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Hair-raising legends and beliefs across the region that make Halloween look like child’s play

Hungry Ghost Festival

Falling on the 15th day of the seventh month and lasting approximately 30 days, Hungry Ghost Festival—or Ghost Festival—is observed in many East Asian locales. It commemorates the annual opening of the underworld gates, giving spirits free rein to roam around and haunt the living.

In the week leading up to the festival, temples and ancestral halls become filled with people burning incense, and offering fruit and meals to their ancestors. 

But how do you stop a less-welcomed spirit from popping in for a visit?

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Practices include keeping windows and doors closed, not hanging washing outdoors (for fear of trapping a lost wandering spirit), and avoiding taking photos at night––this is believed to bring bad luck.

The act of whistling is avoided, as this is believed to attract evil spirits and bring bad luck. Some even avoid buying a car during Ghost Month, when the likelihood of getting into a car accident is said to be higher.

Just saying the word "ghost" is also believed to attract these wandering spirits; the term "good brothers" is generally used instead.

Related: 7 Things You Shouldn’t Do During The Hungry Ghost Festival

It is also said that swimming or any other kinds of water sports shouldn't take place during Ghost Month, as all the evil spirits that drowned may in turn attempt to drown you.

Another interesting belief: If you pick up money on the street, you may get a ghost marriage' or get somebody’s ill fortune.

Some also believe in not killing rare insects that visit your house, as moths, grasshoppers and butterflies may be a manifestation of your ancestors paying a visit during the seventh month. 

The spookiest ghost-prevention method of all? Avoiding the last bus or train of the night. Rumour has it that spooks lie in wait for unsuspecting travellers, ready to give them a late-night haunting.

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The Breast Ghost

Female ghosts feature strongly in Malaysian and Indonesian folklore, including the hantu kopek—aka hantu tetek, wewe gombel—"breast ghost" in English.

Though details vary in different locales and villages, the blood-curdling myth generally centres around a female ghost who is said to take young children, hide them under the folds of her breasts, and run away with them. 

In previous times, during Maghrib prayers, parents in villages would warn their children to come inside the house lest they be captured by the evil hantu kopek.  

Some say this ghost also appears in the form of a beautiful young woman with unusually large breasts, who lures young men with the intention of kidnapping and suffocating them.   

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Funeral and wedding taboos

Many across East Asia believe it is not wise to go home directly after attending a funeral. Instead, they have to stop over elsewhere to dust off any negative energy before going home—and to ensure that you won't take home any spirits that are attaching themselves to you. 

Another taboo warns against marriages in the same year as the death of a family member—this is considered unlucky. 

Ghostly guests at the door

If you've ever wondered why people in the Philippines say tao po before entering a house, here's the story behind it: it is to declare that they are indeed human.

It is believed that spirits—or aswangs in Tagalogcannot state that they are human. Bet this makes you think twice before answering a voiceless knock at the door in the dead of night.


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