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Hungry Ghosts

Hungry Ghosts

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Hungry ghost

Hungry ghost is a concept in Chinese Buddhism, Chinese traditional religion, Vietnamese Buddhism, Vietnamese traditional religion, Japanese Buddhism and Tibetan Buddhism, representing beings who are driven by intense emotional needs in an animalistic way. The terms 餓鬼 èguǐ and quỷ đói, literally "hungry ghost", are the Chinese and Vietnamese translation of the term preta in Buddhism. "Hungry ghosts" play a role in Chinese Buddhism, Vietnamese Buddhism and Taoism as well as in Chinese folk religion and Vietnamese folk religion. The term is not to be confused with the generic term for "ghost" or damnation, 鬼 guǐ (i.e. the residual spirit of a deceased ancestor). The understanding is that all people become such a regular ghost when they die, [1] and would then slowly weaken and eventually die a second time. [2] [3] [4] Hungry ghosts, by contrast, are a much more exceptional case, and would only occur in very unfortunate circumstances, such as if a whole family were killed or when a family no longer venerated their ancestors. [3]

With the rise in popularity of Buddhism, the idea became popular that souls would live in space until reincarnation. [3] In the Taoist tradition it is believed that hungry ghosts can arise from people whose deaths have been violent or unhappy. Both Buddhism [3] and Taoism [5] share the idea that hungry ghosts can emerge from neglect or desertion of ancestors. According to the Hua-yen Sutra evil deeds will cause a soul to be reborn in one of six different realms. [6] The highest degree of evil deed will cause a soul to be reborn as a denizen of hell, a lower degree of evil will cause a soul to be reborn as an animal, and the lowest degree will cause a soul to be reborn as a hungry ghost. [7] According to the tradition, evil deeds that lead to becoming a hungry ghost are killing, stealing and sexual misconduct. Desire, greed, anger and ignorance are all factors in causing a soul to be reborn as a hungry ghost because they are motives for people to perform evil deeds. [1]

The Hungry Ghosts

The Hungry Ghosts are an ancestral legend of Chinese folklore, even having a festival in their namesake. It's said they're spirits of dead people who hope for sacrifices on the fifteenth day of the Chinese calendar's seventh moon, when the gates of the Chinese's Hell open and let their spirits out. Food, "hell money", and other gifts are left at doorsteps to appease the ghosts and pretend them from haunting their houses. But the worst ones only accept the largest sacrifices, including peace, souls to bring to Hell, and in the case of the episode, vital organs. The Hard-Faced Man is the leader of an illicit gambling lottery that caters to such volatile, greedy ghosts. Recruits are brought on to run and hide the ring include Detective Glen Chao, and enforcers keep the game going and the players and accomplices silent. When the accomplices step out of line or try to sell out or take down the syndicate, they're attacked by the mob and/or spirits with brutal torture or cremated alive to eliminate witnesses and prevent their identification. The lottery has the players wage for huge cash prizes they draw from a jade vase, the payment if they lose being an organ they're forced to have harvested by the mob to pay the ghosts with, chosen by tiles representing both the five Chinese elements and each symbol for it meaning a crucial organ, like the eye or the heart. It's revealed the game is all a fix, meant to bribe the desperate people to coming back just to sell their organ under the guise of the "game", the jade vase only having the tiles that would guarantee a draw for the organ the syndicate and the ghosts wanted. Chao tried to stonewall Fox Mulder and Dana Scully when they investigated the cremations, and eventually the deaths of the victims whose organs were harvested. For getting too close, Chao was severely slashed by the enforcers, and when he tried to stop the ring, he knocked over the jade vase, which broke and revealed the identical tiles fix. As the game players rioted on the mob, the police and FBI joint task forces raided the house and arrested them all, including the Hard-Faced Man, who was about to cut the heart out of another victim, Hsin, who already lost his eye hoping for money for his daughter, Kim, who needed an operation. The man shamelessly admits to his operation, but denies it being a crime and hints at the ghosts demanding the payments. The man is released from refusal of witnesses and accomplices to testify, and Chao goes missing. Chao's later incinerated in a furnace as the latest cremation victim. What of the ghosts and the organ initiatives is never never further revealed. (The X-Files: "Hell Money")

Your guide to the Hungry Ghost Festival in Hong Kong

Perhaps you’re a local who only fuzzily remembers some vaguely scary warnings from your nan about avoiding certain things during the seventh month of the year, or perhaps you’ve moved to Hong Kong and are not quite sure what the deal is with people suddenly starting to burn stuff on the streets around August or September. No worries—we’re here to clarify the secretive reasons and superstitions behind this ghostly time of year. Read on to find out the origins, practices, and traditional phenomena of the Hungry Ghost Festival!

