Text modified: 990612
File last modified: 180216
Gods, it will be recalled, are important because they are allies against oppressive forces, be they competing villages or malignant spirits. The gods are not always willing allies, and ordinarily they must be cultivated before one makes extensive demands upon them. In Mandarin a folk expression enjoins men not to "ignore worship ordinarily and pray only when disaster strikes" 平時不燒香臨時抱佛脚. Worship in general is considered a good thing, and in larger towns many elderly women go daily to a temple to burn incense. They often have little notion whom or what they are worshipping, but merely "take incense and worship with the others" (giâ-hiun tòe-pài 抬香隨拜) in pious ignorance.
The more shrewd, however, consider subtler strategies to assure themselves of supernatural support. One official of the Nánkūnshēn shrine at Běimén, one of the major shrine centers in Táinán county, suggested to me that one should not worship too broadly, but rather concentrate one's adoration on one or a few divinities. The rationale was simple: if you worship a great host of gods, he explained, then when you bring one of them a problem he will just say, "you often worship old So-and-so; why not bring this problem to him instead of bothering me with it?" But if you worship only one or a few gods, it is harder for them to shift the responsibility for helping you to their co-divinities, and it is easier for you to get action.
There is another reason too, equally pragmatic but less calculated, why Taiwanese tend to have favorite gods. When catastrophe strikes one appeals to a god. If nothing happens, one appeals to another god, or visits a different temple. Ultimately, relief comes, and one has then a sense of having discovered a system that works. Everyone has his preferred mediums, preferred gods, preferred temples, on the basis partly of his own experiences, and partly of hearsay about the experiences of others. Preferences change. Fashions come and go. Perceptive spirit mediums become successful, while their clumsier confreres are declared the tools of demons or simply are possessed less and less often until they are no longer mediums. Rich and impressive temples become more rich and more impressive, while blundering false starts in front parlors are ignored and revert to family altars, and shrines grown infelicitous are used to store grain or to quarter soldiers or teachers. The system is by no means static.
It is not unnatural in such a system that certain people, and certain families, should find that they have good success in appealing to a certain god, and that they should develop with him a relationship of patronage. In many cases a joss is carved in which form the god is present in more directly palpable form. A joss might be collectively owned, as those belonging to a public temple, or privately owned by an individual household or a group of households. It forms a dwelling for the god when he is called into it for extraordinary worship or divination. Household josses stand in state near the center of the family altar, often upon a small dais formed of sheets of spirit-money, and are objects of great reverence.
The possession of a joss marks a special relationship of reciprocity with the god it represents, entailing both a responsibility on the part of the god for the general welfare of the family that has acquired and maintains the statue, and a responsibility on the part of that family to worship the statue at regular intervals.
The exact interpretation of these responsibilities differs from individual to individual. For some, great care must be taken of the joss to guard it against damage. It is enthroned atop an elaborate family altar with the finest quality fittings, and the altar is decorated with fresh flowers, and hung with a bas-relief embroidered altar cloth. For others the joss is a thing to be used, and the owner is willing to lend it to other people so that they may hold divinations with it in their houses. What is important is not the majesty of such a joss, but its efficaciousness. In some cases the worship of the joss is confined to the household that owns it and is a comparatively simple affair involving a few plates of food placed on the family altar. In other cases groups of families, organized in a variety of ways, join in the adoration of the god. They may be loosely designated by the term "god-association" 神明會; however, because the term covers many more elaborate groups, as well as the sorts of associations that occur in Bǎo'ān, I prefer the term "god-worshipping group" for present purposes.
God-worshipping groups are of particular interest because with their greater resources they provide fuller ritual expression than do individual families of the patron-client relationship that characterizes the Taiwanese view of the supernatural. In Bǎo'ān such god-worshipping groups are few, and typically they are small. Many include only two families, or the families housed in a single building. The eight largest groups total 57 to 59, or about a quarter, of Bǎo'ān's 226 households. But membership patterns change and this figure can be only approximate.1 Let us turn briefly to these eight groups (arranged by the names of their gods), and examine especially the ways in which their members are related to each other, and the kinds of considerations that cause a household to join one group rather than another.
Footnote 1. I have reason to suspect that participation might be wider than I recorded, because most of these data were gathered toward the beginning of my stay. when some informants were inclined to be cautiously noncommittal. A more detailed discussion of this problem and of the composition of these groups will be found in Jordan 1969b: 166-183, 285-289.
|Group||God||Number of Households||Distribution of
of This Surname
|1||His Highness Chí||13-14||12 Zhāng
|2*||His Highness Lǐ||3||3 Lín||7|
|3||His Highness Wú||8-9||6-7 related Guō
|4||King Guō||8||8 related Guō||164|
|5||King Guō||3||2 related Guō
1 unrelated Guō
|6||Māzǔ||3||3 related Guō||164|
|7||Great Saint Equal to Heaven||9||8 Xú
|8||Great Saint Equal to Heaven||10||4 related Guō
4 unrelated Guō
1 Huáng (formerly)
Group 1 is the cult of His Highness Chí; 池府二千歲, one of five sworn brothers worshipped widely in southwestern Táiwān.2 The statue of His Highness Chí worshipped in Bǎo'ān is reputed to be a century or more old. It came to the village with the ancestors of most of the present Zhāng households. Just as there are several different groups of Guō in Bǎo'ān, so there are at least two groups of related Zhāng households, plus a couple of unrelated, single households of that surname. There are two Zhāng households in Bǎo'ān who do not participate, but in general His Highness Chí serves as a Zhāng god, uniting most of the Zhāng households in the village, whether or not they are related. In many ways His Highness Chí is being used as a surname-group god, much as King Guō is used by the far more numerous Guō. Worship of His Highness Chí is not compulsory for all Zhāng, and the presence of one or two village households named Xiè among the alleged regular worshippers indicates that it is not confined to the Zhāng. Still and all, the correspondence between surname and god is fairly good. We shall consider below some of the uses to which this cult is then put by the Zhāng.
Footnote 2. There are no widespread traditions of their earthly lives. They tend to be worshipped singly, or in a group of the first three (surnamed Lǐ. Chí. Wú 李池吳) or of all five (the final two surnames being Zhū and Fàn 朱范). Taken together. they are known as the Five Highnesses 五府千歲. There is little functional differentiation between them, except that the fourth, Zhū, is considered somewhat irritable, and Fàn is thought to specialize to some extent in medicine. Their major centers of worship in southwestern Táiwān are in Mádòu and at the shrine of Nánkūnshēn at Běimén. See Chén Réndé et al. 1963: 10; Zhèng Shēngchāng 1967: 110. Wider Chinese tradition designates these beings as gods of pestilence (Liú Zhīwàn 1963). signaling this status by the frequent use of the title "prince" 王爺. Local people discount such accusations. and at least one Xīgǎng exegete insisted that the title could be used with any divine being one wished to honor with it, even to Guānyīn herself, and proved nothing. Many other "princes" are worshipped in Táiwān, above all in the southern half of the island. See Liú Zhīwàn 1960: 67-71.
