Saturday, August 26, 2006

The ghosts are hungry again

It's that time of year again, when the ghosts of people past creep out of the ground, or wherever they are, and wander the earth hoping to be satiated by their living friends and relatives. Or so I'm told.

The Hungry Ghost Festival is evident in that many businesses and apartment complexes place a large rusted barrel out in front where people can worship. Hoards of little shops sell piles of paper money and effigies for burning purposes. To burn these in honor of your deceased loved ones is to "feed" their hungry ghosts so that they can rest in peace again for another year.

So it's common to see people standing near these barrels of fire, throwing in paper with pictures of money, cars, houses, anything that might allow your dead to live a more comfortable afterlife. What is interesting about seeing this is the complete disengagement with which people will perform this act. I saw a woman yesterday having a conversation with a nearby guard while she absently dropped her piles of thin paper into the fire without looking. If I have ever seen an empty ritual, this is it.

Why are Asians so superstitious? I'm curious to know the origin of this and other rituals. When I went for a haircut on the first working day after the New Year, my hairdresser told me it would have been very bad luck had I cancelled, being her first appointment of the New Year. She had already had two other people cancel that day. She felt certain there would be one more, because "these things always happen in threes." She sincerely believes that her life is directed by this ebb and flow of positive and negative luck.

As for me, I will not be purchasing any paper to burn. I don't believe in luck, or ghosts, for that matter. On this day I'm thankful that my hope is in something I believe to be much more real and life-giving.

1 comment:

chinatammy said...

Hey Gina - is this ceremony or "holiday" if you will in the asian country that I live in too? or is it specific to a different group of asian people than where I live? I'm curious to ask people here if they do it too? Or maybe they just do it at the "temples" or temple areas. . . very interesting!! :) Sad that I missed you while you were here! I would have loved to catch some coffee with you - maybe next time huh? :) much love, Tammy