eaters of folklore, who ate food that was displayed around the dead to consume their sins before they ascended to heaven. These practices both serve to honor the dead and insure a happy afterlife for the deceased. It is believed that Jesus of Nazareth is the universal archetype for sin-eaters because his life was given to atone for the sins of humanity.
During this month, families will also pay homage to unknown wandering ghosts so these souls will not bring misfortune or harm to their daily lives. These souls wander the earth in search of food and worldly pleasures. To appease their appetites, families bring food on the 14th day of the month during the full moon. The food is placed on an offering table to appease the ghosts, and ward off bad luck. Lanterns shaped as Lotuses are lit and set afloat in rivers to symbolically guide all the lost souls, and any forgotten ancestors back to the afterlife. Meditation and prayers are offered to help the souls, and their families, find peace.
Do’s and Don’ts to observe this month-
- Don’t stay out late, spirits will find it easy to follow you home
- Do not stab chopsticks into rice, it looks like Joss Sticks used
to honor the dead.
- It is believed doing so curses you and your own death
- It allows spirits to believe that this rice is for them
- Celebrate birthdays during the daytime to avoid being out at night.
- Night time photography could reveal more than your pretty face.
- If someone calls out to you or taps your shoulder, make sure to turn the whole body so as not to snuff out the protective flames that sit on the shoulders.
- Dark colored nails can make spirits assume you are one of them and they will try to lure you back with them
- Spirits like the coolness of walls so leaning on walls could cause an attachment
- Visiting abandoned homes or cemeteries could cause a spirit to come back with you
- Being out on an empty street late at night can lead to harm or misfortune.
- Do not use objects that attract spirits, i.e. Ouija boards.
- Humans are believed to be weaker at nighttime while spirits are strengthened at night so it is best not to work late hours during this time.
- My favorite and one that my own mother complained to us about ALL the time, do not open an umbrella inside the house. This becomes a place for the wandering spirits to find shelter and linger within the home.
Whether you subscribe to this tradition or not, this is a wonderful time for all of us to remember those souls who may be forgotten. It is a time to reach out and help those less fortunate, those who go without and may need a little assistance. It is a time for families to gather together to celebrate life and all the beauty and blessings the world brings to us daily. It is a time to sit in meditation and prayer, to give thanks to the creator and the universe and give praise to the abundance and joy that lay before us to enjoy every day. So, during this month on the night of the full moon set aside a small display of foods, candles, incense, lanterns, and money for their journey home. It celebrates not only the lives of these souls, but also the lives of you and your family.
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