The seventh month of the lunar calendar is traditionally known as Ghost Month, but according to a report published by the Taiwan Folklore Museum, it only acquired its inauspicious connotations during the reign of the Hongwu Emperor during the Ming Dynasty in the 14th century. Until then, the month was a time for worshipping ancestors and honoring parents.
The museum’s research shows that the Hongwu Emperor “blamed the ghosts” as a way of deterring the general public from worshipping on the same auspicious days as the imperial court.
Taiwan Folklore Museum director Chu Chieh-yang said that there are a lot of taboos during Ghost Month, and many everyday activities are deemed inappropriate. However, not many people have bothered to find out why, so the museum decided to conduct some research into the matter.
Yen Rong-feng, deputy director of the museum, said ancient poems and texts make no mention of anything inauspicious related to the seventh lunar month. On the contrary, a Buddhist ancestor worshipping ceremony, Ullambana, was introduced by Emperor Wu of the Liang Dynasty. Ullambana became popular among the general populace, who honored their elders and ancestors on the 15th day of the seventh month. This continued until the Tang Dynasty, and there are no references to ghosts until the Song Dynasty.
The Ghost Festival that falls on the seventh full moon of the lunar year was considered an important day for worshiping ancestors, and a record of this practice is recorded in the General History of Taiwan. Buddhists associate the Ghost Festival with filial piety through the legend of Maudgalyayana, who rescued his mother after she was reborn in the realm of hungry ghosts. Yen says an expression used by the ancient geomancers that, “Since ancient times, emperors have been buried in the seventh month,” is further evidence that the seventh month used to be considered auspicious. An alternative word for the seventh lunar month contained the field radical with a vertical line through it, implying that “The time is right in heaven, the conditions on earth are favorable.” Yen says that Ming emperors not only had their burials in this month, but also favored it for coronations.
So when did the seventh lunar month become inauspicious? Yen says historical documents show that Liu Bo-wen, an advisor to the Hongwu Emperor, proposed the idea of sending people disguised as Taoist priests to cities and counties to spread the news that a disaster would happen in the seventh month. From then on, the notion of that month being unlucky began to spread.
Yen speculates that the Hongwu Emperor was an ardent believer in geomancy who fooled his subjects into believing that that the seventh month was unlucky so that the imperial court could reap the benefits of the auspicious days without having to share them with the common people. Yen says that the purpose of the museum’s research is to prevent people from becoming overly superstitious.
(LIBERTY TIMES, TRANSLATED BY TAIJING WU)
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