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Taiwanese Ghost Month

Informant:

E, a 22-year-old Chinese-Taiwanese female who was born and raised in Los Angeles. She is currently a senior at the University of Southern California.

Background info:

E’s first language was English, but because her parents were immigrants, she quickly learned Mandarin as well. Her parents are proud of their culture, and thus they often participated in many Taiwan and Chinese traditions, and believed many of the superstitions, as well. This is one of the superstitions E’s mother believed.

Context:

Late at night, a lot of weird conversations happen. Because E is on a project with me, we were working together at around 2:00am when we started discussing superstitions. When she knocked on wood, it brought this conversation up. The following is a transcript of the conversation I had with E. (I will be represented with a J.)

Main piece:

J: “Are there any other superstitions that you experienced growing up? With your family or friends? School, even?

E: “I’m not sure that this would count as a superstition, it’s more of a tradition centered around various superstitions… In Taiwan, there is this thing called Ghost Month. It’s in August, but basically there are just things you aren’t supposed to do during this month that could cause you to become haunted by a spirit.”

J: “What kind of things?”

E: “Well… For one, you aren’t supposed to have like… major life events during this month. Like if a child is born during this month, then it means that the child is cursed in some way. Or you aren’t supposed to get married or else ghosts will haunt you and try to break the marriage apart… Swimming and bathing are discouraged otherwise a ghost will try to drown you? Ghosts just don’t like people doing things during this month…”

J: “Do you know when this started? Or when your family started to avoid these things?”

E: “My brother was born in August, so clearly my parents didn’t care haha… But no, it’s mostly like my grandparents and other family still in Taiwan that observe this. My cousins, for example, have like… ghost-themed things in school to sort of like honor the dead. The only thing my dad warned us not to do was get married during August because he believes that’s why his sister got divorced… Otherwise, I think there are just too many things that are considered ‘unlucky’, or bad, during this time to take the tradition seriously.”

Thoughts:

There is a lot to break down with this tradition. It is filled with a multitude of superstitions, but they all sort of revolve around ghosts haunting you for doing things like whistling, swimming, etc. This is very reminiscent of Halloween in the United States; ghosts just roam around looking to haunt people. From E’s recount, it seemed to me like most of these “offenses” were just actions that some would consider unruly. Whistling can become annoying, swimming in places other than a pool could be frowned upon, flying commercially could be supporting corporations, etc. However, I was interested in the abstaining from major life events – specifically the example of her father believing his sister got divorced because she was married in August. A common thread in the folklore I have seen or experienced is that people use it to explain something bad happening. “Oh, it wasn’t that the two people were not meant to be together, it was just the ghosts messing with their marriage.” Or when bad things happen on Friday the 13th, people do not see them as logical events, they blame it all on bad luck.

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