What is the Hungry Ghost Festival?

Also referred to as the Yulan Festival (盂蘭節), the Zhongyuan Festival (中元節), or simply the Ghost Festival (鬼節), the Hungry Ghost Festival is a traditional festival celebrated annually in several East Asian countries. Rooted semi-religiously in Buddhism and Taoism, the festival begins on the fifteenth night of the seventh lunar month, which for 2020 falls on 2 September.

The belief is that on this date, the Gates of Hell will open and for the duration of the month, ghosts and spirits come out from the underworld to return to the realm of the living and visit their loved ones. Despite the similar themes of the dead and ancestor worship, the Hungry Ghost Festival is not to be confused with the Qingming or Chung Yeung Festivals, when the Chinese visit ancestral graves to pay respects.

Where did this festival come from?

Even though this is now largely considered a Chinese festival, its origins are actually derived from ancient India. The Yulanpen or Ullambana Sutra records the story of how Maudgalyayana was searching for his deceased parents and discovered that his mother had been reborn into the hungry ghost realm, wasted and starving. He tried to feed her a bowl of rice but because she had become a preta—a hungry ghost—the food transformed into a pile of burning coals before she was able to eat it.

Buddha then advised Maudgalyayana that one would be able to help their dearly departed by offering food to the monastic community during Pravarana, occurring—you guessed it—on the fifteenth day of the seventh month.

Hungry Ghost Festival customs in Hong Kong

In general, the Chinese will keep with the cultural notion of filial piety and present offerings to the souls of deceased family members, in the hopes that they will be comfortable and well looked after in the afterlife. Families who have altars or ancestral tablets and pictures set up at home will regularly offer incense and fresh food. You will also often see people putting out offerings of food and drink for unknown wandering souls with no one to look after them, as well as burning joss paper, or paper money from the Bank of Hell, so that departed loved ones will have spending money.

There are also more elaborate offerings for those who want to ensure material comforts for these souls even in hell. Paper effigies of cars, mansions—often complete with servants—television sets, and clothes are all commonly seen being offered. In recent years, people would also keep with the times and burn paper effigies of modern technology such as smartphones, tablets, and even gaming devices. If you have departed family members who were fashion-forward, we suppose there’s no reason why they shouldn’t still be able to embrace couture in the afterlife shops will even sell paper models of Louis Vuitton bags and other such branded items!

Apart from offerings and paying tribute to the deceased, live performances are also held to provide these wandering souls with entertainment. First initiated by the Chiuchow community in Hong Kong, Chinese opera performances are set up on elaborately created temporary bamboo stages all over the territories. This festivity has even been officially recognised as part of our Intangible Cultural Heritage. These eye-catching shows are always held at night, and while the living are more than welcome to attend, the first couple of rows of seats are always left empty, specially reserved for souls.

Buddhist and Taoist ceremonies are also held throughout the day to appease spirits and ease their suffering, through offerings of incense and the chanting of spiritual scriptures. Often, these ceremonies will include the throwing of rice or other small food items such as buns or dumplings into the air, to symbolically be distributed among the dead some Chinese opera performances will also be concluded in such a manner.

On the last day of the festival, you might also come across people giving away free rice. This rice is actually donated to community organisers of Hungry Ghost festivities, in order for their names to be listed on their ‘Golden Chart’ as a sign of good merit—think of it as gathering good karma in this life for a better afterlife!

Hungry Ghost Ceremony

A Ceremony for the Liberation of Hungry Ghosts will be held on Sunday, November 1, at 9:00 a.m. During this observance, we offer food and drink to the hungry, thirsty inhabitants of the preta realm.

