Monday, September 12, 2011

Some Taiwanese Folk Beliefs

The following items come from a couple of sources and may reflect certain superstitions, taboos, and traditions that stem from bits and pieces of long-forgotten and discarded legend and myth.

1. Peaches of the Immortals & Celestial Dew
Peaches of the immortals exist up in the heavens, it is said, and that if a mortal is able to eat one he or she can live forever without aging. Celestial dew, likewise up in the heavens, can allow a person, if he or she bathes in it, to achieve unparalleled wisdom.

2. Tiangou--"Heavenly Hound"
The sky dog, Tiangou, is responsible for both solar and lunar eclipses. These occur whenever the heavenly hound bites a chunk out of, respectively, the sun and the moon.

3. The Golden Bird
The sun itself is nothing but a huge golden bird with three legs.

4. The Sun's Birthday & the Sun's Hideous Face
The sun has its birthday on the nineteenth day of the third month, according to the traditional Chinese (lunar) calendar. Alas, the sun is so ugly that in order to hide its face from the rest of us, it is forced to shower our eyes with blinding rays, causing us to look away and not to see its horrible visage.

5. When the Sun & the Moon Are Ill
Solar eclipses occur when the sun is sick; in like manner, a lunar eclipse takes place when the moon is not well. The sun willingly allows itself to become ill so that the human race as a whole does not. Therefore, during a solar eclipse, people pray for the well-being and swift recovery of the kind, beneficent sun. The moon's illness is caused by a demon connected to the Peach Blossom Girl. Thus, during a lunar eclipse, people bang gongs to drive away the noxious being and to restore the moon to health.

6. Don't Count the Stars!
Counting the stars in the sky is a very bad idea. At the very least, it can cause scabies. There are, of course, an infinite number of stars above, and if one insists on wasting valuable time to count all the stars, even if one disregards the threat of scabies, the outcome could lead to death.

7. Respecting the Moon
Another bad idea is pointing a finger at the moon and scolding or cursing it. This could cause the moon to send down its "lunar knife" to snip off the offender's earlobes.

8. Red (or Bare) Dog Day
This is the third day of the lunar calendar new year. On this day, we should not engage in activities outdoors or host guests. "Red" or "bare" (the classical character for "red" or the modern character for "naked," [Mandarin: chi; Taiwanese/Hokkien: chhiah]) is also part of the Taiwanese/Hokkien compound for "poverty,"san-chhiah.

9. Some Lucky Dream Symbols
to enter a great hall . . . a sign of impending wealth and ennoblement
to see a great front door or large, imposing gate . . . a sign of impending wealth and ennoblement
to witness clouds billow in every direction . . . a sign of prosperous business dealings
to see surging river or ocean waters . . . a sign of great fortune
to butcher a hog . . . a sign of great fortune
to ride a dog and ascend into the heavens . . . a sign of future ennoblement
to sharpen a sword . . . a sign of great fortune
to be injured physically by another . . . a sign of luck
to witness heaven and earth united as one . . . a sign that one's deepest desire is about to come true
to travel through the mountains in the spring or summer . . . a sign of luck
to burn incense below the moon . . . a sign of great luck
to be attached to a snake . . . a sign of impending great inheritance

10. Some Unlucky Dream Symbols
to be killed by a dragon . . . a sign of great misfortune
to see a crab . . . a sign of future illness
to fall into a latrine or toilet and be unable to get out . . . a sign of great misfortune
to stand up in the midst of water . . . a sign of great misfortune
to see a monkey . . . a sign of future legal problems
to see oneself enter hell for thievery . . . a sign of great misfortune
to see a dragon enter a well . . . a sign of impending mental debility
to see an already dead person eating . . . a sign of great misfortune
to kill a turtle . . . a sign of impending death
to lose a water buffalo . . . a sign of impending death

11. Rain
Rain is actually ocean water breathed in by dragons and then expelled from the heavens. It may also be heavenly river water scattered to the earth below by a god.

12. Brides-to-be, Stay Away From Chicken Blood!
A young woman should not eat chicken blood just before her wedding lest she appear inexplicably red-faced.


from (1) Taiwan minjian gushi, Cang Dewu, ed.; Taipei: Yong'an Chubanshe, 1976; (2) Taiwan minsu, Wu Yingtao; Taipei: Zhongwen, 1984.

The Chinese celestial sky dog may be derived from a star deity. later becoming an entity that could ward off evil, especially the menace of fox goblins. However, in other traditions, it could preside over military disasters. It eventually evolved, in Japan, into the famed tengu, a malevolent creature of the mountain forests which was capable of abducting children. One species in Japan was purely bird-like, with the appearance of a huge malevolent crow. The other looked like yamabushi, or mountain hermit-monks, with a human appearance but also a very long nose.

The Peach Blossom Girl is a celestial servant girl and immortal in her own right, appearing with legendary Zhou Gong (the Duke of Zhou) in many legends and opera stories. She is noted for her ability with magic.

Counting, pointing at or otherwise disparaging heavenly bodies such as the moon or a comet is not a taboo just in Chinese culture. A version of a North American Indian folktale, "The Star Husbands Tale," tells of two sisters who lie down in the tall grass one warm summer's night and look up at the stars, particularly a red star and a gray one. They jokingly suggest they would like to marry those stars. They fall asleep in the grass and wake up to find that they are now indeed up in the sky married to the stars, the younger one married to the red star and the older sister, to the gray star. If only they hadn't looked up, pointed at the stars and brazenly claimed to want to marry them . . .

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