Ghost Month

Musings on Ghost Month

Do’s, don’ts, and reflections on a month that scares almost everyone—especially businessmen. 

Earlier this week at the office, we were working on a few campaigns that had to be finalized before August 16. Ghost Month was approaching, and the team wasn’t keen on starting new projects or making major decisions in the meantime (well, just at least until September 14).

I had heard of Ghost Month as a kid. Adults told us that it was a time when the gates of hell were wide open, letting ghosts and evil spirits run wild and free. It was a convenient way for them to prohibit us from playing out on the streets beyond dusk, let alone roam the town at night. 

I’d later hear about Ghost Month again in my professional life, but now in the context of contract signings, major investments, or project launches. “We need to push back the date for this event, nasa Ghost Month na tayo,” my former boss once remarked. 

“Oh, and don’t stay overtime to finish the event builds ha, Gelo,” they said with a look of concern. “Spirits might follow you late at night.” 

The Hungry Ghost Festival

Several references explain that Ghost Month traces its roots to Taoism and Chinese Buddhism. Though there are certain nuances between how these two belief systems observe the period, both deal with appeasing souls. 

For instance, Taoists are concerned with assisting the spirits that roam the earth toward the afterlife in order to restore peace and harmony. Rituals and food offerings are done to appease the ghosts. On the other hand, Chinese Buddhists emphasize filial piety or ancestor worship. They pay their respects to their departed relatives and offer food and prayers to help them escape purgatory. 

As such, it’s common to see offerings, rituals, festivals, and altars set up across East and South East Asia during this time. And yes, as the Philippines has a storied historical and cultural relationship with China, we’ve imbibed several aspects of Ghost Month, influencing everything from parenting styles to contract negotiations. 

Makeshift altars like these are common around parts of Asia during Ghost Month. The offerings are meant to appease the waves of spirits that wander the earth. Photo: Unsplash

So what can we do—or not do?

Several things are discouraged during this time, from hanging out clothes at night (they might attract ghosts), picking up objects from the streets (spirits might be attached to them), to avoiding bodies of water (the “water ghosts” might take you away).

But perhaps the first (and foremost!) thing one must do for Ghost Month—especially if you and/or family or community don’t practice it—is to understand its origins and respect the reverence and solemnity of those who observe the tradition. Admittedly, hearing about Ghost Month as a kid (and being scared with the idea) made me think that the month was a dark and evil time, which it really isn’t.

If anything, the prohibitions that abound during Ghost Month are also exercises in caution and due diligence—values that you can bring with you and practice even after September 14. Be vigilant when you’re traveling out at night; if you’re entering a major deal, make sure that you double or triple-check all line items and stipulations; even make it an occasion to remember your dearly departed, even outside of months or events like Ghost Month or All Souls Day. 

The new lifestyle.