Group 2, now extinct, was until recently a cult of His Highness Lǐ 李府大千歲 the "elder brother" of His Highness Chí. Extinction of a cult, although normally not recordable, is probably not uncommon, and certainly one comes often enough upon private josses no longer worshipped. A statue that is not worshipped loses its power. It "no longer has a god." Seen the other way about, a statue that does not manifest its power by seeing to the successful accomplishment of the aims that inspire people to worship it ceases to be worshipped. The point is important, for it means there is a theological reason for cults to come to an end, as well as for them to be founded. There are several unworshipped josses in Bǎo'ān. The joss of His Highness Lǐ is of interest primarily because of its association with the Lín 林 families. The worshipping group included in the very recent past the households of two brothers, sons of an only son, plus the wife and children of a third brother's son.3 These three households never were able to enlist the interest of the other four Lín households in Bǎo'ān. Unlike the Zhāng of Group 1 (or the Xú of Group 7), who seem to be successfully using their cults as instruments to achieve surname solidarity, the Lín achieved little unity this way. The remaining four Lín households did not and do not participate in any god-worshipping groups.
Footnote 3. The son was reported to be a ne'er-do-well who moved out of the village to the city and never reappeared. A fourth brother, like the third, had died, and his widow remarried out of Bǎo'ān.
Go to top
Group 3 worships His Highness Wú 吳府三千歲, a sworn brother of Their Highnesses Chí and Lǐ. The statue of His Highness Wú worshipped in Bǎo'ān was ordered carved by the grandfather of the present owner sixty or more years ago, and the worshippers of this statue are his descendants. But there are certain differences between the group of people who worship the grandfather and the group who worship His Highness Wú. When Wú is worshipped, a neighboring Xú and a neighboring Chén household ordinarily join, and one related household, which has moved across the river, does not participate. When the grandfather is worshipped, on the other hand, the Xú and Chén do not join, and the transriverine family until recently sent a representative with sacrificial food for the offerings.4 Xú and Chén do not join in the ancestral worship of the grandfather because he is not their grandfather. Not only is no real purpose served by worshipping other people's grandfathers, but it is bad form should one try.5 In worshipping His Highness Wú, however, they are welcome to join. The owner of the Wú joss is a well-liked old gentleman, a former mayor, and fairly well-to-do, whose voice is heard in the settling of village affairs, and who is accordingly pleasing and important to associate with. The group does not seem to be used to extend the influence of this man by deliberately attracting neighbors to share his cult (and indeed when he enumerated the members of the group, he did not include the Xú and Chén who participate), but neither is it restricted by revulsion at his personality.
Footnote 4. In 1967 even this was considered too much of a burden, so a duplicate ancestral plaque was made and placed in the transriverine house, obviating the tedious trip across the river, and of course subverting the rite as an expression of unity of the group of descendants. This was fitting enough, in its way, for spatially at least they are indeed no longer unified!
Footnote 5. A classical text of possible relevance to this opinion is the statement of Confucius in Analects (bk. II, chap. 24): "The master said: Worshipping spirits [Guǐ] who are not one's own is flattery" 非其鬼而祭之諂也. No one in Bǎo'ān ever quoted this to me, however.
Group 4 is one of two groups worshipping King Guō. There are at least six josses of King Guō in Bǎo'ān (each of a different "guardian"). Four of these are objects of worship in their own households only. Two are worshipped by larger groupings of households, all named Guō. In the case of Group 4 all participating households are related, and indeed the group is identical with the group of households who would, on other occasions, worship the same grandfather. We shall come back to this.
Group 5 is the second cult of King Guō (this time in his manifestation as Seventh Guardian). The cult is maintained by one of two brothers or the son of a deceased third brother (who is the head of a household containing also his own brother). A fourth brother, also deceased, left a son who claims not to participate, although he lives in the same house in which the statue is normally kept.6 They are joined by a widowed neighbor woman, unrelated but also named Guō, with her household.
Footnote 6. I am suspicious of this. It is possible that the informant did not properly understand the question, or that the ethnographer did not properly ask the question, or that the ethnographer did not understand the reply correctly, or any combination of these.
Group 6 is the cult of the Queen of Heaven 天上聖母, known popularly as Māzǔ 媽祖, whose worship in Táiwān is so widespread that she is virtually the patron of the province.7 During the Japanese administration the government resolved to burn the large, ancient, and infinitely venerable statue of Māzǔ which is the primary object of worship in the Xīgǎng temple. By a ploy, Guō Màodé 郭茂德 of Bǎo'ān managed to steal this statue and hide it in his house, where in secrecy he cared for it until after the island had been liberated from the Japanese and freedom of religion was possible once again. During this time he developed a great attachment to the goddess, and particularly for the exquisite old statue of her that he bad been so carefully protecting from harm. As a condition for her return to her temple in Xīgǎng, Guō Màodé managed to receive in exchange the permanent loan of a smaller statue from the temple. It is this smaller (but still large) joss that stands upon his altar to this day.
Footnote 7. Numerous articles exist on Māzǔ. See Liào Yùwén 1967: 69; Lǐ Tiānchūn 1956: 212; Chén Réndé et al. 1963: 13; Zhèng Shēngchāng 1967: 76; Xiè Jīnxuǎn 1954; Jiāng Jiājǐn 1957: 136 and 1959: 26f. In English, see Doolittle 1865: 1.262-264.
The statue is the object of group worship on a regular basis, but the group is not large. It consists of Guō Màodé's household and that of his brother. Since his brother's second son has established a second household, his participation makes the total group come to three households.8 Another brother of Guō Màodé has moved to Gāoxióng and does not participate. Two others are deceased, both leaving widows. One widow has moved from Bǎo'ān, whereas the other remains and could participate if she chose, but she does not. Nor do his immediate neighbors join Guō Màodé in his worship of Māzǔ. Guō Màodé's unpredictable manner and dogmatic Opinions about ritual (and about most anything else!) frighten many people away from close contact with him, and it is easy to understand why the group remains small —only two brothers and their offspring.
Footnote 8. This particular pattern of family division, in which the eldest son and sons yet to come to majority remain in the household of the father, while a second (and sometimes younger) son founds a separate household, is not particularly uncommon, although naturally splitting the family after the father's death is considered more graceful. See Gallin 1966:142-145.
