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.
“If ghosts or evil spirits are interfering with a person’s life or trying to do them harm, one can stay safe by refusing any temptation. Malevolent beings cannot harm you as long as you have no greed or material wants in your heart, or try to seek fame and glory from your special ability,” Lu added.
Several individuals renowned for possessing extra-sensory perception said that if they had the choice, they would shut off their abilities.
Sofia Liu (劉柏君), also known as Sofia (索非亞), author of Medium of the Spiritual Realm (靈界的譯者), has spoken of the downsides of talking with the dead.
“People need not envy those with channeling abilities. At times, I have been taking a bath and suddenly looked up to see four feet dangling in front me. While trying to enjoy a book, I have been interrupted by violent crying sounds. This led people to think I was suffering from a mental disorder,” she said.
Liu said that she has dealt with these negative aspects by putting them out of her mind and focusing on other things.
“Also, I avoid going near Taoist and Buddhist ritual sites, as well as religious centers. Another good tactic is to find a faith to devote yourself to,” she said.
Master Hui Tzu (慧慈), resident teacher at the Fazhi Shengtian Temple (法旨聖天宮) in New Taipei City’s Bali District (八里), is also said to possess special sensory abilities.
“Dealing with humans is already difficult enough without having to also interact with ghosts,” she said. “When you have this special ability, ghosts and evil spirits will seek you out. Before, I would have to deal with things like spirits appearing to fight me for a chair if I was going to sit down.”
She said that only when she became a devotee of the Taoist Supreme God Sanching (三清道祖) was she able to control her powers and use them to help others.
Hui Tzu added that in her experiences dispensing advice and telling fortunes, she has encountered several cases of people suffering terrible fates because they reneged on promises they made to spirits in exchange for favors or revelations after getting what they asked for.