Religion in Taiwan: 7. The Chinese Pantheon (part 4)

Posted: 2014 年 03 月 05 日 in Religion in Taiwan

8.  Cheng Huang (城隍), the City God appointed by the Jade Emperor to protect a specific town and its inhabitants. In some cities, there might be two or even three City God temples—one each for the city, the county and the prefecture. The City God is the final judge on what should be recorded in the report on each soul of those who die within his parish. He also acts as a link between mankind and the higher gods. In some City God temples, a large abacus is suspended from a ceiling or wall with the inscription: “Beyond human calculations.” In other words, man’s life is ordained by fate. Among the City God’s retinue are two generals known as the “harbingers of death,” Hsieh and Fan (謝范將軍). Legend says they were friends on a military campaign. Fan was drowned during torrential rain by a flash flood when Hsieh had gone for an umbrella. Filled with remorse, Hsieh hanged himself. They are also known as the Bai Mian Jun (白面郎君) and Hei Mian Jun (黑面郎君)—the white-faced general and the black-faced general. Their images now tell the story: Hsieh wears white sackcloth for mourning, carries an umbrella, depicted with his towering height, tall minister’s hat, waving hands, bulbous eyes, and bright-red tongue hanging out. He is a kind spirit who hands out coins and protective amulets to the children during festival parades. Fan, the shorter of the two but much more dangerous than his taller, white-faced counterpart, has a black face indicative of drowning. Short and squat with a large black hat and a long protruding tongue, the Hei Mian Jun is accompanied by a crew of gruesome devils. These hellish demons represent the various wicked passions and they are the charges of the City God, local judge of good and evil. In City God temples, they can be seen with black smeared around their mouths. This is said by some to be opium, by others sweets; either way, it is a bribe to beseech them to be light on punishments. The image of the City God himself is almost identical with that of the Jade Emperor. It is best differentiated by the images of the attendants around him, like Hsieh and Fan.

9. Chu Sheng Niangniang (註生娘娘), the “Matron Who Registers Births” and the Goddess of Fertility. She receives the souls of the deceased after they have been purified in purgatory, and decides into which human body the soul will be reborn. Her image characteristically holds an open book in one hand and a writing brush in the other. Continuing the family line has always been very important in Chinese society. Often the gods were asked to help when couples had trouble on their own. One tradition was to leave a borrowed baby shoe at the feet of a statue of the Goddess of Mercy (觀音菩薩). Another god which childless couples turn to is the Goddess of Fertility. Women who pray to her for a child can take a hairpin from the altar and stick it in their braid. This is supposed to make it easier to conceive. The Goddess of Fertility is also believed to help sick newborns. With the goddess’s permission, the mother can borrow one of the small embroidered shoes from in front of the altar to hang around the child’s neck. When the child is cured, the mother returns not one shoe, but two. Many of Taiwan’s major temples, such as Taipei Lungshan Temple, have a wing devoted just to the goddess of fertility.

10.  Kai Tai Sheng Wang (開台聖王), the “Saintly King Who Settled Taiwan,” better known to history as Koxinga. His story is told elsewhere in this volume. His image is approached by devotees for advice and guidance; his festival is celebrated on the 16th day of the first lunar month.




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