Dogs and lions for the Ghost Month
August may be Buwan ng Wika or National Language month to Pinoys, but to the Chinese it is the month that the gates of hell are open, allowing ghosts to roam about. Online feng shui warns against these spirits that do not resemble Casper, “the friendly ghost” of my childhood.
I don’t know why people refrain from construction or any form of house renovation during this time, because if spirits don’t like noise, they are welcome to leave and infest the neighbor’s. The old, infirm and very young are advised to stay away from water and told not to be outdoors late at night. These seem reasonable and practical rather than superstitious advice at any time of the year. Food and drink should be left out for the spirits, something I think we should do during the annual Nov. 1 cemetery visit, where the living partake of their “baon” and forget the dead.
One of the many remedies to keep Ghost Month trouble-free is to get a pair of Fu Dogs and make them face your main door. Naturally, these can be bought online, available in different sizes depending on your budget, and making me ask: How will the cheapest ones, the size of my fist, protect me from a horde of hungry ghosts? Traditionally, larger versions of these guardian dogs were placed in front of palaces, temples, government buildings and homes that had enough wealth to require some protection. These dogs are identical and often come in a snarling, menacing pose to shoo evil spirits and bad feng shui away.
Chinese ghosts are different from the rest because they are said to move only in a straight line, making it difficult for them to navigate homes with many corners, curves, clutter and misplaced furniture. Temple gates and doors require people to step over a barrier to get in or out, because ghosts can’t do the same, or won’t. So, when doing “pagpag” after a wake, do not bring the ghost to the all-night convenience store and leave it there after your drink or ice cream. Just take a curvy route home, or best lose it on the zigzag road up to Baguio.
Unlike Western guardian lions that are both male, the Chinese Fu Dogs follow gender equality. One can distinguish them by looking at their paws: The one holding a ball is male, the one holding a puppy is female. Japanese have similar temple guardians that are androgynous, though they are differentiated by their mouths — one is open, the other closed. These are supposed to symbolize what we would know as Alpha or the beginning and Omega the end, though it can also mean life: The mouth wide open is saying “Ah,” the first syllable a newborn blurts out as it cries; and the mouth closed shut symbolizes death.
August made me recall other guardians or mascots, like the four bronze lions that guard Nelson’s Column in Trafalgar Square in London. They have no individual names but are known collectively as the Landseer Lions, in honor of the painter who created them. Then there are the bronze lions that guard the entrance to the Hong Kong and Shanghai Banking Corp. (HSBC) offices in Hong Kong, Shanghai and London. They are shiny, though in the China branches, also worn, with customers rubbing them for luck as they would do any other guardian figure in a temple. They have become so iconic not just as mascots, but also as symbols representing HSBC, which is sometimes referred to as the “Lion Bank.” One of the lions is depicted in the HSBC-issued banknote that is legal tender in Hong Kong, where such notes happily circulate with other notes from the Bank of China, Standard Chartered and the Hong Kong Monetary Authority.
I am fondest of the pair of lions that guard the imposing façade of the New York Public Library on Fifth Avenue and 42nd Street. Made of Tennessee marble, these lions do not roar or frighten; they look more like pensive pets waiting for their master to return home — quite apt for a library that welcomes repeat visits. Their manner resembles that of the Sphinx, which asks questions before allowing people to pass. These lions were originally known as Leo Astor and Leo Lenox after the founders of the library, but are better known today as “Patience” and “Fortitude” — ideals that America sadly needs today.
We do have the stone lion on the road up to Baguio. It deserves a funny nickname, if only because it makes us smile in our troubled times.
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