Updated:2006-08-12 09:00:00 MYT
Just a few days ago, there was an outbreak of mass hysteria at a national service training camp. Because the incident happened to occur on the 14th of the seventh lunar month (the daye of the Hungry Ghost festival), it caused a great deal of speculation.
From a psychological perspective, hysteria is a nervous disorder brought on by pressure, shock, excitement or fatigue. Hysteria can be highly contagious, and those afflicted often scream or shout loudly as a form of release.
Therefore, the incident of mass hysteria among the national service trainees could be explained as having been caused by anxiety or worry.
In 1895, hysteria had already been addressed by the father of psychoanalysis, Sigmund Freud. He divided the human psyche into 3 parts (ego, superego and id) and analysed hysteria along these divisions. Working together with the Viennese doctor Breuer, Freud then published the famous Studies On Hysteria. Their studies on hysteria created a new age for human psychoanalysis.
In other words, hysteria has been declared as a nervous disorder by doctors and psychologists since the 19th century.
However, in our present 21st century, some actually view it as an abnormal state brought on by influence or contact with otherworldly forces. Even the press has used a headline of "ghostly activity" when reporting about the incident at the training camp. Such a headline is misleading and spreads superstition.
Where do ghosts come from?
The trainees were under the influence of an inexplicable and mysterious force that held them in a grip of terror. The cause of their predicament: the press reports that spread superstition, making the seventh lunar month out to be a time of supernatural horrors and malign influences.
On the 14th of the lunar month, Taoists celebrate the Zhongyuan festival, while Buddhists celebrate the Yulanpen festival.
Both Taoists and Buddhist believe that people will become spirits once they die, wandering between heaven and earth.
Therefore, the Taoists believe that Zhongyuan is the day of pardon for the spirits, so Taoists will set out food for the lonely spirits. The Buddhist festival of Yulanpen is based on the story of Mulian who wished to rescue his dead mother from the realm of the hungry ghosts.
From these legends, both Buddhist and Taoists, we can see that the Hungry Ghost Festival was meant to have two meanings: to teach people to behave kindly to others, and to encourage filial piety.
If we had chosen to spread the spirit and meaning behind these two teachings, then the 14th of the seventh lunar month would have been seen as a good and positive occasion.
However, the media has instead chosen to portray the seventh lunar month in a negative light, full of terrors and eerie goings-on. This has caused people to become fearful and terrified of the Hungry Ghost Festival.
Where are the ghosts?
In the news reports. In the long feature articles covering the supernatural, or the discussions by people who have personally experienced such events. This has created a ghost month of fear and terror.
Where do ghosts come from?
From the cinemas and the televisions. To cash in on the atmosphere of the seventh lunar month, horror shows and films are made, each trying to be more terrifying than the others. After watching such fare, people spend the rest of the seventh lunar month looking over their shoulder and being startled by their own shadows.
Ghosts are pests that come to the mortal realm and interfere with our hearts and our lives, and force our children to scream wildly in the grip of terrified hysteria.
In these modern times where people's lives are governed by advanced technology, even if we have never read Freud's Studies on Hysteria, we should try to break free of superstition and stop blaming our troubles on ghosts.
Only by showing the positive sides of these festivals to the younger generation, and by providing them with accurate information about the Hungry Ghost Festival, can we hope to nurture a brave younger generation that won't be frightened by their own shadows. By Tan Poh Kheng/Sin Chew Daily)