Hungry ghosts, or pretas, are beings in a sub-human state of development. Due to their extreme greed in prior lifetimes, they have been reborn in a state where they constantly suffer from hunger and thirst. Their stomachs are grossly distended, their limbs emaciated, and their mouths are as small as the eye of a needle. Whatever they eat turns to poison whatever they drink turns to fire.

Ceremony History

According to legend, a disciple of the Buddha, Moggallana, was plagued by nightmares of his mother being tormented in a realm in which she could neither eat nor drink. The Buddha told Moggallana that his mother was in the realm of pretas, and he should try to help her overcome her bad karma through a special ceremony.


During the Hungry Ghost Ceremony, we make offerings of food and water to the beings of the preta realm and chant sutras on their behalf. The food, freely offered, does not turn into poison or fire. To make this gift, we must overcome our own greed, and by doing so, we set an example for the hungry ghosts. This is why at many Buddhist homes and temples, small bowls are passed at the beginning of each meal to make food and drink offerings to the hungry ghosts.

Changes to Remembrance Ceremony—Please Read

Although the ceremony is directed to hungry ghosts, it is also a time to remember all beings who have died in the preceding year. After the ceremony proper, a purification fire is lit, during which time people offer the names of deceased loved ones. This year, since only a few people will be physically present for the ceremony, please send Roshi the names of those you would like to remember, and she will place the remembrance papers in the fire.

In previous years, as each name was placed in the fire, a few words were said about the person. This year, since we don't know how many people will participate in the ceremony, it might not be possible for everyone to talk about the people they are remembering. Once we have a count of the number attending, we can figure out whether or not people can say something about who they are remembering or whether it would be better to do this another way, such as printing a list on the member page with short tributes.

Personal Ghosts

Finally, the ceremony is an opportunity to appease our personal ghosts—the voracious demons who fill us with passions for food, drink, recognition, possessions, money, and all manner of unhappiness. The ceremony, then, is one of personal, as well as other-worldly, cleansing, appeasement, and renewal. It is also an expression of our compassionate concern for beings in all realms.

At our Center, we combine the Hungry Ghost Ceremony with a Halloween celebration. Children are especially welcome, so please extend a cordial invitation to all your family members to participate via Zoom. Friends and relatives who are not Sangha members are also invited. Participate in street clothes or wear a costume if you wish.

Altars for Relatives/Ancestors—Not This Year

In recent years we have had a space to honor our ancestors during the Hungry Ghost ceremony. This year we will not do that as it won't be possible for anyone other than the few people physically present to set up individual altars. In addition, we are too short staffed to do the extensive preparations necessary. But, you can always do this in your home.

We hope you will join us in this ceremony of aid for the beings in the realm of the Hungry Ghosts.

More Information

Date & Time

Sunday, November 1, 9:00 a.m. – 10:15

Who may come?

Children, family members, anyone who wishes to participate in the ceremony. You do not need to be a member of the Center.

Zoom start time

9:00 a.m. begins | ends around 10:15

Honoring the recently departed

If you wish to remember someone who has died during the past year, please email Roshi with the name of the person/s and she will prepare a special funeral paper or papers on your behalf.

Personal Ghosts

After the name release, everyone sets fire to their “personal ghosts.” (See ceremony description) One of the house residents will make a ghost for you and release it on your behalf. There’s no need to say what’s in your personal ghost—we keep that information to ourselves!

Mythology and Theories [ edit | edit source ]

This spirit is based on the Gaki, also called the Preta. Preta are supernatural beings that are constantly hungry and just like this spirit they have very narrow limbs but an engorged stomach, likely resembling malnutrition. The common translation for these beings is Hungry Ghost.

Hungry Ghosts are based on the rumors in Protagonist's Town about the shopping district's mannequins moving around at night. These rumors are found in the game's official website.

These Spirits are malicious, as they were sealed or driven away with the Salts that were placed all over the Downtown area. It seems that the Centipede Spirit is responsible for protecting the place from these Spirits.

