A Case of Disbelief and Belief

By Christina Kim - August 19, 2015

"Don't take photos!"

It is the reminder I get every time whenever it comes to stumbling upon the rituals performed by the roadside; from the placing of joss sticks, food offerings and burning of paper money - commonly practiced particularly among the Chinese community observing the Taoism faith.
It is even more eminent during major festivals, though the practice of such worship rituals on the roadside are usually more common during the Hungry Ghost month which falls on the 7th month in the Chinese Lunar calendar.

Of course I can understand the reasons for not taking the photos; for it is only out of respect for the spiritual beliefs which is often observed in most religions.
(It is appropriate to ask for permission to take photos when one visits places of religious worship for there are certain restrictions placed in some of these places and it could be deemed disrespectful to just snap away at the deities and rituals taking place in the place of worship).

It is the sighting of these offerings by the roadside and the gathering of small groups of people spotted in scattered places everywhere that I realized it was that time of the year again; the solemn and much feared month of the Hungry Ghost festival which commenced last Friday, the first day of the 7th month in the Chinese Lunar Calendar.

Typically the 1st and 15th of the month are often observed as important dates among the Taoist and Buddhist communities; where they would follow a vegetarian diet as a tribute to the importance of these dates which are viewed as auspicious due to the cycle of the full moon (it is always a full moon as observed since the ancient days on these two particular days of every month, according to the Lunar calendar).
One telltale sign of the arrival of these times of the month is when the vegetarian restaurants are filled to brim everywhere, and you hear of your friends or colleagues and even family members telling you that they are on a vegetarian diet on that day.
That is one stark sign staring at us especially when you live in an area where the majority of the population are made up of the Chinese community; with a significant number of Buddhist and Taoist believers.

There are many taboos to observe when it comes to the Hungry Ghost festival month; which is said to fall officially on the 15th day of the seventh lunar month, where the gates of Hell are believed to be open to release the deceased souls to roam and visit the living on that day.
While the 15th is observed as the official day of the festival and the opening of the gates, many believed that the gates of Hell were actually already opened on the first day of the seventh lunar month and most would already commence with the practice of paying respects through burnt offerings and ritualistic worship.

The whole of the seventh month, is even observed as a solemn month with the inclusion of taboos to note, to maintain the harmony between the deceased and the living; which is the reason for this month to also be referred to as the month of the Hungry Ghost Festival, or occasionally, the Hungry Ghost month or ominously, the 7th month.
Generally, the month would be known simply as the Ghost Month( 鬼月 ), and the 15th Day is just the Ghost Day.
Officially, the Chinese would refer to it as the Chong Yuan Festival中元節 ) or YuLan Jie 盂蘭節 ).

Much perception has been raised with respect to the month and the festival in general; and fear is definitely one of them.
It has to do with that mystery surrounding death, and life after death which has been portrayed in many depictions; more often than not in a rather sinister manner.
It could easily lead to one's apprehension towards the subject which is often addressed with dread and avoidance.

The older generation often paints the picture of a foreboding atmosphere surrounding the festival, reminding their children and grandchildren of the dangers of dabbling with the supernatural and disrespecting the spirits in general, especially during this month.

Staying out late is frowned upon; and one should always be mindful of the burnt offerings by the roadside and there should never be words uttered of disrespect towards such rituals, whether you are a believer or not.
It is not just the offerings in presence which should be regarded with caution; in fact, even the heap of ashes from the burning should be left as it is and not to be kicked or stepped on as it is believed it could anger the spirits.

It is the month where the deceased souls, or spirits roam the earth, among the living.
Not to be confused with the Qing Ming festival (Tomb Sweeping Day清明節 ) where the living descendants would make a trip to the tombs of their deceased ancestors to pay their respects and the festival only revolves around their own deceased family members or elders, the Hungry Ghost Festival, or month, is where all those in the realm of the dead are offered the honor and respects.
All the deceased souls and even the wandering spirits are everywhere during this month.

While the Qing Ming is only about family ancestors and it is where the living visit their deceased ancestors, the Hungry Ghost month/festival is about all the deceased souls in general and it is about them visiting the living as they roam the earth freely for the whole month.

Therefore, it is believed that one ought to practice caution as all the spirits are free to go anywhere; be it one's own deceased loved ones or even unknown and maybe even malicious spirits intending to cause havoc to the living world.
In other words, it is definitely a depiction of All hell breaks loose, literally speaking.

The older generation takes on a much more solemn attitude when it comes to the subject; often of a rather formidable nature. They will be the ones warning the younger ones of the dangers of incurring the wrath of the spirits, through the stories and experiences of others which are usually said to be based on reality and have been passed on for generations.
Perhaps it is this knowledge that they have and also hearing from others that made them fearful of the unknown; despite not experiencing it themselves.
Still, as the old saying goes, it is always better to be safe than sorry and when things happen, it could already be too late for regrets.

 The younger generation are eluded with the knowledge from the evolution of education and science which guided them on the path of logic, and they seek answers to their questions.
It is not about obliging compliance but rather logical and grounded adherence in today's terms.
The new generation are not just about to follow anything blindly; without the backing of a reasonable explanation.
That is just where the conflict begins as the elders are adamant and protective in nature; following the beliefs and passing it on for the sake of their ensured safety while the young are just not willing to comply on unfounded grounds.

When it comes to the topic of spirits and the supernatural, it is often a world of unknown and what we know are often of hearsay from others, which conjures up the doubts and disbelief among the new age group who are taught to nurture an inquisitive and simply, rational mind.

The generation gap continues to push both the beliefs and common sense far from each other; and myths and taboos surrounding the mysteries of festivals such as the Hungry Ghost Month are slowly losing its grip on the newer generation, though not all in general.
I still see a mix of the young and old; preparing the offerings for the event in a respectful mode, in a joint practice and observance of the beliefs surrounding the living and the dead.

Perhaps the easiest way sometimes is just to understand the reasons behind the culture, rather than going heads on debunking the myths and throwing accusations of false beliefs or simply dismissing them as obsolete superstitions.

There is always a story behind everything, and change takes time.
Just like the younger generation needs time to be convinced of the practices, the older generation too, needs time to understand the rationale and theories of science.

It is all about understanding and accepting the differences; and it extends even across the distinctive cultures co-existing on the planet.

After all, it is this difference which makes us all (and our cultures) unique, don't you think?

So, if someone tells you not to take photos of the rituals; perhaps relating to the reasons where you could have captured a malicious spirit or a homeless and lonely soul, which could then be trapped and connected to your world, what do you do?

You nod and thank the person, and stow that camera politely away, and all you need to think of is the need to respect another's beliefs, or just a sign of respect that this is just about the culture while running a long lecture in your mind about the scientific knowledge that you have about the camera and particles in the air.

The reason it is called supernatural; is simply because it is just not your normal nor natural circumstances easily defined.

This is not a sponsored post, and solely based on author's personal opinions and preferences and do not represent the general public. Experiences vary from one individual to another.

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