Welcome the Roaming Souls
We are again in the time of year when Spirits roams the streets. The 7th month on the Chinese Lunar Calendar marks the beginning of the Hungry Ghost festival. Taoists believe the that hungry ghosts are souls of people that did not find everything they needed to survive in their after life. For one month each year the gates of hell are thrown open and the souls of the wretched are allowed to roam the physical world at will and feed off of the living. The ghost will scare people, and then draw strength and energy from the fear. To appease and distract the ghosts there are elaborate entertainments put on all over the city. People also will pray, chant, burn copious amounts of joss sticks or leave offerings of food about. People also burn effigies and offerings to send them over to their relatives on the other side so that they will have what they need to move on to their next life.
The items that get burned as offerings range form simple pieces of paper to hell money , or paper clothing, paper cars and even paper houses. There are Barrels about for the purpose of burning, but they are not always used. Some offering burns are on the sidewalks or in an open area. The piles of ashes are all over and some of the fires are rather large indeed. Oranges and cakes are left about and burning incens line the sidewalks and drives.
The entertainments put on to distract the hungry ghosts are many and varied, they have dances, dinners, puppet shows singing, plays and operas - all to entertain the wandering souls that have been released from the underworld. The the first row of seats in these performances are always left open so the ghosts have a place to sit. The Shows are lively but often sparsely attended - but that is not really of concern as the entertainments are not performed for the living.
This time of years is viewed as an inauspicious one and it is bad luck to start new ventures or projects. Thus during this month most construction stops, there are no new buildings started, Chinese weddings drop off to almost zero (although Muslim wedding continue unabated), and new businesses will have to wait.
At the end of the 7th month some souls are not yet ready to return to their pain filled internment in the underworld. Horse-face (mǎ miàn) and Ox-head (niú tóu) the fearsome Guardians to Hell are some times called on to "help" the more reluctant of souls find their way back to Hades.
For a good (and creepy) Singaporean movie that takes place during the 7th month rent "The Maid" - http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0474791/ - very scary
For more pix of teh 7th month check - http://www.flickr.com/photos/55592119@N00/