Go to top
Group 7 is a cult of the Great Saint Equal to Heaven 齊天大聖.9 It is composed of two groups of families surnamed Xú 徐 plus a widowed neighbor of one of the families. Not all Xú participate, however. Three families exclude themselves. One joins with some nearby Guō families in Group 3. Another has moved across the river and no longer returns to the group in Bǎo'ān to worship. A third is simply "too busy" to join. But there is a close enough correspondence that many people have come to associate the surname Xú with the Great Saint.
Footnote 9. The Great Saint is a deified monkey, and hears an alternative Chinese title, the Monkey Lord Sūn 猻猴公. Although he is always portrayed as a monkey in paintings and statuary, his simian character seems to have no effect upon his functions as a Taiwanese deity. The most readily available English accounts of the Great Saint are Werner 1922: 325-369 and 1932: 462~68; Christie 1968: 123-130. His story is best known from the novel Journey to the West 西遊記 a portion of which has been translated into English by Arthur Waley under the title Monkey (Wu 1943)
Group 8 is a second cult of the Great Saint Equal to Heaven. We recall that Bǎo'ān is located just north of the Zēngwén Xī river. The river varies considerably in depth and width depending upon the rains, and in 1932 it was confined to a wadi between two dikes in an effort to control floods. The wadi is itself almost exactly a kilometer in width at Bǎo'ān, and there is at least another 500 meters of distance in traveling from Bǎo'ān to the dike that defines the northern boundary of the wadi. Because land-holdings are typically widely distributed rather than clustered together, and because additional land became available for sale in Táiwān after the land reform of the early 1950s, some families found that the bulk of their land lay to the south of the river, at an uncomfortably great distance from their houses. Accordingly, beginning about fifteen years back, several families have moved across the Zēngwén Xī into permanent houses almost directly across the wadi from Bǎo'ān in a settlement called River Bank Hamlet 溪南寮 or, more colloquially, South-of-the-River 溪南. Some of these households had been members of god-worshipping groups in the larger Bǎo'ān settlement, but withdrew from them when they crossed the river.
Several of these South-of-the-River families are related to each other, but by no means all of them are. Nevertheless, ten families of the seventeen settled in the transriverine area participate together in a single cult. The owner of the joss, and organizer of the cult, is named Xú and is the head of the only Xú household in South-of-the-River. In Bǎo'ān proper the cult of this same god, the Great Saint, is virtually a Xú monopoly. In the transriverine settlement, on the other hand, the cult is area based. In addition to the single Xú household that maintains the joss, a core of four related families (named Guō) might be thought to make up the core of the cult. Four other Guō families, unrelated either to the first group or to each other, also participate. Another family, named Lǐ, occasionally joins. A family named Huáng previously participated, but claims not to do so any longer. An additional seven households settled in this area do not join, at least by their own accounting. One of these is Christian, the only Christian family in Bǎo'ān.10
Footnote 10. The family has been nominally Christian (Holiness Church) since the head of the present household was converted about forty years ago. They are in general rather defensive and unwilling to discuss the matter, and accordingly are not a significant force for the Christianization of the region. The effect of a more recent or more enthusiastic convert in the village might he different, of course.
Group 8 seems to be made up of the majority of the households in South-of-the-River, and to be based almost completely on physical proximity. It is probably fair to say that it is composed of people who miss the worship groups in Bǎo'ān, now too far away to attend easily, and are pleased, or at any rate satisfied, to substitute a local group. It is probably also fair to say that the relevant ritual solidarity in the transriverine settlement is between neighboring households, and that the foundation of a new cult simply represents the facts of life in a new setting. Theologically (establishing a reciprocal obligation with a god) and socially (doing so with one's neighbors in a new settlement), the cult makes sense.
My vision of these god-worshipping groups as informal groupings of households established in order to set up a reciprocity relationship with a god is not all there is to say, nor the only way to see them. Norma Diamond (1969: 68) reports extremely similar groups in a village she calls K'un Shen, located about twenty kilometers from Bǎo'ān, on the seacoast within the Táinán city limits. However she interprets them as lineage11 groupings which "function mainly as religious cults, which have become potentially open to those outside of the descent system… ." The similarities between her "patrilineages" and what we have here called god-worshipping groups are legion:
Footnote 11. Cross-cultural variation in kinship units that can usefully be called "lineages" is so great that anthropologists have not developed a common vocabulary for discussing the details of variation among such units in China. Diamond seems willing to use the term more freely than I do. Probably unambiguously "lineage-like" lineages were something of a luxury throughout most of Táiwān's history, a luxury in which neither Bǎo'ān nor K'un Shen could afford to indulge very fully.
… membership is not strictly limited to those tracing descent from a common ancestor. … Ancestral worship is not a concern… . Property, if it exists, consists of a god figure, representing the patron god of the group, along with a few items for his altar such as an embroidered cloth or candlesticks. … There are periodic meetings of the tsu [lineage], but these meetings are not limited to the males of the group [as in classical Chinese lineage ancestor worship], nor are they a group commemoration of ancestors. Men, women born into the group or married to a member, and children all participate in the celebration for the patron god at these times. In content and form, these meetings differ little, if at all, from cult gatherings for Taoist or Buddhist gods, or from the ceremonies held at the village temples in honor of the gods' birthdays. They are in the same pattern, the main difference being that recruitment of participants is heavily dependent upon kinship lines (p.68).
Go to top
Although I cannot speak for the people of K'un Shen, it would appear on the face of it that we are dealing with the same phenomenon we find in Bǎo'ān. As we have seen among the Boa-an groups, however, denatured lineage activity has little to do with the matter. We saw that the joss of His Highness Wú used by Group 7 was acquired a scant sixty years ago. We saw that the group in South-of-the-River was founded after the war with no reference at all to kinship ties, except insofar as a household participates as a unit. But the firmest evidence is from Group 4. In Group 4 the participants live in three adjacent houses and correspond with those families who would join in the worship of a common grandfather. However, a few houses away live non-participants who trace their ancestry to that grandfather's grandfather. Accordingly if the participants wished to consider Group 4 a lineage worship group, it would be entirely possible for them to go up two more generations and enlarge the group to more members and greater glory by including these non-participants. Group 4, however, is built on different principles and with different objectives. Its founding was described this way by one village man in a letter I received after my return to the United States:
The matter is fantastically simple: …. Guō Màozhōu 郭茂州 often goes to the Temple of King Guō in Táinán to help out. He is a great believer in King Guō, so he brought home a statue of King Guō from the Táinán temple to worship. There is no history of transmission from their ancestors.
