I decided to take advantage of this festival to write about a little talked of subject : Los Muertos Oscuros. The Dark Dead. This is something that is universal amongst all traditions, both old and new. Even Reiki practitioners have talked to me about the use of Reiki to help or aid the dead. Especially those lost in the darkness.
But first, what is this festival about?
Today at Sunset, the Hungry Ghost Festival begins. For those who don’t know, this is when the dark or toxic spirits of the dead are released. Specifically those who died and went to Hell for their sins. Hell isn’t entirely a Christian concept. Many faiths have their own version of Hell under different names.
Or states of hell. Sometimes referred to as “reincarnating into the lower realms.” Although lower realms isn’t always hell. Sometimes it’s limbo or even reincarnation as an animal. Though I personally don’t believe reincarnating as an animal is “lower” at all.
It’s being a part of nature. Humans after all, are animals. Typically, Hungry Ghosts are classified into three groups : Needle Mouths, Flame Mouths, and Corpse Mouths. A Needle Mouth is when a hungry ghost has a throat that is so tiny, it’s like a needle. Which is why they cannot eat food.
Flame Mouths are people that cannot eat food because it will burn up or transform into coal. And Corpse Mouths are the very worst. Those are people who were so evil in life, that they become decomposing corpses. They can’t eat because their mouths rotted away. This is a testament to their very literal rotten character.
For many generations there was very little that could be done for such people. It wasn’t until the Buddha’s two disciples, Maudgalyāyana and Sariputta had to face the fires of hell to save their mothers. Both of them had selfish and greedy mothers, who when they died, went to Hell and became Hungry Ghosts. If you want to read the whole story, go to my 2018 Article on the origins of the Festival. This also covers the rituals needed to appease them and ease their sufferings.
In addition to Buddhism, the same entity exists in Hinduism, known as a Preta. Which becomes a flesh eating undead revenant.
In addition to not being able to eat because of their mouths, Hungry Ghosts have large distended bellies. This is for them to eternally starve to death without starving. Now, most religions also have what I call Dark Ghosts. Toxic spirits of the dead. They aren’t necessarily people who went to Hell.
Not everyone believes in Hell. But various religions have something akin to limbo or purgatory. And in this place a spirit with no light as we Santeros say, or divine energy, just keeps getting darker. And then more violent and nasty. Until they become something far removed from who they once were in life.
A soul that was put into a blender and so messed up that it’s unrecognizable as who it once was. In Santería we call this an Eggun Buruku. Literally the dark dead. In fact I believe the Shadow People mentioned in modern paranormal accounts are these types of spirits. Not demons but really dark souls.
Although at least some of them, do become demons according to certain folkloric beliefs. In Catholicism they are called Anima Solas or “lonely souls” that live in purgatory. In Ancient Roman beliefs they were called Lemures or Larvae. The root word meaning “mask”. Because their visage was so horrible that they were masks of fear to those who beheld them.
And of course we have the Jewish Dybbuk. The soul of a sinner who, unable to become one with God, is hunted and beaten by Angels for sport. So they must come down to our realms in order to escape. They are called Dybbuks because the root word in Hebrew is the word for “attachment”. They attach themselves to the living or outright possess them.
Whether they be animals or humans makes no difference to them. Symptoms of Dybbuk possession include speaking with someone else’s voice (dead person’s voice). Having any ailments or pains they had in life like back pain or anything else they had. Or total personality changes. In certain spiritual circles the belief of a deceased soul doing all of this to a possessed person is identical.
Dark, but not always Evil
Not all of these dark souls are evil or even punished by God through the Angels however. Some Dybbuks are just dark because of how they died. Such as suicides. And they stay in a state of constant purification until they are ready to become one with God, like the Anima Solas in Purgatory. A Rabbi once told me that such a spirit will be attracted to someone who acts like them.
So if a Dybbuk committed suicide, they will go to someone thinking of it. If a Dybbuk was a murderer, they will go to someone thinking of it. Once there, they possess and oppress the person. The person starts getting visions of this dead soul in life. And they relive all the things the deceased went through.
The person in theory, understands that killing themselves or someone else won’t give them peace. So they change their ways and live out their lives. The Dybbuk departs from the human. And they having fulfilled their duty, are fully purified. Thus allowed to enter Heaven.