Types of spirits

It is believed that the soul contains elements of both yin and yang. The yin is the kui, or demon part, and the yang is the shen, or spirit part. When death occurs, the kui should return to earth, and the shen to the grave or family shrine. If a ghost is neglected, it will become a kui. The shen, or ancestral spirits watches over its descendants, and can bring fortune if properly worshipped. ⎘]

According to the Buddha Dharma, there are three main groups of hungry ghosts: those with no wealth, those with a little and those with a lot. Ώ] Those with wealth are broken into three groups: the torch or flaming mouths, in which food and drink become flames the needle mouths, whose throats are so tiny that food cannot pass through and the vile mouths, whose mouths are so decomposed and smelly that they cannot ingest anything. The ghosts with a little wealth are able to eat small amounts. The ghosts with great wealth are also of the three subgroups: the ghosts of sacrifices, who live off sacrifices offered by humans, the ghosts of losses, who live off lost objects from the human world and the ghosts of great powers, like yakshas and rakshasas, who are the powerful rulers of ghosts. The ghosts of sacrifices and losses sometimes suffer from hunger and thirst, whereas the ghosts of great powers have pleasures close to those of divine beings. Among hungry ghosts, however, most have little or no wealth and are extremely hungry

Sixteen hungry ghosts are said to either live in hell or in a region of hell. Unlike other hell dwellers, they can leave hell and wander. They look through garbage and human waste on the outskirts of human cities. They are said to be invisible during the daylight hours but visible at night. Some hungry ghosts can only eat corpses, or their food is burnt up in their mouths, sometimes they have a big belly and a neck as thin as a needle (this image is the basic one for hungry ghosts in Asian Buddhism). Γ]


It is also widely believed that observing certain restrictions would help you avoid bad luck and misfortunes during the Ghost Month. According to Co, one should not stroll or go out at night sing or whistle as this may attract ghosts swim or hang out by the pool at night, among others.

Other taboos include traveling, starting a new business, getting married, performing risky medical procedures, wearing red, hanging clothes outside at night, wearing clothes with your name on it, and picking up coins or food on the street and bringing it home, among others.

Hungry Ghosts: The Dark Side of the Paranormal

This article is excerpted from Darklore Volume 1, which is available for sale from Amazon US and Amazon UK. The Darklore anthology series features the best writing and research on paranormal, Fortean and hidden history topics, by the most respected names in the field.

Hungry Ghosts: The Dark Side of the Paranormal

Years ago, on a whim, a friend led me into a New Age bookstore in Los Angeles. At the time I was a committed rationalist and knew nothing about paranormal phenomena except what I’d read in skeptical, debunking books. Unlike my friend, who found the bookstore’s atmosphere amusing, and who enjoyed pointing out the bizarre titles and covers, I felt distinctly ill at ease. There was something disturbing about being immersed in all that occult literature. I felt as if I’d ventured into unknown territory – dangerous territory. And I was glad to leave.

Later, as I became interested in the paranormal and began to grasp the extent of the evidence for such phenomena, I chalked up my earlier reaction to a form of culture shock. There I was, a rather repressed rationalist, coming into close contact with ideas I found threatening to my worldview. After all, there was nothing actually dangerous about that little bookstore – was there?

Maybe there was. Over the years, as I’ve studied this subject, I’ve encountered a fair number of cautionary tales. People who become unduly interested in psychic phenomena – interested to the point of obsession – can find their mental health deteriorating, their relationships fragmenting, and their social status undermined. Of course, obsession is a bad thing regardless of its focus, but I suspect that it’s easier to become obsessed with the paranormal than with, say, stamp collecting. Something about this field of inquiry tends to draw people in and make them vulnerable to harm.

The Curious Case of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

Since I’m a writer, I take particular interest in the case of Arthur Conan Doyle. Doyle was one of the most popular writers of his day, and his Sherlock Holmes stories are still widely read and dramatized. Fairly late in life he became convinced that it was possible to communicate with the dead through mediums. As his interest grew, he neglected his fiction writing and spent most of his time traveling the world to attend séances and deliver lectures on spiritualism. His reputation suffered, and he was the target of ridicule from some quarters. He had a widely publicized feud with the debunking magician Houdini. Editors began to dread getting Doyle’s manuscripts in the mail, for fear that his latest contribution would be yet another essay on the talkative dead. Doyle’s fame was such that his essays were invariably published, but his editors weren’t always happy about that fact.