The worshippers of this statue include everyone living in Màozhōu's own house and the houses to either side.12 Whether we wish to say they are included as neighbors or as relatives is a matter of choice, but they have clearly been recruited to a recent cult on the basis of a principle different from (or more limited than) membership in a common descent line. And they have been recruited by one of the younger household heads of their group, not by their senior members.
Footnote 12. Briefly, Màozhōu's house includes households 戶 of Màozhōu, his Br, his Fa (with one of Màozhōu's brothers), and his FaBr. The residents of the house to the east are the families of two sons of another FaBr, and those of the house to the west are two FaFaBrSo with their families.
Go to top
To return to the more general case, the matter of recruitment of worshipping households should be clarified. God-worshipping groups seem to be recruited on a number of different principles and to be used for a wide variety of kinds of solidarity, but always in the basic religious context of establishing relationships of reciprocity with a god. Some groups seem to recruit their member families entirely on the basis of kinship, as for example the cult of King Guō (Group 4). Others recruit more widely. The cult of the Great Saint (Group 8) unites most of the transriverine families in the ritualization of a group clearly based on locality. On the other hand, the cult of His Highness Chí (Group 1) is so closely tied to the Zhāng surname group that it seems in every way to be a miniature version of the village-wide King Guō cult, based on surname and village affiliation. The point of all this seems to be that when josses are carved (presumably for pious reasons rather than strictly social ones), they can provide the basis for group worship. At the minimum, the worshippers may be limited to the household of the owner of the joss (and I have not called such arrangements god-worshipping groups). Going beyond this, one founds a god-worshipping group by including one's immediate kinsmen; but there are other solidarities, too, which the group is available to express, be they local, personal, inter-surname group, or what have you. It seems as though where there are solidarities to be expressed ritually, the god-worshipping groups provide a convenient language for this expression.
For this reason there is nothing tidy about them. They conform to a variety of models, and recruitment to them follows any of at least four principles (kinship, residence, surname, personality), often simultaneously, according to whatever seems a reasonable principle of inclusion in a given instance.
In addition to some kind of vague "group solidarity," which we may assume is involved by common special allegiances to certain gods, the form of the rites the group performs dramatizes certain facts, not about the groups, but about the participant families taken individually.
God-worshipping groups worship monthly or every two months, usually on a set day. Thus His Highness Wú (Group 3) is worshipped every two moons on the 24th, 25th, or 26th day (depending upon convenience and the almanac). The Great Saint (Group 8) is worshipped on the 15th day of each moon. The pattern of worship is quite standard and conforms to the following description based on a performance of the worship for His Highness Wú early in 1967.
A table is placed in the middle of the courtyard of the house, and a couple of benches are placed beside it to provide additional space if necessary. The table provides an extension of the lower family altar and allows the bulk of the sacrificial food to be placed in the more roomy courtyard of the house. Cups of wine are arranged along the front side of the lower altar and table. (For convenience we can consider the house a stage with the audience located where the front gate is; the front is the downstage side.) Either three or five cups of wine might be used on each table.13 Late in the afternoon other families of the group begin arriving. The time varies, depending upon the time of year; the objective is to finish the worship at about dinner time so that it is convenient to take the food home and reheat it for dinner with minimum disruption of the daily routine. Each family brings two baskets of food. In one of these is the family rice bucket, and this is the only dish rigorously insisted on. Other dishes may be whatever one chooses, although, if possible, it is good to supply a platter of "five meats"14 at least some of the time. Typically, better food is prepared than for usual meals, and more time is taken in its preparation; but for ordinary monthly or semimonthly worship there is no ritual food as such that must be prepared.
Footnote 13. Three or five are used in the worship of gods, seven or nine for ancestors. There is no doubt a reason for the selection of these numbers, but people I asked in Bǎo'ān were able to tell me nothing about it beyond "that is how it is done." See Lín Cáiyuán 1968: 40-48 for instructions relating to home worship. This work, of which only the first volume has so far been released, promises to be one of the most valuable sources on Taiwanese customs.
Footnote 14. Any five of pork, chicken. duck, goose, goat, fish, eggs, or tofu may be used for this purpose. On the "five meats" see Lín Cáiyuán 1968: 40-48; also Saso 1966: 78n. Three meats, although less "attractive" of course, can also be used. In the Wú cult, the host household sees to it that meat is always provided. A Taiwanese proverb, quoted by Saso, is also repeated in Bǎo'ān: "If there are not three, there is no rite" (bô sam, put sêng lé 無三不成禮).
Go to top
Each arriving family sets its baskets down in two or more rows running downstage from the outdoor table toward the gate and brings one dish to set on one of the two altars, inside or out, to represent the remainder in the baskets. The food is usually brought by one or two women of each participating household accompanied by a host of children. Sometimes the children alone carry out the duty. After the bearer has placed his baskets and put a bowl of food on one of the altars, he lights a handful of sticks of incense, bows before the high altar, where the statue of the god sits upon his tiny dais, and then places the sticks of incense in the dishes of food he has brought. It is not essential that every dish bear a stick of incense, but most of the dishes on the altars do, and every pot of rice must bear incense.
After this a few sheets of spirit money are burned. Spirit money is sold in small bundles, and ordinarily one bundle is burned at this time. Several additional bundles are handed over to the children, who busy themselves stacking the bundles in the doorway of the courtyard where they will be burned in small bonfires at the end of the rites.
The normal time during which the food is left on the tables and in the baskets for the use of the god is the time required for three sticks of incense to be burned successively. In fact, it is slightly shorter, because each stick of incense is supplemented by a new one slightly before it is completely burned out. This is merely an appropriate time, however, not a necessary one, and long before the third stick has been consumed one of the attending women will throw divination blocks inquiring of the god if he has finished eating. If he indicates he has not, more incense is burned, and everyone waits for another ten minutes or so and then asks again. When at length he indicates he has finished, the bonfires of paper spirit money are ignited. When the flames have begun to die down, a pitcher of water is fetched and a circle of water traced on the ground about each fire. At this point the rite is at a close. The children are summoned to bow at the altar, which is accomplished with great speed and often hilarity; then unconsumed stubs of incense sticks are removed from the food and dumped unceremoniously upon the dying flames of the money fires, and food is hustled back into the baskets to be brought home once more, that the family may dine on the god's copious leftovers. One of the young boys of the household performs a final ritual act, throwing lighted firecrackers into the early evening air beyond the gate to mark the conclusion of the worship. First a single cracker, then a second single cracker, then a bundle of small crackers that explode not quite simultaneously, and finally another single cracker.15
Footnote 15. Informants insist that any ordering is satisfactory, and when goaded by the ethnographer will use other orderings, but this one is usual when they are left alone.
