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The Ghost Month: Should you be afraid?

A 30-meter-diameter paper lantern is launched in Xiapo village, Qionghai, Hainan province, on August 27, 2013. The lantern, made of 72 smaller lanterns, was designed for a local ritual ceremony to mark the Hungry Ghost Festival, a traditional Chinese festival on the 15th night of the seventh month of the Chinese calendar. REUTERS/China Daily
The "Ghost Month," the seventh month in the Chinese lunar calendar, has been gaining popularity in Pinoy pop culture these past few years. But what exactly is it?

The Ghost Month refers to the Festival of the Hungry Ghost, which this year lasts from August 14 to September 12. Buddhists and Taoists believe that during this month, the gates of hell are opened and the spirits normally trapped inside are free to roam the earth. Extra care should be taken to honor these spirits and avoid angering them.

Buddhists believe that the festival began when a Buddhist monk, having attained enlightenment, decided to check on his parents in the afterlife. He found that his mother was suffering in hell, so he asked the Buddha how he could save her. He was instructed to offer food and participate in rituals so that eventually, he helped his mother’s soul leave hell and reincarnate. Today, sacrifices of food, incense, and hell notes (folded paper that are burned so they can be used as currency in the Chinese afterlife), are offered to honor one’s deceased ancestors and to help lost spirits, the most important celebration of which will be held on August 28.

Since there are more spirits about during ghost month, believers are advised to exercise caution in everything they do, just so they don’t attract unwanted attention from wandering spirits. Big events, such as weddings, baptisms, moving houses, and business openings should not be held, lest they be saddled with ill luck. Big decisions such as contract signing and buying big-ticket items should be postponed until the next month. Even the Philippine Stock Exchange feels the effects of the ghost month.

No ghost stories!

Activities such as swimming and traveling are also discouraged, especially if the trips are spur-of-the-moment. People go through great lengths to avoid stirring up the supernatural. Ghosts shouldn’t be called "ghosts," for example, but "good brothers," or whatever euphemism is on hand. Telling ghost stories is discouraged, as well as playing games that invoke the supernatural, like the Ouija board, because the spirits seek out the mention of their names.

And if you happen to attend a Buddhist ceremony or program, be sure not to sit in the front row, which are reserved for the spirits. It’s also bad form to pick at, destroy, or make fun of the paper structures, joss sticks, food, and money offerings to the dead.

The seventh month of the lunar calendar isn’t about being scared of everything. For believers, it is about looking back with respect on one’s ancestors, practicing compassion on those who have passed on, and reflecting on the importance of being a good person in this life. For everyone looking to be on the safe side, it’s a time to slow down and reflect on decisions postponed, and to work slowly, steadily, and smart on what is already on your plate.

As ominous as it sounds, the Ghost Month isn’t something to be feared, but something to be taken as it is, an annual festival that helps people focus on the importance of living, by focusing on the suffering of the dead. — BM, GMA News