Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Taiwanese Folk Beliefs -- Series 2

1. If You Have to Be Bitten . . .
To the majority of us who are not marine biologists or zoologists, a random turtle and/or tortoise placed side-by-side with a Chinese soft-shelled fresh water turtle (Trionyx sinensis) may not seem terribly distinctive from each other. However, the ancestors of today's Taiwanese would have disagreed. The mouths of most turtles and tortoises in the wild were thought to be inlaid with gold. Thus, for one to be bitten by a species of turtle or tortoise other than the Trionyx sinensis would mean one would eventually become wealthy. However, the bite of the latter, the Chinese fresh water turtle, was to be avoided at all costs. It was thought that its beak would clamp down onto human flesh until either the peal of thunder of the sound of a pestle grinding inside a mortar could be heard. Only then would its jaws slacken and release whomever it had bitten.

2. The Sensitivity of Snakes
Snakes, of course, have no legs. Therefore, one must never speak of this fact; otherwise, any snake that overhears mention of this might become angry and seek out the speaker.

3. Sons of the Dragon
A dragon has nine sons.
The first son loves loud noises, so bells are adorned with the images of dragons.
The second son loves music, so musical instruments are adorned with images of dragons.
The third son loves to drink, so drinking vessels are adorned with images of dragons.
The fourth son loves mountain peaks, so the tops of tall buildings or other structures or places are adorned with images of dragons.
The fifth son loves weaponry, so weapons are adorned with images of dragons.
The sixth son loves literature, so images of dragons are found on movable type.
The seventh son loves litigation, so images of dragons are found in courtrooms.
The eighth son loves sitting, so chairs are decorated with the images of dragons.
The ninth son loves heavy objects, so the images of dragons may be found on plinths.

4. Tree Spirits
Camphor, banyan and maple trees, once they reach a very old age, become tree spirits and are liable to turn malevolent and harm people. Thus, many people erect small shrines beneath the branches of these trees and, there, make offerings to them.

5. Flower Spirits
Flowers also house spirits. One is not supposed to pluck flowers at night lest the spirit of the flower becomes angry.

6. Twitching Eyebrows
A twitching eyebrow is a bad omen. This is especially true for children, for a child's twitching eyebrow indicates a beating is coming.

7. Bridal Sedan Chair
In days past the rear of a bridal sedan chair was decorated with the images of the bagua (the symbols from the Yijing, or Book of Changes), the taiji (i.e., the well-known yin yang symbol, like the ones found on the respective flags of the Republic of Korea and Mongolia), and a rice sieve. Why? These symbols together represent all the innumerable things in the universe and, thus, many children and descendants.

8. More Lucky & Unlucky Dream Symbols
Lucky dream symbols:
to hear the sounds of bells and drums . . . good fortune
to obtain shoes . . . great luck
to come into contact with blue-green clothing . . . to be assisted by a god(dess)
to lie down upon rice grains . . . great luck
to lie down upon a rock . . . great luck
to be disparaged by someone . . . great luck
to handle a rock . . . to give birth to a future member of the nobility
Unlucky dream symbols:
to obtain grains but then only to lose them . . . a sign of impending illness
to be beaten by a ghost . . . bad luck
to be beaten by one's wife or mistress . . . bad luck
to see two women engaged in a brawl . . . a sign of impending illness
to have the bowstrings break . . . bad luck

9. More Omens
to have an itchy ear . . . someone is thinking of you and misses you
to have an itchy foot . . . the earth god is giving you a warning
to stumble or fall outside while engaged in some enterprise . . . a sign of impending harm
to have twitching eyelids . . . someone is disparaging you (see 6. Twitching Eyebrows above)
to have a ringing in the ears or hot ears . . . a sign of either impending good or bad luck
to see a "tailless" or otherwise incomplete rainbow . . . a typhoon is imminent
to witness a falling star come to earth . . . a huge disaster is imminent
to have one's bamboo hat blown off by the wind is very unlucky . . . for the hat to be blown into the ocean or down a mountain could indicate the end of one's days is approaching.

10. Taboos
Don't pull out any white hairs . . . to do so will make white hairs proliferate.
Don't pull out any hair on the feet . . . to do so will lead to one's being frightened by ghosts.
Don't wear washed clothes which have not been first dried and then folded . . . to do so may lead one to become a "bamboo clothing pole ghost" (i.e., one who has a skeletal frame and all that that entails).
Don't let a child walk underneath a stretched out blanket or a woman's skirt . . . otherwise, the child might not grow taller than the child's current height; any adult, especially a man, involved in violating this taboo can expect bad luck as well.
Don't dry clothes outside at night . . . otherwise, any future child born might be of short stature or the birth might turn out to be stillborn.
Don't mend clothes while wearing them . . . otherwise, the wearer might be accused of being a thief.
Don't eat beef . . . much illness will follow.
Don't stick chopsticks vertically into a bowl of rice . . . it is very unlucky, for it mimics what is done for the dead.
Don't speak of "turning over" the fish while eating fish with any guest who is a sailor or fisherman . . . to do so could foreshadow his boat's capsizing at sea.
Don't look in the mirror while eating . . . to do so will lead to one's becoming an inarticulate speaker.
Don't let a little girl change seats while eating . . . otherwise, after she marries one day, she may end up "changing partners."


Taiwan minjian gushi, Cang Dewu; Taiwan minsu, Wu Yingtao. (See 9/12/11 for full citation.)


These are bits and pieces of long outmoded and discarded folklore and are not meant to represent the belief systems of most people alive today.

For a legend about spirits housed in trees, see story #4 at 3/26/09.