Banishing a troublesome spirit

A tale to mark the start of The Hungry Ghost Month

August 2021

One of us has been a bit unwell lately. It wasn’t very serious, just an occasional bout of exhaustion, with stomach pains and a sore throat.

But it was troublesome enough to seek help. So we went to a doctor and he sent us to a hospital. The doctors there did lots of tests but couldn’t find anything wrong.

So we decided to visit a Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) doctor, and this proved more interesting.

‘You have some trapped energy’, the doctor told us, ‘about here’ – and he pointed to the location of the stomach pain.

‘It’s blocked Chi’, he explained, ‘a blockage in your natural energy flow’.

‘Take this medicine.’

For the next month, M consumed a small brown sachet of powder, which smelt a little like Chinese Five Spice, three times a day. And it worked. The problems went away.

But a few months later they were back.

So we went back to the TCM doctor and explained. He gave us more medicine, blended a little differently. Again, it worked for a while. But a few months later the tiredness and aches returned.

Try a temple

When we mentioned this to a friend who has been in Taiwan a long time, she said, ‘why don’t you go to a temple? The problem might be spiritual, not medical.’

‘OK’, we said. We’re up for that.

So, a few weeks ago, we drove out of the city on a long winding road through the mountains until we came to a small town. On one side of the street was a large gold-painted Buddha statue. Opposite was a small lane that led to a Taoist temple.

Ewer welcome

‘This temple specialises in getting rid of unwanted spirits and retrieving lost parts of your soul’, our friend told us.

Just the ticket, we thought.

Inside was dark and smoky. Near the centre was a large sand-filled bronze ewer, with hundreds of burning incense sticks. Around the walls were shrines, some to a small number of gods, others to what seemed like hundreds. On a table at the front were bowls of fruit and bunches of flowers, as well as a box of Ferrero Rocher chocolates. Gifts for the Gods, we were told.

On the left was a balcony, and below that was a garden with a fountain and a pond. It was filled with fat orange and white koi carp, swimming in slow rhythmic circles.

We were led into a room at the rear by the Temple Master, a small middle-aged man in jeans and a tee shirt. He asked us to sit at the table in the centre, offered us some tea and handed M a sheet of paper and a pencil. ‘Address and date of birth please’, he said.

With the information needed, he started typing into a laptop on another desk.

A few minutes later two sheets of dark yellow paper whined out of a printer behind us. He took the paper and started reading. The characters were in a very old form of Chinese, he told us, where the grammar is simplified.

As he read, one of the temple staff handed each of us a bowl of steaming noodles with bamboo shoots.

‘Please eat!’ said the Master kindly. ‘I must study this.’

A ghost has attached itself

As we finished, we became aware that he was studying M closely.

‘You have been feeling tired’, he said. ‘You have been tired for a couple of years, yes?’.

M swallowed a mouthful of bamboo shoots and nodded.

‘The problem you have is clear,’ he said. ‘A ghost has attached itself to you.’

Our eyebrows went up and we put down our bowls.

‘Yes, it’s a female ghost’ he went on, ‘her name is Lo Yu Che.’

‘Because of her, your soul is pushing you and your heart is tight. Your throat is blocked’, he went on. ‘This is because your Chi is blocked. Even your bones are uncomfortable.’

We looked at each other. Chi, eh?

‘All these problems are from your soul,’ the Temple Master continued, ‘not your body. It is negative energy that has done this. You’re trapped by this ghost’.

‘When she lived, she had stomach cancer and this reflects on you’ he continued. ‘She fought the cancer and swallowed drugs so she could die. That’s why your throat hurts.’

Our jaws dropped. So the source of the problem was a woman who had committed suicide, whose soul could not move on to the next world.

‘We can help you,’ said the Temple Master with a smile.

Next time, bring fruit

We were taken to a shrine and M was asked repeatedly to drop two small wooden tokens, shaped like orange segments. Depending on how they fell, we were told, they indicated yes, no, or a smile.

‘I’m talking to the spirit’, the Temple Master explained, ‘asking her if she is willing to leave you.’

M continued to throw the wooden segments onto the floor.

‘She is stubborn,’ laughed the Master.

Eventually he was satisfied, and we were led to another shrine. A small mirror was smashed with a hammer. Then several large sheets of paper were stamped with chops and folded before being burned.

‘That’s it,’ said the Temple Master. ‘She won’t bother you any more.’

We thanked him profusely and left.

‘Next time bring some fruit and flowers for the spirits’, he said, and waved.

Did it work?

It’s hard to say for certain because it’s only been a few weeks since our visit. It’s also hard to separate what you might want to believe from what’s true. But there has been no tiredness nor stomach pains since our visit.

Photos: Mike Jewell and Taiwan-Tales

With the Gates of Hell opening in a few weeks, you can learn more about The Hungry Ghost Month and its taboos here

And, if you’re travelling, don’t forget these six rules when you check into a hotel.