This act of worship fulfills the human obligations toward the divine patron of the god-worshipping group. The god takes pleasure in eating the dainties set before him and derives strength from them. He is also enriched by the money. Indeed, at a worshipping session for His Highness Wú shortly before the Xīgǎng festival in 1967, extra quantities of money were burned. It was reasoned that as the festival was coming up the gods as well as mortals would have additional expenses, and the extra spirit money was intended as a contribution toward helping the god meet those expenses.
With respect to the relationships between the humans who are participating, some other points are important. One of these is that the worship begins as the first sticks of incense are lit and placed in the first pot of rice. Typically, this is done by the host household, owners of the statue. The rite does not depend on any particular group of households for its accomplishment. Other member households do not join the rite before it begins, necessarily, but as it progresses. There is accordingly no "necessity" in the logic of the act of worship itself for any particular members to attend it. If they feel an obligation to do so, it is because they wish to continue a close relationship with the particular god or with the other members of the worshipping group. The rite is accordingly adaptable to accommodate any combination of households that wish to participate, recruited on any basis.
The second point is that it is families which participate, not individual worshippers. The particular constellation of people from a household who attend is irrelevant. But the household, to participate, must be represented by the sacrifice of its rice pot, which must be sanctified by bearing sticks of lighted incense. The symbolism involved in this is heavily loaded with meanings. Let us begin by looking at the rice.
Rice is the prime food in this area. When it cannot be afforded, sweet potatoes are substituted, but it is a mark of the prestige of rice that the substitute would not be offered to a visitor. In a culture that feeds its children when they are afraid, and whose etiquette demands that guests be constantly plied with food, tea, and cigarettes, the importance of a pot of rice is yet more formidable. The verb to eat in Chinese 吃 cannot stand without an object. In the absence of some specific object (noodles, pork, candy, pineapple), a dummy object is substituted: rice 吃飯. The usual greeting to a friend in Táiwān is "Have you eaten (rice) yet?" (lí chiah-pn̄g bōe? 你吃飯沒) to which the reply is either "Not yet" (iā bōe 也沒), or "I've eaten to fullness" (goá chiah-pá-a 我吃飽了).
Go to top
The "potness" of the rice in the present instance is also important, probably more important in modern Táiwān than it might have been in the past or in other parts of China. The reason is this: throughout China the division of a family into two or more families is symbolized by the establishment of a new stove. In theory at least, no two households may share a stove. We recall that in Táiwān the unit of land-holding is the household 戶 (which corresponds for practical purposes exactly with the family 家). Because the amount of prime land any household may hold is limited by law, some families split prematurely on paper. (It would be convenient to say they split their household and not their family, but usage is not that tidy.) This introduces a gradation between unified household and divided household, because it is necessary to maintain certain divisions before the law which may or may not be very heartfelt. The stove for this reason is not so reliable a symbol of these divisions as it once was. The division of the family is symbolized last, apparently, in its ritual participation. Providing a pot of rice in a god-worshipping group for one family and two pots of rice for two families is one such context. Offering cakes to the Jade Emperor in the early hours of New Year morning is another.16
Footnote 16. Descriptions of Chinese New Year are too numerous to cite. For Táiwān, see Saso 1966: 14 if.; Nĝ 155: 1 ff. in Hokkien, 7 ff. in the English edition. For Fújiàn, see Groot 1886: 3 if. Although these are difficult data to collect systematically, they seem more reliable as guides to "real" or "complete" family division in Táiwān than the stove is. Tax inspectors can see stoves. Only ethnographers stumbling about in the chill air of the New Year morning see the Jade Emperor's offering cakes!
We have noted that the unit of participation in the god-worshipping rites is the family, that is, the unit attached to a rice pot. Individuals do not participate or refuse to participate as individuals; that is ritually unexpressable. It is the family which sacrifices to the god, and the family which the god undertakes to protect. Only in the limiting case in which a family has but one member is individualism involved, and then only in the guise of familism. For the same reason it is the family which by this act of participation is aligning itself with other participating families, and the relationships of individuals in one family to individuals in the other are relevant only if they are so friendly or so hostile and the individuals so placed in the authority structures of their respective families that they can initiate or terminate the participation of their whole families in the group. The family is represented by its rice pot, and the rice pot is there or it is not: it cannot be half there, or all there but one. The manipulation of rice pots is less flexible than the manipulation of human bodies; and it is less fickle. To the extent that the communal participation in these rites engenders willingness to cooperate in other ways, it would tend to stabilize interfamily solidarity.
But presenting the family as a unit before the gods does not merely obliterate ritual individualism vis-à-vis the other participant families. There are certain effects upon the family itself. It is not clear in the Chinese case that praying together means staying together, as Americans are continually instructed, but it is important that the divine protection sought by collective sacrifice is protection of the family unit. It extends to individuals only insofar as the afflictions they suffer are understood to be afflictions also of the family.17 Thus the insistence upon the family as the unit of participation makes the family the unit of divine assistance as well. The security provided to the individual by the family is expressed, and it is enhanced, in these rites, for it is the family which may receive the god's assistance.
Footnote 17. As we have seen, individual disaster does often turn out to be interpreted as familial misfortune.
Rites of worship conducted monthly or every two months are not the only ceremonies performed by the god-worshipping groups. Each god has a birthday, and depending on the finances and enthusiasm of the membership of the group each year, this celebration is more or less festive.18 At minimum, the birthday celebration might be nothing more elaborate than the usual worship activity. In order to make it more elaborate (more "festive" 熱鬧 or "better looking" 好看 the Taiwanese say), various elements might be added to this. A punch-and-judy show is usual.19 The stage is set up at the outer (downstage) end of the courtyard of the house so that the god seated upon the family altar in the central room can enjoy the play. He has better luck than the ethnographer if he can see it above the heads of the people who fill the courtyard in front of him to see it, but it is in any case performed for his pleasure and amusement.
Footnote 18. Because Chinese count their age from lunar New Year, birthdays have nothing directly to do with age, and the problem of how old the god is —the usual reaction of Americans when informed of gods' birthdays— becomes irrelevant.
Footnote 19. For some reason, the villages in the vicinity of Bǎo'ān show a fondness for punch-and-judy performances far in excess of what local custom allows in say, the Běigǎng area. Punch-and-judy is a way of rendering private religious rites festive, and is virtually universal in weddings of Bǎo'ān men The normal theatrical company required is three or four men who perform on a collapsible stage constructed over three locally supplied oxcarts In years past such a company required musicians as well, but today music is supplied from two phonographs, amplified through massive loudspeakers to a volume it would be difficult to describe, and supplemented by bells cymbals, and explosions of gunpowder. American movies seem to provide many of the musical compositions on the records. The plays, however, are traditional, although details are improvised.
