Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Taiwanese Folk Beliefs -- Series 3

(1) Heaven Raises Its Height
In ancient times the heavens were so low that one could reach the sky and touch it by merely extending one's hand above one's head. This was the case until one day a servant girl was throwing out a night bucket of urine and accidentally splashed the sky. The sky immediately receded upwards to its present height.

(2) Some New Year's Day Taboos

  • Don't eat rice porridge/congee/ gruel on New Year's Day; otherwise, there will be rain whenever one is out of town on business. In addition to avoiding rice porridge, one should also refrain from eating sweet potato; otherwise, one may become impoverished.
  • Don't pat a child on the head on New Year's Day; to do so will cause him/her to lose hair, causing that child to grow up to be a balding adult. Also make sure not to cause a child to cry piteously; to do so could cause a death in the family that year.
  • The Broom God takes a break on New Year's Day, so on that day, do not use the broom.
(3) Some Precautionary Taboos

  • A child who is not yet a full four months old should not eat duck egg; otherwise, he or she will grow up to have halitosis. 
  • A child who is not yet fully sixteen years old should not eat fish roe; otherwise, he/she might not be able to do arithmetic. Nor should he/she eat chicken feet; otherwise, when he/she writes characters, his/her hand might be shaky. 
(4) Eating Taboos
To choke while eating is a portent of bad luck to come. To stick chopsticks vertically into a bowl of rice is extremely unlucky and should be avoided at all costs. 

(5) Thunder and Lightning
There was once a young wife who cut open a melon and then threw the seeds outside. The God of Thunder witnessed this act and assumed the woman had committed an unthinkable sin: throwing away perfectly edible grains of rice. He sent down a ball of thunder to kill her. Afterwards, her spirit ascended into the heavens, where she became the wife of the God of Thunder, providing lightning to help him see clearly who is and who isn't a sinner.

(6) Rock Gods
Certain rock formations are called "Rock Lords" and serve as sacrificial sites. One such rock sat in an inconvenient spot in a farmer's field. The farmer had it rolled into a pond. The very next day, the farmer discovered the same rock had returned to the same location. Once again he had it rolled down into the pond, and the day after that the farmer saw to his amazement the rock still sitting where it had presumably always been. The farmer came to the conclusion that a spirit inhabited this rock, so, accordingly, he erected a small shrine to offer sacrifices to the Rock Lord.

from Cang Dewu, pp.99-104. See 9/12/11 for full citation. 

And now the disclaimer: The above superstitions and taboos are from a bygone era and are not claimed to represent current belief systems of the majority of Taiwan's population. 

Chicken and duck feet and fish roe might be avoided because of the principle of similarity in sympathetic magic, in which, in other words, "like produces like." Placing chopsticks vertically into a bowl of rice mimics memorial rites and sacrifices and is thus evocative of the dead. For another version of the tale of the Thunder God's wife, see "The Mother of Lightning" in my e-book, Taiwan Folktales. As for deified rock formations, they are likely to be sites tied to ancient cultic/fertility activities sometimes based on their supposed shapes that evoke certain qualities. For a Cantonese legend about such a rock, see 6/22/07.

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