This past weekend, three friends and I visited TouCheng 頭城 near Yilan 宜蘭 to see and experience the once a year event known as “Grappling with Ghosts”. As many of you already know, this past month in the lunar calendar has been the celebration of Ghost Month.
Strangely enough, even to most Taiwanese, the meaning of this festival is a mystery. After some research, I discovered the meaning behind the symbolism. It is rooted in Daoist tradition and lore.
In summary, the fir tree towers you see are covered in food (meats, rice dumplings, etc.). The symbolism in the fir trees is related to the wood that ships are made from.
This “feast” is intended to draw all the remaining, wandering “good brothers” that have yet to return to the “other world” together. The originators of this event feared that these “good brothers’ might wish to remain in this world and cause some trouble. They wanted to find a way to ensure that all of these spirits would return to the other world and leave this world in peace.
As midnight approaches, the people send up their champions, racing up the poles in a climb to the very top. The first one to reach the top must snatch a red flag as his trophy, which is then sold to the highest bidder (who traditionally is the captain of a sailing vessel) as an amulet of spiritual protection for the following year. At that point, the crowd breaks into cheers and screams along with the priests chanting, drumming and playing their horns which should scare the “good brothers” back into the underworld.
For pictures of the event and the other activities that occur along with it – CLICK HERE. Warning – it is graphic including animals.