Go to top
A second element that might be added to the divine birthday celebration is an exorcism of baleful influences from the houses of the participating families. This is accomplished by a hired âng-thâu-á priest with participation by one or more gods represented by kiō-á or tâng-ki.
Here is how the Zhāng households of god-worshipping Group 1 conducted the birthday celebration of His Highness Chí on the 18th day of the sixth moon of the Year of the Ram (25 July 1967 by Western reckoning). Late in the afternoon of the previous day (the 17th) the "portable" village josses were tied securely into the Bǎo'ān palanquin, which was packed aboard a rented truck together with a large ritual umbrella (which always precedes a palanquin in a procession), a few baskets of food offerings, a great deal of spirit money, and twenty-five or thirty men and boys (selected by no principle I could discover). The expedition was bound toward the shrine of Nánkūnshēn near Běimén, where His Highness Chí is worshipped. The object was to make camp at the shrine until midnight, and then to offer sacrifices to the god in the early hours of his birthday morning.20
Footnote 20. The lunar calendar is the primary means of calculating dates in rural Táiwān, despite the use of the solar calendar in government, educational, military, and semiofficial contexts. For some reason, however, hours are Western way, and except for purposes of astrology, the old system of a twelve-hour day has been abandoned. The new day therefore begins at midnight, rather than at eleven o'clock P.M., as it normally would under the traditional Chinese system.
The palanquin of josses returned to Bǎo'ān about three o'clock the morning of the 18th, and the josses were carried back to their individual households. His Highness Chí, as an important god, had been congratulated on the occasion of his birthday. It remained to congratulate him as the patron god of the Zhāng of Bǎo'ān.
On the afternoon of the 18th, the portable josses were to be found on the family altar of one of the Zhāng houses. (The location of the rites rotates through the Tang group.) Several participating Zhāng households brought their lower family altar tables with them, which served to provide table space for offerings. Two of these were added to the family altar inside the central room of the host household, forming with the host's family altar a compound altar the size of three small altar tables. On this were spread rice-flour tortoises. One of these was an enormous confection, perhaps thirty centimeters in diameter, painted with pink features (including curly eyelashes); Surrounding him were smaller rice-flower tortoises, also bearing details painted in pink.21 These tortoises are a felicitous sacrifice, entirely appropriate to the god's birthday, but at the same time they represent a portion of his wealth in Bǎo'ān, for at the end of the rites, members of the worshipping group take them home (with the god's permission, revealed through poe), where they are eaten as a sweet. The effect of this is to bring harmony to the house. The next year, however, each eager devourer of the god's confections must present two tortoises by way of return. It does not seem to occur to people in Bǎo'ān that if in fact this were to happen for very many years running, it would rapidly involve too many felicitous tortoises. In fact, various other arrangements are made, including returning money the following year rather than pastries, which may be lent out again to be returned with interest a year after that. What prevents massive accumulations of money is probably the fact that the capital is used to help support such activities as birthday celebrations with punch-and-judy troupes and chanting âng-thâu-á priests. The system can be a source of credit, however, and in the past it possibly served that end more importantly than it does today.
Footnote 21. The tortoise is a symbol of longevity and stability. On the tortoise in Chinese iconography, see Dù Érwèi 1966: 73-114.
Go to top
Before the house four more family altar tables were placed. One of these held sacrificial food of the host household. The others held offerings of other households. Because it was the birthday of the god, the ranks of worshipping families were swelled by additional village families, and the baskets were laid out in four columns between the outdoor altars and the front of the courtyard, and represented a total of forty-two visiting households.22
Footnote 22. The representatives of these households were in many cases children who rapidly joined throngs of other children come to watch the punch-and-judy. It is therefore impossible to say which additional families were represented.
The food offerings of the normal worshipping group participants were not separated from those of the once-a-year families, but the spirit money fires were. There were in total fourteen fires. One of these served to burn a handful of spirit money offered by each family on arrival at the event (for the worship was essentially identical with ordinary god-worshipping group rites described above). The worship of the host family began and ended a few minutes earlier than that of the other participating families, and accordingly one money bonfire was reserved for their spirit money after their rites ended. One fire was for public use at the end of the rites, and was situated at the foot of the yard. In the vacant space between two rows of baskets the eleven remaining fires of spirit money were laid out for the use of the eleven non-host families that were regularly members of the normal god-worshipping group.
A = Pre-rite fire
B = Host's sacrifices
C = Other sacrifices
D = Host's fire
E = Four columns of food baskets
F = Group members' fires
G = Public, post-rite fire
In this way three statuses of participant families were distinguished: that of the host family organizing the festival that year, that of other households who were regularly in the service and protection of His Highness Chí, and that of all other households, participating on a temporary basis only and involving themselves less intimately with the god.
The worship began late in the afternoon and was accompanied by a punch-and-judy show. The host family finally ignited its bonfire of spirit money about seven o'clock, and the remainder of the fires were lit about twenty minutes later. Then the visiting families gathered their food and headed home, and the puppeteers stopped for dinner.
For the Zhāng, however, the evening had barely begun. Shortly before the worship had ended, the âng-thâu-á arrived from Xīgǎng and began chanting incantations over the tables of offerings. When the offerings of food were ultimately withdrawn, the âng-thâu-á busied himself with the preparation of purification oil for exorcism by "passing through oil," of the same kind we spoke of earlier in connection with village purification rites.
Go to top
While the oil was being prepared in the central room of the house, two divination chairs were being tightly held by two pairs of bearers outside, and a drum and two cymbals pounded in a steady rhythm beside them to call down the gods. The first spirit to come was that of His Highness Chí himself, and the chair bounced crazily to indicate his presence. Then Guō Tiānhuà, the tâng-ki of the Third Prince, was possessed. At length the second kiō-á was possessed, and this presence announced he was also the Third Prince.23
Footnote 23. The Third Prince, Lǐ Nézhà 李哪吒 is third because he is a third son. To the best of my knowledge his elder brothers were never canonized. There is therefore no First Prince or Second Prince. Recounting the possessions at His Highness Chí's birthday celebration later, one informant seemed disturbed at the double representation of the Third Prince, and proposed that the First Prince himself must have possessed the kiō-á. Had he been speaking of one or another of King Guō's Guardians it might have been credible. For the Third Prince, however, the statement was meaningless. l suspect that the double representation probably resulted from the illiterate wielders of the kiō-á inadvertently writing figures that were easily interpretable as two or three of the simple characters that make up the title of the Third Prince 三太子 when asked for identification The âng-thâu-á who read these simply allowed the point to pass. The important thing was that divine power was concentrated on the place and that His Highness Chí was himself one of the attending divinities.
