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Hungry Ghost Month in Taiwan: taboos to avoid

Updated: Sep 13, 2021

You may or may not have heard of it: Ghost month. The one month in the year when, according to Taoists and Buddhists, the gates of hell are opened. During this month “hungry ghosts” roam the earth looking for food, money, entertainment and possibly souls. This special month has its own rules, customs and festival!

A lot of people in Taiwan refer to the “hungry ghosts” as good brothers (好兄弟) and good sisters (好姊妹) in order to avoid insulting or offending them.

During ghost month there are a lot of taboos you ought to avoid. Below you can find some of them.

  1. Don’t buy a house or move into a new home. If you do so during Ghost Month, there is a bigger chance the ghosts know where you live.

  2. Don’t hang lanterns. On Ghost Festival lanterns are lit on temples, to guide the hungry ghosts to a place they can gather, rest and enjoy the offerings. If you light a lantern at your house, the ghosts think that you want them to come visit you.

  3. Don’t hang clothes to dry outside at night. Ghosts like to cling to dark, damp places or objects. If you bring your clothes back inside there is a chance you bring a ghost in.

  4. Don’t burn incense or pray at the temple. Because the ghost gather around temples, there is a disruption in nearby magnetic fields. This makes it easy to get stuck with a yin energy, a bad energy.

  5. Don’t take pictures at night. An unwanted guest might photobomb the picture or video.

  6. Don’t swim at night. Water ghosts  — bad spirits of people that have drowned — might try to drown you.

  7. Don’t whistle or play a flute at night. Ghosts might think you are inviting them to your house.

  8. Do not sit in the front row at outdoor performances. These places should be reserved for the ghosts.

  9. If you see, hear or smell something strange, ignore it. The strange object you see, the weird smell you smell, or the unknown sound you hear, they all may belong to a ghost. Don’t investigate it, or pick something up from the ground, just ignore it.

  10. Don’t talk to yourself. Talking to yourself may seem like an invitation for the ghosts to start a conversation with you.

  11. Don’t get married. Not only can uninvited guests crash your wedding, it is also believed that marriages that start during Ghost Month are doomed to fail.

  12. Do not wear black nail polish. It is said that the dead have black nails. Therefore, if you wear black nail polish they might mistake you as one of them.

If you thought this was it, you’re wrong. There are many more taboos you should avoid. This is probably not even half of it.

Next to the things you should avoid, there is also a lot of things you should do. There are a few ceremonies to attend or perform, offerings to make and dinners to prepare. But that is something for another time.

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