This is just one of many ways that the dark dead are able to be purified. It’s not always about sin but more often than not, miasma. Negative energy from some event holding them back. And by being unable to release this bad energy, they stop themselves from going forward. Usually, what happens is that a descendant doesn’t remember their ancestors.
There’s this modern belief that the dead are automatically fine. That when they die, they go to God and that’s it. Some go to Heaven, others go to Hell, done. But it doesn’t work like that. Even in Purgatory, there are many different forms and dimensions.
Same with reincarnation. Not all reincarnation is the same either. But I digress. When people forget their ancestors, that’s a nail in their spiritual coffin. When they don’t give them offerings of food and money or drink or incense and candles etc.. the soul becomes like a homeless person.
Alone. Trapped. Always hungry and thirsting. Always cold or hot because they have no home to protect them. Always alone or in the company of spirits that make you feel alone.
This is why on Hungry Ghost Month Hades Money or Hell Money is burned. It’s a kind of fake currency that is charged with prayers or belief. Once it’s burned in honor of a specific person, that person has the spiritual version of it with them. And to them, it’s a real currency.
Here we back our currencies with gold or natural resources. Their, faith, belief, power, energy is what backs such a currency and makes it real for them. I knew one woman, who would burn the paper using a holy candle. The holiness of the blessed candle would be permanently infused into that money. So that the money would appear to the dead person she offered it to as a talisman.
It wouldn’t run out.
In many traditions we have some kind of altar or idol for the nameless and forgotten dead. In Yoruba practice, we have statues of Babalu Aye and Oro who are Orishas that have power over the nameless and forgotten dead. They are placed outside the house. And offerings are given to them to make sure these spirits are pacified and won’t harm the living. Special idols for Hekate are placed outside of household doors to ensure bad spirits stay away.
Or just plain using sea salt barriers to block anything or anyone from coming in. While everyone is in danger of being effected by them, the sick, the elderly, children, and pregnant women are most at risk. Animals should avoid being outdoors at night as well. If you keep them outdoors, you need to ward your front and backyards. As well as ward their places of sleep.
Bless their food and drink and ask the Gods to fill them with protective grace to ward off enemy spirits. By enemy I mean anything that could harm you, even if unintentionally. Do extra protections. These are some links with information with good advice on what to do during this month.
Staying safe through Hungry Ghost Month
While Vietnam had their own Hungry Ghost Festival on July 15, this is still good advice and applicable to this festival.
Ghosts and other Myths : How Vietnam celebrates the 7th Lunar Month
Hungry Ghost Month & the Star of Yin Gate (More Good Advice for this month)
Finally, if you do decide to give offerings this month you need to be very careful. The Hungry Ghosts congregate all around people giving offerings. You need to charge your food and drink for libations but ask the Gods to put a timer on when the energy can be released. So that once you put it outside, it won’t release the energy until you have left and are safe. And wait until you are outside and far from home.
Pray to the Gods and ask them to charge the food and water. And that even if it is devoured right away in the physical world, it may endlessly replicate into the spiritual world until morning. That way many souls will be free. Or alternatively for the blessings on the food and water to be a gigantic bomb that will liberate an entire night’s worth of spirits when eaten. Cleanse the whole home.
Hungry Ghosts, like most spirits will possess an animal to eat on their behalf. The Hungry Ghost eats the energy inside the food, and the animal eats the physical food. Give your home an extra strength blessing. Do it for your Cars in case you need to be out late. Wear a protective charm with you.
And anoint yourself with oil. Or holy water. Bless any food or drink you have before you eat it and pray for protection. That way you will be given divine grace to protect yourself. Don’t offer the food to them when inside your home.
Because that will be an open invitation to them. And next thing you know, you will have legions over running your house. So when you do this outside, first have protection. Cast a circle, or wear a protection around your neck, have a charm bag etc.. even a salt circle around your car will do. Make it large enough to walk inside of.
Choose a place far from your home. Then what you need to do is pray to the Gods to charge the offerings. Either to ascend or elevate whoever will eat them. And that in exchange for them being crossed, for more good spirits to enter our home instead. That’s my advice.
Also, for this month it is very good to offer incense to your Gods and spirits for good Karma. Have a good Ghost Month everybody.