Every Ghost Month, many Taiwanese observe Taoist rituals and ceremonies during the period when, according to traditional Chinese beliefs, the spirits of the dead are allowed to re-enter the mortal world.
Among those who believe in the spiritual realm are people who also believe in psychic powers and paranormal phenomena associated with ghosts and spirits. Despite many decrying believing in the paranormal as mere superstition, several psychiatrists say that thousands of Taiwanese are capable of communicating with spirits or ghosts.
Lee Kuang-hui (李光輝), a senior psychiatrist and director of Pei-Ling Guan-Si Hospital in Hsinchu County, said that based on what he has seen during his years as a clinical practitioner, he estimates that at least one in every 1,000 people in Taiwan has the ability to perceive and engage with the spiritual realm.
“This means that at least 23,000 Taiwanese have a special power that enables them to see, hear and experience supernatural events most people are blind to,” Lee said.
Many people have reported being possessed by an evil presence as they sought to “channel” spirits. In some cases, medical treatment has been administered to the possessed and in other cases, Taiwanese-style exorcists have been called in to drive away the malevolent spirit.
Yang Tsung-tsai (楊聰財), a psychiatrist at Hsintien Cardinal Tien Hospital (新店耕莘醫院) in New Taipei City (新北市), said that eight out of every 10 patients who seek medical treatment because they are experiencing illusions or hearing eerie sounds indicated that they felt possessed by an other-worldly being.
“Some of these patients were engaging in paranormal or occult practices, in which they were too deeply engrossed. When traditional Chinese medicine failed to cure them, they turned to Western medicine,” Yang said.
“Some of these individuals do not recognize that they have a problem or are suffering from an illness. They think even God can not save them,” Yang added.
However, Lee sees things differently. He stressed that it is not fair for society to label such people as superstitious or occult practitioners.
“These individuals really believe they can see and feel other-worldly phenomena. This sense is similar to animals’ ability to foretell meteorological events,” he said.
A patient of Lee’s once told him that he could see a person’s soul hovering in the air around them, while another said that a deceased friend had appeared to them to ask for help.
Lee said doctors should be sympathetic when treating such patients and give them support, adding that if treated positively, most patients can overcome their fear and accept their experiences.
If a patient’s special ability is causing them trouble, then they would of course be prescribed medicine, he added.
Lu Ying-chung (呂應鐘), chairman of the International Chinese Parapsychology Study Association (國際華人超心理學會), is of the opinion that one in every 100 individuals in Taiwan has psychic powers that allow them to act as a spirit medium, or have other special abilities.
“Everyone has the capacity to develop this acuity. All it takes is opening up the receptive channels that all people possess,” Lu said.
“However, it is important to bear in mind that humans and ghosts are from different worlds. Communicating with the spirit world is fine as long as a person is not trying to enhance their perceptive powers with training or gain from their ability,” Lu said.