With the passage of time, Doyle’s critical faculties suffered. He became more credulous, more willing to vouch for even the most dubious phenomena. Many of the mediums he endorsed were later exposed as fakes. Doyle refused to accept some of these exposures. Famously, he even accused Houdini himself of using psychic powers, since – he felt – there was no way the escape artist could have carried out some of his stunts without paranormal gifts.

Most embarrassing was the often retold affair of the Cottingley fairies. Two girls, ages 16 and 10, shot some photos of “fairies” they’d allegedly found in their garden. The fairies were paper cut-outs, and the photos were obvious fakes. Nevertheless, Doyle endorsed the photos as genuine, even publishing an article in The Strand Magazine with the regrettable title “Fairies photographed – an epoch-making event.”

Later he put out an entire book devoted to the subject, The Coming of the Fairies. Skeptics have enjoyed skewering him for his gullibility and foolishness ever since. James Randi devotes a chapter of his debunking book Flim-Flam to a detailed dissection of the Cottingley case. And yes, there is something funny about a presumably worldly and sophisticated man, rich and internationally famous, falling for a rather inept hoax perpetrated by two young girls. At the same time, there is something about it that’s both sad and troubling.

How could Doyle’s rational faculty deteriorate so badly? Critics suggest that he was never much of a thinker, but I’ve read a great deal of his work, as well as Daniel Stashower’s excellent biography, and my impression is that Doyle had a more penetrating intellect than his detractors admit. Trained in medicine, he traveled around the world as a ship’s doctor, acquiring a range of knowledge and experiences that made him far more intellectually interesting than his closed-minded Victorian colleagues. He resisted prejudices – women and minorities are generally treated with respect in his work – and had an appreciation of exotic cultures and variant points of view. In short, Doyle was a sensible, astute observer of the world around him – until he got caught up in his obsession with mediums. At that point his mental and emotional stability began to suffer, and he became increasingly fanatical, blind to any interpretation of the evidence but his own.

If this were an isolated case, it would not be very important, but it is far from isolated. Some cases, in fact, have much worse consequences.

One of these is described in anguished, agonizing detail in Joe Fisher’s Hungry Ghosts. Fisher joined an amateur circle that met regularly to “channel” information from spirits. Initially skeptical, Fisher was soon won over by the information that came through. He and his friends became increasingly obsessed with the meetings, while the woman who ran the circle began to exercise an unhealthy degree of control over some group members, exploiting them and attempting to coerce them into sexual liaisons. As Fisher became convinced that he was in contact with a female spirit guide who’d been his lover in a previous lifetime, he lost interest in his real-life relationships, an attitude that led to the break-up of his marriage.

Eventually he went to Europe, intending to verify the information he’d been given. Instead, to his shock, he discovered that much of it was false. Shattered, he returned to America and shared his findings with the group – only to be met with hostility and denial. The group members were so caught up in their shared fantasy that they could not tolerate the intrusion of facts and evidence. Fisher left the group and eventually concluded that he had been victimized by what the Tibetan Book of the Dead calls pretas, or ‘hungry ghosts’ – malign spirits who deceive and corrupt their human interlocutors. He warns his readers to be wary of involvement in the supernatural, and on this note of caution the book ends.

But this was not the end of Joe Fisher’s story. He continued to obsess on his experience. Eleven years after the publication of Hungry Ghosts, he confided to a friend that he believed the spirits were out to get him for publicizing their activities. They would not leave him alone. In 2001, at age 53, he made his escape. He threw himself off a cliff, ending his life.

There are at least two ways of interpreting this bizarre story. Either Fisher became unhinged as a result of his participation in the séances, and eventually fell victim to his own paranoia or he actually did come into contact with malevolent spirit entities, against which he had no protection.

Fisher wasn’t the only person in the medium’s circle to suffer psychological damage. Everyone in the group was affected to some extent. This is not uncommon. Immersion in the occult can have unpredictable effects on the dynamics and psychology of a group. An example that comes to mind are the ITC experiments described by Mark Macy in Miracles in the Storm. ITC is an acronym for Instrumental Transcommunication. This activity, which has gained a surprising number of adherents, involves using technology to contact the dead. It evolved out of EVP, or Electronic Voice Phenomena, a field of amateur research in which “spirit voices” are supposedly picked up on tape recorders. ITC is more high-tech, employing video cameras, TV sets, fax machines, and computers. Enthusiasts claim they have received images and messages from another dimension, and that they are in regular contact with like-minded “experimenters” from beyond.

