2009-08-28

Hungry Ghosts and Holy Ghost : cultural perspectives

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by Neil Godfrey

Lately I have seen many Chinese here in Singapore offering food and joss sticks and burning “ghost money” for hungry ghosts. It’s the time of the Hungry Ghost Festival — there are other specific Singapore explanations here and here. The ghosts come out every seventh lunar month. One Chinese colleague explained to me that it is believed there are more accidents than usual in this month. That would explain why so many offerings and joss sticks are placed at road intersections and stairways. When I mentioned this to some relatives back in Australia they thought the whole idea was “crazy” or “a bit peculiar”. And so it seems to westerners. But I could not help thinking of Christian Pentecost and western celebrations commemorating the descent of the Holy Ghost and how churches also mark this day with fruit and candles, and some with babbling tongues.

So a Hungry Ghost is weird but a Holy Ghost is normal? One is superstition but the other is religious faith?

There has also been an unfortunate story of a Moslem woman in Malaysia being sentenced to caning for imbibing a drug (alcohol) in public. Another work colleague made the interesting observation that in some western countries individuals can suffer degrading treatment and even ruin through their legal systems for being caught with a different brand of drug.

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Table of food for ghosts at a food court

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Encouraging ghosts to be kind to people traversing the stairway

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Making ghosts happy where the pedestrian pathway meets the road

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Burning (offering) lots of ghost money

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Time for quiet reflection

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Neil Godfrey

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  • 2009-08-28 17:57:12 GMT+0000 - 17:57 | Permalink

    Thanx for sharing the “hungry ghost” images ! I remember the same in Taiwan and Hong Kong. Agreeing with your theme: nothing gets me going more than when Evangelicals belittle the faith of Mormons — talking about calling the kettle black !

  • 2009-08-28 21:06:38 GMT+0000 - 21:06 | Permalink

    I like being among the Chinese with these sorts of practices and beliefs. They seem so much more laid back, let-live, and peaceful and accepting than western believers.

  • 2009-08-30 20:11:39 GMT+0000 - 20:11 | Permalink

    I agree. I think part of it is that many of them know that this stuff is obvious myth and weigh it appropriately while keeping traditions to color their lives. Some of my favorite Christians do the same. If only religious folks could all move the same way !

    Hey, may I suggest using a two column blog and putting organizing index posts in the right column so people can go about your blog like a book and read the stuff that sounds interesting? I think your writings are real gems. You could also give us some personal background and info (like e-mail address for communications like this !)
    Just some thoughts.

    • 2009-08-30 21:23:14 GMT+0000 - 21:23 | Permalink

      Thanks for the thoughts on a better blog layout. I’m not at all happy with my blog’s structure anymore, and I’d really like to get something up on my own server space. But then I think of URI and address changes etc etc. What I have now is an out of the box layout package that came with WordPress when I first started out, and not sure if/how I can change it now without loss of some data. I need close contact with techie friends to help me out with these questions — sort of out of touch here in Singapore, and may not get time to make the changes till I return to Australia. (I do have an email contact in my Profile page, though.)

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