Religion in Taiwan: 8. The Chinese Pantheon (part 5)

Posted: 2014 年 03 月 05 日 in Religion in Taiwan
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11.  Fu Te Cheng Shen, the “upright spirit of fortune and virtue,” (福德正神) the “Earth God.” Every community has an Earth God who protects the parish. In return, all births, deaths and marriages must be reported to this god. Among his responsibilities are controlling ghosts and protecting crops from pests and disease. He rarely has a temple to himself, and in rural areas frequently resides in a small roadside shrine. His standard image is that of a smiling elderly man, seated, dressed in blue robes and carrying a stick. His festival falls on the second day of the second lunar month. It is customary to eat spring rolls to symbolize the arrival of spring, and a good planting. There is an old saying in Taiwanese, “at the head of the fields, at the end of the fields, there is the earth god.” For countless centuries farmers prayed to the earth god in times of flood, drought, or poor crops. While the earth god was very important, he did lose his job from time to time. If he failed to stop a drought, the people prayed to the Jade Emperor. In that case, he could be replaced with a more efficient spirit. (田頭田尾土地公)

12.  Tsao Chun (灶君), the “Kitchen God.” His crude likeness on a cheap print or a tablet rather than a wooden image is found over the stove in most traditional Chinese homes. From this location, he sees and hears the family’s domestic affair. Thus, the week before Chinese New Year, when he reports directly to the Jade Emperor on the family’s activities of the past year, he is given a proper festive send-off by the family. By the time he returns on New Year’s Day, a new print has been pasted up over the stove.

13.  Wang Yeh (王爺), also known as Wen Shen (瘟神), the “Gods of Pestilence.” Varying in number, according to legend, from 36 to 360, these deities destroy demons which cause plague and other pestilence. Many small temples are built to them throughout Taiwan.

14.  San Tai Tzu (三太子), “The Third Prince,” a mythological deity also known as Na Cha (哪吒), and patron saint of spirit mediums. Easily recognizable in images, he has a white or pink face and highly decorated robes. In one hand is a jade bracelet; in the other, a sword or javelin, and beneath one bare foot is a fire-wheel said to be able to carry him through the skies.

15. Door Gods (門神). Doorways have always been given special importance in traditional Chinese architecture. There are many legends concerning the origin of different door gods. Two of the most popular are generals who stood guard over a Tang Dynasty emperor to protect him from an evil demon, which was plaguing him with nightmares. In order to let his generals get some rest the emperor used painted pictures, which worked as well. In the past, door gods were commonly found on the gates of most homes. The wealthy had them painted by well-known artists, while commoners used printed pictures. Nowadays, in Taiwan door gods are usually painted on temple doors. But intricately painted door gods done in the southern Fukien style can still be seen at many traditional mansions, such as the Wu Feng Family Gardens (霧峰林家花園) in Taichung.

16. Lu Tung-bin (呂洞賓), one of the Eight Immortals (八仙). Supposedly when Lu was born, the room was filled with an ethereal fragrance. Many believed this was an omen of future success. But many years later when Lu was preparing to take the civil service exam, he had a dream. He saw himself achieve great position and wealth, only to be disgraced, and lose everything. He decided to retire to the mountains to study Taoism, and eventually achieved immortality. Mu-Cha’s Chih Nan Temple (木柵指南宮) is one of the largest and most popular of Taiwan’s temples dedicated to Lu. However, according to custom, lovers never pray to Lu. If they do, it’s believed the romance will end.

 

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