Macy’s book details a group effort to establish and maintain contact with these forces. Such contact is said to require harmony among members of the experimenting groups on both sides of the veil. Unfortunately, harmony proved difficult to come by, at least on the earthly side, and much of Miracles in the Storm concerns the in-fighting and mutual suspicion that led to the group’s downfall. Organizational chaos is remarkably common among those who explore the paranormal, and the fate of Macy’s group is unsurprising.

Although the experiments documented in Macy’s book have ended, Macy and some of his colleagues have attempted to renew their work. He reports that his team has made contact with a group of spirits who live on the extradimensional planet Marduk. According to these spirits, “Marduk is watered by only one large stream flowing with many bends across a great part of the planet,” a watercourse called the River of Eternity. “We live here together with other forms of life,” they explain, “with men [who had] lived on other planets before their bodily death, with dwarfs, giants and gnomes, and with bodiless entities, too.” The spirits have what seem to be physical bodies, all in the prime of youth and health.

Among the spirits inhabiting Marduk is Sir Richard Francis Burton, the 19th century explorer and linguist. Burton and his spirit colleagues, calling themselves the Timestream group, established a transmission station on Marduk, by means of which they were able to send video images and text messages to their earthly counterparts. At one point, a rival group of spirits with evil intentions seized control of the transmission station, but the Timestream faction mounted a daring counterattack and regained control.

If all this sounds like science-fiction, there’s a good reason. It is science-fiction, or at least it was – in Philip Jose Farmer’s Riverworld series. Beginning with To Your Scattered Bodies Go in 1971, the Riverworld books feature an intriguing premise: When we die, we are resurrected on an earthlike planet bisected by a single vast river. Both good and evil individuals – human, prehuman, and nonhuman – abide in this land, restored to youth and vigor. As we make our way along the river, we must form alliances and ward off enemies, sometimes in physical combat. And our hero in this adventure? None other than Sir Richard Francis Burton!

I will admit that there are differences between the ITC messages and Riverworld. Farmer’s story provided a technological, rather than supernatural, explanation for humanity’s resurrection, and dealt extensively with a super-advanced race of humans dubbed the Ethicals who were controlling this vast experiment. None of this relates to the ITC communiqués. And other famous figures who appear in Farmer’s saga – Mark Twain, Hermann Goering, and King John of England, among others – have not made any appearance in the messages from Marduk, as far as I know. Nevertheless, the vast river, the physical resurrection in youthful form, the rival alliances and mortal combats, and the presence of Burton himself all combine to create the strong suspicion that the ITC messages are only fiction.

Indeed, the whole situation seems reminiscent of role-playing games like Dungeons & Dragons, in which the players submerge themselves in a virtual world based on science-fiction archetypes – a world that can begin to seem very real.

A number of years ago I emailed Mark Macy to ask him about the parallels between Riverworld and his group’s findings. I received brief replies from both Macy and one of his colleagues. Neither of them was interested in pursuing the issue, and neither saw any problem in the similarities I’d mentioned.

No problem? Suppose I were to tell you that, by paranormal means, I’d established contact with the crew of an interstellar starship in the 23rd century. Excitedly I report that the ship’s captain is James Tiberius Kirk, his first mate is an alien named Spock, and the ship’s doctor is McCoy. You point out to me that these characters are all found in the 1960s TV series Star Trek. “So what?” I say. “I don’t see a problem with that.” I’ll bet you’d decide that my critical faculties are not quite what they should be.

How can presumably serious people be willing to overlook such an obvious difficulty? I suggest that wholesale immersion in the paranormal can gradually erode one’s capacity for appropriate skepticism. Arthur Conan Doyle came to believe in fairies Joe Fisher’s marriage collapsed because he fell in love with his “spirit guide” Macy and his co-workers are caught up in what appears to be a replay of a science-fiction saga from the 1970s.

