The Hungry Ghost Festival has deep cultural significance, with many superstitious practices Singaporeans are willing to pay for.
The seventh lunar month is upon us. During this time, Chinese Singaporeans revere their ancestors and show charity to the less fortunate among the dead.
It’s a festival of deep cultural significance, but there are many superstitions and rituals that Singaporeans pay for. Some of them are heavy on the pocket:
1. Ghost-Busting Services
The greatest fear during this period is that of possession. Hungry ghosts (spirits that died unfulfilled, or have no remaining relatives to burn offerings for them) stalk the streets.
They are hungry to experience all they’ve left behind in life (hence the term hungry ghost), and may do it by taking over someone’s body. Common ways to get possessed are looking at ghosts (look away when you see them), or kicking over joss sticks.
Once you start speaking in strange languages, rotate your head 180 degrees, etc., it’s time for a ghost buster. The most famous of these is in the basement of Katong Shopping Centre, and costs around S$100 per soul exorcised.
Ghost buster services also make house calls to cleanse the area of spirits, or put up protective wards (talisman prayer strips), for the price of S$50 to S$200 (it depends on the size of the house).
2. Enhanced Feng Shui Protection
Most Chinese people are hesitant to buy a new house during the Hungry Ghost Festival, as it’s considered inauspicious. Sometimes house hunters take advantage of that for a bargain (or the timing just isn’t convenient).
A geomancer is often called in to balance out the high levels of yin (dark and negative energy) present during this time. This involves recommendations such as where to place furniture, or painting the walls a certain colour. At times, the geomancer will give the residents a special candle to light and walk around the room with. This is supposed to cleanse the flat of bad energies.
The cost of a Feng Shui consultation ranges from S$0.50 to well over S$1.50 per square foot, for the most renowned masters. The most popular geomancers are often found in Fou Lou Shou complex at Bugis.
3. Lottery Number Chasers
They are considered inauspicious, risky, and even immoral – but some people will stop at nothing to find winning 4D or Toto numbers.
Some mediums (or bomohs if you like) claim that powerful spirits are abundant during this time. While others seek to avoid possession, mediums do the opposite – for the right fee, they will invite spirits into their body, so the hungry ghost can reveal winning numbers through them.
Some shady groups even visit Lim Chu Kang cemetery (one of the largest in Singapore) to conduct seances. These are often done in the hours past midnight, and may involve methods like driving bamboo poles into the graves to harass spirits into giving you what you want.
Many mediums do not have a fixed fee. They often pass around a collection bag to gawkers who are watching their seance. By custom however, most Singaporeans will donate amounts ranging from S$2 to S$5.
Private events, which are organised one-on-one sessions with the mediums, are much more expensive. These may be upwards of S$200.
4. Taxi Fares and Uber Rides
Due to repeated cautions against staying out late, or the prospect of seeing ghosts, many Chinese Singaporeans become big on using cabs and Uber.
Few of them are willing to walk down lonely, winding paths at night, and risk seeing something they shouldn’t. There is also an abundance of stories – made famous by Russell Lee’s True Singapore Ghost Stories – that MRT stations and bus stops are a favourite haunt of the undead.
Do you want to get on a train alone at midnight, and then realise the lady next to you has no feet? No?
Then you’d better fork out S$20 for an Uber ride home!
5. Repaying the Ghost
The medium isn’t the only who gets paid if you win 4D or Toto (see point 3). If you get a winning number from a ghost, tradition holds that you must make repayment to the dead.
If you ignore the spirit after your winnings, it is believed the ghost will haunt you. This can result in illness or losing the money you won. If you happen to be involved with truly malevolent entities, it may even lead to car accidents and miscarriages.
It is customary to burn offerings for the dead after you win the lottery, even if it occurs after the 7th month. The more you won, the more grandiose the gesture has to be. When we asked around, we were given different responses as to how much is “enough”.
Some Singaporeans will make similar offerings to those given to ancestors. Others will vary it based on the amount won. For example, one Singaporean who won S$7,000 in 4D burned a whole (paperwork) house for the spirit that revealed the numbers – this cost S$88.
Wiser folk will tell you the best idea is not to mess around with spirits. Forget the lottery, and focus on good old fashioned savings and investments. After all, there are no credit card rebates for ghost buster services.
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By Ryan Ong
Ryan has been writing about finance for the last 10 years. He also has his fingers in a lot of other pies, having written for publications such as Men’s Health, Her World, Esquire, and Yahoo! Finance.