"Hungry Ghost" Chinese Mediums & Lots


Apart from Taiwan, there may be no other place in the world today where so many Chinese continue to preserve their ancient religious traditions. Mao Zedong seemingly obliterated most traditional Chinese religionist practices in Mainland China.

Among the Chinese of Malaysia—particularly in the Chinese populations of Penang—these traditions don’t merely survive; they thrive.

And at the look of things, most Chinese here haven’t even thought of abandoning them.

During this Chinese Spirits of the 7th Month “Hungry Ghost” Festival communities come together for many interactions between the physical & the spiritual world. 

At the end of the Hungry Ghost Festival the faithful will gather the ashes from the offering fires, place them in clay pots decorated with joss sticks & entrust some of their community members to keep them on an altar in their home until the next year.  See some of these offerings in my gallery here. But first they must choose who will be the community keepers of these ash pot offerings for the next year? 

Making this decision provides for a lively party where a senior Chinese community leader tosses the sim poey--

 --two blocks of wood that look like matching halves of an oversized kidney. Others carefully record the position in which they fall. One round side up & the other down is an affirmative; two landing on the same side is a negative. 

This kind of “casting of lots” leads them to determine who has the honor & responsibility of hosting these community offerings until next year.

But that & determined loyalty to the ancient ways are not enough to keep the traditions going. My friends tell me that if ever there ceases to be a Chinese medium, the temples & altars will go neglected & belief in the old ways will begin to disappear. In my local community the presiding medium last year was the owner of a nationally-known local seafood restaurant.

This Chinese medium goes into a trance & begins showing intense strain across his face & in his neck muscles.

His assistants relax him by liberally pushing alcohol down his throat.

The spirits—both in the invisible realm & from the bottle—lead him to launch out into semi-erratic dancing under the broiling sun.

Chinese adherents prepare a small offering of oranges, Guinness beer & a few joss sticks standing in small race cakes & lead the medium to it.

Here he takes the sim poey, tosses them into the air & seeks a revelation based on the way they land.

Then he quickly leads his Chinese followers across the alleyway into a tent full of remarkable food offerings provided for the spirits.  Most of it soon will also be enjoyed by the still-living faithful. 

Under the tent the spirits possess him to write Chinese characters on a large rice-paper sheet. 

Meanwhile, just outside on the beach, Chinese traditional religionists have created a circle for paper offerings. 

Soon Chinese men & women are trotting down to the beach with large bags full of

underworld money & other symbols of wealth & sustenance to be offered to every underworld spirit who may be having doubts about heading back below.

 The Chinese medium dances around this growing pile of offerings to consecrate them. 

He then goes back inside the tent where his assistants announce that it’s now time for the Chinese community to partake of the spirit food that’s assembled inside. 

While everyone’s enjoying their meal, the offering outside is ignited, flames up very quickly & turns into smoldering ashes by the sea.

Check here again soon to see images of the Chinese community’s “Hungry Ghost” Festival communal meal.