When at length the oil was prepared, it was successively fired by the âng-thâu-á, and momentary columns of flame and smoke soared several feet into the air, through which each of the josses on the altar was passed and each of the pieces of altar paraphernalia (except those objects used in the worship of ancestors). In this way they were purified of any possible contamination by malign forces. The oil was fired separately for each object, and the room rapidly filled with oily black smoke. The tâng-ki meanwhile had called for his ball of nails and had mortified himself with it. Now he stood in the background dangling the ball of nails in one outstretched hand, muttering, bleeding, and shaking, flanked by the eagerly bouncing kiō-á. And thus did the gods oversee the purification of the host's central room, by rites virtually identical to those we saw used earlier to purify the village temple.
When the central room and family altar of the year's host family had been purified in this way, the equipment was carried in procession to other households. First came the tâng-ki, leading the group. There happened to be an electrical failure on this particular evening, and his way was lighted only by flashlights and by the eerie and uneven light of the burning wick of the purification oil. The elderly tâng-ki had taken out his dentures before going into trance, and his cheeks sank into deep hollows. Now, shaking violently, flailing his ball of nails, and staring vacantly and intensely into the darkness, he looked more like a refugee from the world beyond than a link of communication with it.
Behind him came the pan of oil, hanging from its pole; next, the âng-thâu-á with his bottle of rice wine and the two kiō-á bouncing evenly up and down as they dragged their bearers through the warm night. At the rear came masses of children and onlookers. Alongside, before, and behind stumbled the ethnographer.
This odd and holy procession visited each house in which one of the participating Zhāng families lived, and purified its central room by firing the oil, momentarily illuminating the entire house with a great column of flame, and leaving behind clouds of black smoke.
On its return to the host house, the oil was fired several more times, and individual participants in the procession, as well as members of the host family and anyone else who desired, passed their arms through the flames to purify their own bodies. Finally it was extinguished by blowing a larger amount of wine onto the oil than usual, so that the pan fairly exploded, filling the room first with blinding flame, then with smoky darkness. The attendant gods now revealed their satisfaction with the event: the kiō-á chairs pounded their message upon the lower family-altar table, one with such vigor as to put a dent into the hardwood surface, and the tâng-ki spoke words of pleasure. Then all three gods left. The âng-thâu-á chanted his closing words, and the rites were accomplished.24
Footnote 24. 1 am told that in some years the rites are made even more elaborate by the performance of fire walking. For a description of fire walking, see Diamond 1966: 269 ff.
In the evening the puppet show continued for the enjoyment of all who came to see it, and of the josses lined up on the family altar.
Go to top
What are the themes rehearsed in this birthday drama? One is the integration of the Zhāng households within the larger village. This relation is echoed in the village-wide group that visits Nánkūnshēn with the palanquin filled with Bǎo'ān's gods. But it is even clearer in the participation of extra families in the rites of worship conducted in the village. The extra worshippers are presumably motivated by reasons of piety and respect for His Highness Chí, but they are also necessary if the event is to be appropriately Rènào 熱鬧 and Hǎokàn 好看. I recall that my first introduction to the word Rènào / lāujiàt was in a Chinese textbook, which glossed it "noisy confusion"; and so it certainly seems to the outside observer. To the Chinese participant, however, it is a sense of glorious festivity, characterized by noise and disorganization to be sure, but by levity and a disruption of routine as well. Cities are Rènào. Festivals are Rènào. Theatricals are Rènào. In general, crowds of people are Rènào. Rènào, in American terms, is "where the action is." Something Rènào is bound to be good, and in offering the god a Rènào birthday, an effort is being made to provide him with a kind of private carnival. This requires more people and more activity than usual.
At the same time the fete must be Hǎokàn / hó-khoàn. Hǎokàn means literally "good-looking"; but it conveys not only an impression of beauty, but of propriety as well. Handsome is indeed as handsome does.
If the event is to be Rènào, a punch-and-judy show and a lot of people will suffice to make it so, but if it is to be Hǎokàn as well, it requires the proper recognition of the god's position vis-à-vis his worshippers, and theirs to their god. This is where the baskets of food and the money fires come in. For although the number of baskets and the amount of spirit money is swelled to make the event Rènào, the relationships between worshippers and god, which are represented by them, are carefully distinguished to make the event Hǎokàn. The god's obligations are laid out before him on the ground in sacrificial fires.
The second theme being rehearsed is the relationship that obtains between the god and his worshipping families: the celebration of their reciprocal obligations. When the worshippers have finished performing their portion of the drama, the god begins his part: he purifies the houses of the families of the god-worshipping group.
The ritual cleansing of the participant houses of His Highness Chí's god-worshipping group is not done because there are known to be evil influences or malignant spirits in them; it is entirely prophylactic. People say this, too, is done in the interest of making the day Rènào. The rite, however, is an unambiguous dramatization of the god's interest in the welfare of the god-worshipping group, and of his power in cleansing its dwellings.
Two points are to be made. One concerns the divine presence, the other the houses which are purified by it. In connection with the first, we note that the purification is accomplished by the liturgy and oil burning of the âng-thâu-á. The power to create and use exorcist's oil resides in the formulae known to this cleric (which is one of the reasons they are secret). However the rite is performed only in the presence of the divine. It is a tâng-ki in trance who leads the procession for His Highness Chí's birthday, and two supernaturally activated kiō-á' accompany it. The activity is charged not only with magical power to purge baleful shades, but with the divine presence itself.25
Footnote 25. In the nature of the case, a tâng-ki can present this presence in a greater variety of ways than can a bouncing divination chair, and accordingly the rite as described looks as though it is the Third Prince who bears the brunt of the godly responsibility. At that time there was no medium for His Highness Chí in the village. and Chí was therefore represented only by a kiō-á and could not be as active as the Third Prince. A tâng-ki has since been possessed by His Highness Chí in Bǎo'ān. and presumably this god is now able to take the lead role himself. Incorporating the Third Prince in a major role is not so odd as it might seem, however. for his tâng-ki has been well-established for more than twenty years. and with his success there has grown up a feeling that the village is under the immediate, beneficent, day-to-day protection of the Third Prince. That such an immediate and important god should participate in, or even lead, such rites is not strange. His participation, by the way, sneaks village interests and the village ritual group (as opposed to Zhāng interests and the Zhāng ritual group) in at the back door once more; His Highness Chí is worshipped by the Zhāng. The Third Prince has no worship group and is at the disposal of the entire village.