A wealth of similar cases can be found in George P. Hansen’s authoritative study The Trickster and the Paranormal, which takes a highly original interdisciplinary approach to the question of why psychic phenomena – and people associated with such things – tend to be marginalized in society. Hansen’s book is too complex and densely argued to be summarized in its entirety, but one of his major themes is that long-term, active involvement in the paranormal often produces personal or collective dissociation from reality.

Hansen identifies a constellation of attributes that folklorists call “the trickster” – a mythical figure found in most ethnic traditions, whether as Coyote in Native American lore or the god Hermes in Greek mythology.The trickster is deceitful, playful, disruptive, irrational, unpredictable, often sexually adventurous or perverse, sometimes malevolent, and always to be approached with caution. He is a marginal figure among the other deities, and those humans who are associated with him – shamans, mediums – typically occupy a marginal place in society. He resists institutionalization. He hovers outside the establishment, functioning as both an escape valve and a threat.

While not going so far as to say that the trickster actually exists, Hansen uses the archetype to stand for a collection of disparate qualities. And he makes the point that paranormal phenomena not only exhibit these same qualities but often induce them in persons who immerse themselves in the field.

Like the trickster, psychic phenomena are playful and maddeningly elusive. They are irrational, in the sense that they fall outside the purview of rationalist thinking. They are disruptive – sometimes overtly so, as in the case of poltergeist outbreaks. They are unpredictable, a fact that has led many a legitimate psychic to supplement his talents with trickery. They are sometimes malevolent – as with Fisher’s hungry ghosts, not to mention the rich tradition of malign spirits in every culture, including the devils of Judeo-Christian theology. They are sometimes associated with bizarre or coercive sexual practices, as witnessed in many rituals and in the strange private lives of many mediums and psychics. They resist institutionalization despite widespread public interest in psychic phenomena, no large institutions exist to study the field, and the only major institutional studies of psychic powers were undertaken by spy agencies, which are themselves immersed in a culture of ambiguity and deceit.

Hansen observes that people who directly engage the paranormal, or try to, sometimes fall into the role-playing trap mentioned above. A role-playing game, he writes…

…can become a shared fantasy, wherein the players voluntarily suspend normal, rational considerations…The games give more direct contact with supernatural ideas than does literature alone.

Live people are involved they participate in a drama props may be used, and some physical action is required…Cheating is frequent despite there being no winners or losers in the game…Players can identify with their characters, and sometimes they prefer not to separate themselves from those roles…[O]ccasionally the ‘game’ becomes obsessive and interferes with real-world pursuits.

Reading these words, I find it hard not to think of the purported messages from Marduk. There is, then, a dark side to the paranormal. It is not all benevolent angels and comforting words from deceased relatives. There can be obsession, deterioration of rational thought, shared fantasy, even a descent into madness. There can be hungry ghosts. There can be channelers who sexually exploit their followers. There is always the risk that inquiring too deeply into these matters will lead to one’s own marginalization – a fate that has befallen even prominent researchers in the field, who have seen their reputations suffer and their prestige stripped away.

Much in the paranormal is worthy of study. But if you choose to examine it, proceed with caution. And if you run into trouble, don’t hesitate to turn back. After all, I felt a lot better when I’d left that bookstore…

Worship your ancestors for the HUNGRY GHOST FESTIVAL

Image credit: www.cnpinyin.com

Worship Your Ancestors for the Hungry Ghost Festival

Far more than many other cultures, China is well known for its traditions that honour ancestors. Throughout the year there are a number of celebrations in China – now spreading to the Western World – that directly give thanks to and remember the dead.

The concept and symbolism of family has been a crucial component to Chinese society for hundreds of years. But, honouring one’s family is not just a wish among living relatives Chinese culture also places heavy emphasis on heritage, meaning that honouring one’s deceased relatives is an essential practice too.

Falling on the 14 th or 15 th day of the seventh lunar month (‘Ghost Month’), the Hungry Ghost Festival is one of the most popular – and important – festivals of Chinese culture, alongside other major festivals, such as Chinese New Year.

