Religion in Taiwan: 6. The Chinese Pantheon (part 3)

Posted: 2014 年 03 月 05 日 in Religion in Taiwan
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4. The San Kuan Ta Ti (三官大帝), “Three Great Rulers.” This trinity rules Heaven, Earth, and the Waters, and is regarded as second only to the Jade Emperor in the pantheon’s hierarchy, which bears important similarity to the imperial Chinese bureaucratic structure. Devotees look to the San Kuan to deliver them from evil and calamity. Originally worshipped throughout China, they are the main deities at about 60 temples in Taiwan, especially in Taoyuan and Hsinchu counties. They are depicted as a trio of identical images who sit on side-by-side thrones, three bearded mandarins with scholars’ bonnets, each holding a tablet in front of his chest.

5.  Hsuan Tien Shang Ti (玄天上帝), “Supreme Lord of the Dark Heavens.” He is also known as Shang Ti Kung and to foreigners as the Northern Emperor. Hsuan Tien, a famous exorcist and slayer of demons, is depicted on altars as a fierce soldier, dressed in armor and usually seated. He has bare feet that rest on a tortoise and snake, makes a magical sign with the fingers of his left hand, has unkempt hair, and is often accompanied by two aides, General Kang and General Tien. He is also the patron deity of butchers and of people setting up businesses.

6.  Pao Sheng Ta Ti (保生大帝), the “God of Medicine,” the “Great Emperor Who Protects Life.” Also called Ta Tao Kung,  he is revered for his ability to cure the sick. Regarded by the people of Taiwan as the patron deity of native medicine, Pao Sheng was a legendary physician of the 10th century A.D. his fame spread after he healed an ailing empress. Pao Sheng’s image, easily confused with that of other deities, usually depicts him as a seated, benign, bearded mandarin accompanied by two of his 36 warrior aides, or occasionally by youths each carrying a box of medicinal herbs. Pao Sheng is the main deity in about 140 of Taiwan’s temples, chiefly in Fukienese communities around Yunlin and Tainan. He does not appear in temples of the Cantonese ethnic minority. His birthday is celebrated on the 15th day of the third lunar month. In addition, the tiger has been a powerful symbol in Chinese culture since ancient times. The tiger spirit eventually became a part of religious worship. According to legend, there was once a black tiger which ate a woman. However, she became stuck in his throat. The tiger could neither swallow the woman, nor spit her up. The God of Medicine saw the tiger’s predicament, and took pity on him. He helped the tiger get the woman out of his throat, but made the tiger promise to follow him, and not commit any more evil deeds. Later, the tiger is known as General Black Tiger (虎爺). It is believed that he can help cure the mumps. The parent of a child suffering from mumps is supposed to rub a piece of spirit money under the neck of the tiger spirit. Bandaging this to the neck of the child is supposed to bring a complete cure.

7. Ma Tsu (媽祖), also known as Tien Shang Sheng Mu (天上聖母) or Tien Hou (天后). She is an exceedingly popular figure throughout Taiwan. Legend claims that she was the daughter of a 9th-century Fukien fisherman named Lin. One day, her father and two brothers were caught in a typhoon at sea. The girl, asleep at home, left her body during a dream and appeared from out of the clouds above the boat. She grasped her two brothers with her hands and her father with her teeth. Unfortunately, the mother at home kept asking the body of the sleeping girl what was happening. In desperation, Miss Lin answered, but in doing so lost her grip of her father. Miss Lin died at the early age of 20 and some believe she was deified by the Emperor of China. She became the patron deity of sailors, but evolved into a goddess to whom any problem could be put. Her image is usually that of a seated dowager wearing a flat-topped crown with a bead screen similar to that of the Jade Emperor. She normally holds a scepter in her right arm or a tablet before her chest. There are countless legends of her powers. According to one, Ching Dynasty naval commander Shih Liang landed on Taiwan during a drought. By some miracle, a dry well near a local Matsu temple suddenly turned into a bubbling fountain. There was enough water for all his troops. The Ching Dynasty emperor crowned Matsu “Empress of Heaven” for her help on that occasion. Her two assistants are demons that she subdued and turned into loyal servants: the green Chien Li Yen (千里眼), “Eyes Which See for One Thousand Li (about 300 miles),” and the red Shun Feng Erh (順風耳), “Ears Which Listen for a Favorable Wind.” There are about 375 temples in Taiwan in which Ma Tsu is the principal deity. Among the most important are those at Lukang and Tainan. Her birthday is celebrated on the 23rd day of the third lunar month. There are large parades in all the major ancient port towns, with special theater performances in Peikang and Lukang.

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