Friday, February 28, 2014

Dead Soul Returning (回魂)

While the Malay believes about ‘hantu bangkit’ * or ‘the risen spirit’; the Chinese believes that when one died, his/her soul will return home for a final visit. It can be calculated from a set of rules as to the height of this returning soul, the day and time of its arrival and departure and from which direction that this soul is coming from.


For example the below description describes when a person died on day of wet metal (甲子):


“The dead soul will be around 18 feet tall: the male turns into green chi and landed on the southwest, the female turns into green chi and landed on the southeast. The corpse will not harden with opening eyes and shut mouth. This spirit will affect its relatives and three households in the east. His/her soul will return 18 days after his death. The spirit will come around 7pm-9pm from the east and leaves around 9pm-11pm to the north. It will stay in the kitchen during its visit.”


Armed with the above information, the deceased’s kin will prepare some food offerings on the 18th day in the kitchen. The windows or doors on the west and north sides must be opened before 7pm to let the soul in and out. Most important of all, the house deities must be covered with a piece of red cloth otherwise the soul may find difficulty in entering the house.


Some people believe the dead soul will be accompanied by the ‘cow head and horse face’ (牛頭馬面) and in some circumstances the soul may be chained. I have heard stories about people hearing sounds of chains dragging on the ground during the ‘soul returning night’ and people even swear that they have spread flour on the floor around the food offerings and found footprints and traces of something dragged through the flour. Whatever case it is, the elderly normally forbids the children to stay around the altars for the fear of interfering with the returning of the soul.


My friend, Alice told me that her mother fell asleep in the living room during the soul returning night of her father. She thought that her mother was just too tired so she just left her alone and continued to play with her iPod. After a while, voice came from Alice mother’s throat: “Ah Lin… Ah Lin… (Alice’s mother)…”


Alice got the shock of her life as the sound wasn’t like that of her mother’s; in fact it was her father’s voice! Without giving the situation too much thought; Alice started to shake her mother’s body vigorously and slapping her mom’s face with the intention to awake her mother. After some time, her mother finally awakened from her slumber and she totally unaware of what had happened.


As recalled by Alice later: “I was worry about my mom’s health really. But after that, I started to regret of what I have done. I should have taken the opportunity to ask the voice if it was my late dad visiting; and what he wanted or if he has any last words.”

In other cases, Mrs. Lim said that she actually‘ saw’ her late hubby returned but she was so scared that she hid behind the bedroom door so that the soul cannot find her. While Mr. Chan said that his late grandmother stood in front of his front door but he was too scared to open the door although he loved the grandma very much.


Many people believe that the dead soul may return in the form of butterfly, bird or giant moth. So, old Chinese folks forbid people to chase away giant insects during funeral services and the soul returning night.

* Link about hantu bangkit:


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