Today is Halloween... in our western society this is All Hallows Eve... which like so many of our Christian traditions, probably had its roots in our own pagan past. The feast of Samhain marked the end of the harvest and the beginning of winter and was seen as a time when the spirits and fairies could slip the boundary between the otherworld and ours. Our pagan ancestors offered propitiation to the the spirits to ensure they survived the hard winter ahead. When the pagan slid into the Christian, All Hallows and All Souls days became the religious observance days for honouring the dead saints and the souls of those who had departed.
When I lived in Singapore, it was hard not to get drawn into the traditions and customs of the many different cultural groups that make up the population of that wonderful little country. I recall shopping for Christmas decorations in the company of Muslim women on the hunt for Ramadan decorations, and the shopping malls still vie for the most amazing Christmas decorations which go up just after the Deepavali decorations come down.
It therefore came as no surprise to find in the Buddhist and Taoist tradition, there is a similar feast... that of the Hungry Ghosts. Traditionally the seventh month of the lunar new year (around August) was the month when the souls of the departed - the Hungry Ghosts - like the fae folk of western tradition, slipped the bounds of the afterlife and and roamed earth once more seeking propitiation and entertainment. All around Singapore, braziers appeared on the footpaths and the smell of burning incense paper drifted in the warm air and Chinese opera stages appeared in parks and outside temples. Rows of seats were always left empty to ensure the hungry ghosts had the best seats. It is considered ill luck to plan an important event during this month (marriage, children, house moves, business ventures, big trips). In fact there is a long list of dos and don’ts - see this article for examples!
The second of the Harriet Gordon Mysteries, REVENGE IN RUBIES, is set in August 1910 - Hungry Ghost month and the theme of the ghosts of the past coming back to haunt the characters seemed to fit well with the story as both Harriet and Curran are forced to face the ghosts and demons of their own pasts...
Here in Australia, Halloween has never been celebrated with the same fervour as it is in the northern hemisphere, but wherever you may be I hope you enjoy your Halloween!