The second point is that the protection accomplished by the oil in the central rooms of houses where participant families live is considered to extend both to the house, including such occupants as might not be in worshipping families, and to the families themselves, including such family members as might not in fact live in the house but still have not divided formally from the family (as a child in boarding school in a city). The point is important when we remember that Chinese family splitting does not necessarily involve changing houses, and often several families live in one house, not all of whom are part of the god-worshipping group (though I believe in the case of His Highness Chí's birthday celebration, this discrepancy did not arise). We are reminded faintly of the space / personnel association in village / surname definition that arose in connection with King Guō earlier. Just as the surname group does not fit exactly into its village, so the family does not fit perfectly into its building; and in both cases a divine being forms a species of integration by generously extending himself to cover anybody who can be included under either principle.
Go to top
When the rite of passing through oil is performed in connection with a god's birthday, it is a prophylactic rite, and its performance is primarily a drama of what the god would do if the houses of his devotees were threatened by disaster. This is not to say that such purification is not desirable or efficacious. Of course it is. But it is not necessary, save as it is a part of the festivity of the god's birthday.
The case is somewhat different when exorcism is performed for the relief of particular misfortunes of a specific family. During the period I lived in Bǎo'ān, several families attempted to improve their financial fortunes and the health of their members by means of a rite called a Xiètǔ 謝土.26
This rite was typically performed when the family was suffering from generalized inharmony that could not be directly related to any specific misfortunes. Ill health, financial reversals, and domestic quarrels stalked in the family circle, and eventually it was decided that something was wrong and an oracle was consulted which recommended a Xiètǔ.27
Footnote 26. The term literally means "thanking the earth." According to Douglas (1899: 425) the expression (pronounced siā-thó· in Hokkien) means to give thanks to the earth god after a burial. Groot (1892-1910: 1.219 ff.) discusses these sacrifices at the grave. but makes no reference to this term. I have never come upon it used in connection with funeral rites. Although Douglas's interpretation makes sense in relation to the literal meaning of the characters, I can only insist that in my experience the rites denoted by the word have nothing to do with funerals, but with correcting family misfortunes through exorcism.
Footnote 27. The selection of this particular rite seems to have depended on the following facts. The oracle consulted was a kiō-á, which was read by Guō Màodé. The oracle recommended that a Xiètǔ be performed. or so Màodé interpreted it. Now Màodé had a standing arrangement with a company of âng-thâu-á in Táinán city. They would perform a Xiètǔ for 2.000 Kuay ($50). and Màodé, for recommending them, received a compensation. No one I asked about this devious arrangement thought fraud could possibly be involved. The kiō-á had recommended a Xiètǔ and if Màodé recommended priests. he was entitled to compensation the priests chose to give it to him.
Go to top
The Xiètǔ rites are complex and depend for their full exposition on an understanding of the chants themselves, which I do not have. In general, they are an exorcism and ritual cleansing of the house and the people living in it. The rite seems to be a composite of several different parts, which occur also in other contexts. I do not propose to analyze all of these here, but to mention certain ones that are directly relevant to our present purposes.
The priests perform chants in the afternoon which contain (as I understand it) magical formulae designed to bring the evil forces in the house under their power. Early in the evening one priest seats himself on the floor of the central room of the house and faces a crockery pot over which a piece of brown paper is tightly stretched and on which a few grains of rice have been placed. At one side of the paper there is a series of small holes, perhaps five to eight millimeters in diameter. As the priest chants and burns small yellow papers said to "open the eyes of spirits," an assistant bangs rhythmically on a small gong. The grains of rice make their way in short, irregular hops from their randomly scattered positions across the brown paper on the pot toward the holes, until they tumble into the pot through these small openings. When the last grain of rice has dropped into the pot, the evil forces of the house are considered to be concentrated in the pot, and it is carried as quickly as possible out of the village to a spot some distance into the fields, often the bed of a dry irrigation canal. Here it is staked to the ground with a charm stake of the same general type as we saw used in identifying the forts at the corners of the village. This expedition to the fields is overseen and led by a kiō-á borne by village people, although one of the âng-thâu-á bears the pot and stakes it to the ground.
The forces in the pot are dangerous. Were they driven from the house but allowed to remain in the village, they would endanger the houses of others, if not of their original host. Once they are taken outside the village, they can reenter it only by overpowering the soldiers who man the boundary lines and forts of the village itself. This is perhaps one of the most explicit points of tangency between the microcosm of the house and the macrocosm of the village, each seen as a sacred domain existing in space.
By the time this expedition has returned, a basin of oil has been heated for the rite of "passing through oil," which constitutes the heart of the rites. Under the direction of the kiō-á and usually a tâng-ki as well, the oil is fired in the central room of the house, where each object of the altar is passed through successive columns of flame. Then it is carried to the other rooms of the house and is fired once in each room. As it leaves the room, firecrackers are ignited in the room. Both the oil fire and the firecrackers are understood to frighten, purge, and destroy malign forces, and the house has already been emptied of those forces that were carried out magically captured in the pot. When all the rooms have been thus purified, the oil is carried to each corner of the house and fired once more, as a stake with a charm secured to the top of it is pounded into the floor of the central room, beneath the center of the red approach table, or higher of the two family altar tables.
When this has been completed, the âng-thâu-á performs a rite that by itself is known as "changing luck" 改運. This is performed by some âng-thâu-á in public temples in Táinán, and occasionally occurs in Bǎo'ān without an âng-thâu-á if someone else who knows the chants can perform it. Each member of the family is provided with a paper figure of himself, which he carries across a bench representing a bridge. Arriving at the end of the bench, he sits down and the officiant takes away the paper figure and recites charms causing malign forces affecting the body to rest instead in the paper body, which is subsequently burned outside the boundaries of the village.
The Xiètǔ rites usually last from early afternoon to just past midnight. Usually a punch-and-judy show is provided for the pleasure of household gods in the afternoon and early evening, and neighbors are invited to bring food for late-afternoon sacrifices to the Good Brethren, that is, to the hungry ghosts in the vicinity, by way of propitiation. The punch-and-judy, whatever its supernatural effects, provides an added inducement to would-be sacrificers.
One of the features most striking about all this is that the core of the rites, the purification of the house, is a scaled-down version of the rites of exorcism and purification described in connection with the protection of the village from generalized evil influences. The stakes at the four corners of the house represent the forts of the house, just as the stakes at the four trees around the village represent forts. The purification by oil is the same. The purification of individual sacred objects from the family altar is the same as the purification of objects on the altar of the village temple.
In other words, one part of this rite, and, so far as I understand it, the core part, makes the house a microcosm of the village. It is guided by the same logic (expelling malign forces), expressed in the same idiom (forts), performed by the same practitioners (âng-thâu-á) with the same equipment (oil, stakes) as the village exorcism described earlier. This general homology between the village macrocosm and the family microcosm has appeared more than once so far and is worth singling out for further examination.
Go to top