Image credit: jadeturtlerecords.blogspot.com.es

During Ghost Month it is commonly believed that the restless ghosts and spirits of deceased ancestors will return to roam the earth, as the realms of Heaven and Hell open, merging with that of the living world. This thought is rather terrifying for many Chinese people to behold, which is why so much effort is placed into appeasing the dead for the Hungry Ghost Festival.

On a Western calendar, the festival usually happens at the end of August or the start of September. This year’s festival will be celebrated on Tuesday 5 th September – many of the celebrations are already being prepared across the country.

The History of the Festival

Many people have been quick to note the festival’s similarity with Halloween in the Western World and South America’s Day of the Dead, but the Hungry Ghost Festival is far more intrinsically linked to Chinese tradition.

Principally, the festival is rooted in Buddhist and Taoist religious practices. Both religions actually have their own names for the festival – Buddhists refer to it as Yu Lan Pen Festival, whilst in Taoism it is named the Zhongyuan Festival – and perform their own set of rituals, sacrifices and prayers during this time.

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In Buddhist folklore, Yu Lan Pen can be traced all the way back to the third century CE with the story of Mulian. The young monk Mulian sought the help of the Buddha to rescue his long-lost mother, who had been condemned to a state of purgatory due to her transgressions. Finding her in the realm of hungry ghosts, starved and sorrowful, Mulian took pity on her and procured a bowl of rice. As she went to take her first bite, the rice turned suddenly to ash.

The Buddha told Mulian that the only way he could help his mother and relieve the punishment for her sins was to unite with others monks, offering food and kindness to cultivate the whole realm of hungry ghosts. This would also placate the ghosts and prevent any harm to the living world.

A similar tale originates in Taoism, dating to the Northern Wei Dynasty (368-534). According to legend, on the birthday of Hell King on 15 th July, hungry ghosts and imprisoned spirits would be pardoned and released from Hell to accept the rituals and sacrifices from the mortal world. These gifts would be a way of enlightening the spirits, motivating them to follow in the path of Taoism.

Serving a Feast for the Spirits

The Hungry Ghost Festival wouldn’t be a traditional festival without the feast. Unlike other Chinese celebrations though, this feast is not enjoyed by the family but is presented directly for the spirits. There is less grandeur to the meals, and no specific delicacies. Families are encouraged to present dishes that will nourish the ghosts and help put them in good favour of the spirits.

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Many people present simple bowls of rice and plates of vegetables, to reflect the festival’s Buddhist ties but sometimes roasted meats and an impressive suckling pig are offered to honour the dead. It is also traditional for families to burn incense and share stories (both spooky and pleasant) around the table of food.

Buddhist monks are known to throw rice or other such small foods up into the air, to distribute among the ghosts entering the land of the living.

An Evening of Celebrations

The festival is not just about food though. There are plenty of special ceremonies and celebrations, particularly during the evening. In the city podiums are erected and large tents pop up in the countryside for what’s known as getai (which literally translates to ‘song stage’). From pop music performances, opera and dance, to stand-up comedy and tales of gods and goddesses, the festival has progressed through time to welcome a more modern atmosphere.

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Lanterns are another crucial part of the festival, as people across towns and villages unite to bid farewell to the spirits at the end of the holiday period. People from all corners of the country will cast a floating lotus flower paper lantern into the waters of rivers and lakes, sending the wandering spirits home. The candles inside bring light to the darkness, symbolising hope and rebirth.

Superstitions and Folklore

For a festival that celebrates the dead it is not unusual that there are many superstitions that have arisen over the years. Some of the most common things that people are warned to avoid include strolling alone at night, so as not to attract hungry ghosts seeking food swimming, to prevent being drowned by an evil ghost wearing red, since this is the colour ghosts are most attracted to or singing and whistling by yourself loudly, because the chorus may rouse the attention of ghosts.

Also, due to the festival having an inauspicious air, people are advised not to fulfil any life-changing actions, including moving house, starting a new business or marrying.

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Eerie superstitions and tales aside, the festival brings the community together with a moral sense of purpose, tying back to the influence and value of family in Chinese culture. The festival’s wider message is for people to look after wandering souls (whether a lonely neighbour or a lost spirit roaming the living world), respect their elders, and grow up to honour their family.

Watch the video: Hungry Ghosts - Alone, Alone Full Album (May 2022).