Rituals at a temple

I recently went to a temple to get rid of my bad chi.

Chi (or qi) is a person’s life force or life energy.  Maybe think of it as spirit, although the Taiwanese believe it is much more corporeal.  My girlfriend (who is the daughter of a practising Taiwanese fortune teller / priest) told me that I have bad chi.  She says that her body is very sensitive to a person’s chi, and mine’s reeking of mouldy socks.

For clarification, this doesn’t mean that I am a bastard with evil energy and intent.  It means that my normally awesome chi has been infected by bad chi from ghosts outside.  There are many ways this could happen and I must go to a temple to get rid of it.

My foreign mind wants to dismiss this out of hand.  Ghosts and spirits are not included in my normal definition of what is real.  But in the interest of keeping an open mind, and maybe learning something about Taiwanese day to day worship, I agreed.  Not to mention, rejecting her life-long beliefs (even if they are really strange to me) would have been a real jerk-off thing to do.

So we went to a temple (I neglected to take a picture, so here is a pic of another temple for illustration.  They all look the same to me anyway):

You have to go in through the left (dragon), and exit through the right (tiger).  I’m not sure what this does, but it has something to to with maintaining a good feng shui.  We bought some incense sticks and she took me through the temple showing me what to do.

First off, we lit the sticks and headed to this:

There are other structures like this in the temple, but this one is the biggest.  I was instructed to hold the incense sticks at chest level and say a prayer or give thanks.  Apparently this is the station of one of the gods.

I discovered that while this temple belongs to a particular deity, there are stations within the temple that are domains of other gods as well.  Sort of like embassies within a country.

After saying what I had to say, I bow a few times and put one of my incense sticks into the vessel (you can see the other ones in the pic).  Then off to god number 2.  This continued through 7 stations.  The point of this was supplication and request for something (in my case, getting rid of bad chi).

After that, we went to the area of the main deity and I was introduced to “divination blocks” and “fortune sticks”:

The rules are different at every temple.  In this one:

  1. Ask a question.  You have to be serious about this or you are just wasting your time and the god’s time (you don’t want to do this….this is bad – think divine retribution).  It’s one of those “you-have-to-believe” type deals.
  2. Pick a fortune stick out of a container filled with many fortune sticks.
  3. Toss the divination blocks.  You are looking for one face up and the other face down. This has to happen 3 times in a row.  Once it happens, the fortune on that stick is your answer.  Otherwise pick another stick and repeat.

I went through the process a few times but never got 3 in a row.  So then, I was told to ask if the god even wanted to answer my question.  If the blocks both fell face down, then the god was busy and he had no time for my pithy requests.  I threw the blocks a final time.

Lo and behold, they fell face down.  The god didn’t have time for my “waiguo ren” (foreigner) questions.

Since I had been spurned I was, naturally, put out.  Plus all the smoke from the incense was starting to burn my eyes.  I was ready to get going, when my girlfriend reminded me that we have to give an offering to the gods to gain their favour (and lose my bad chi).  Fine.

We bought some of this:

It’s called “Joss paper”.  Also known as “ghost money”.  This ritual is typically carried out at the end of every worship session.  The packaging is removed and the “money” is tossed into a fire, turning it into a burnt offering.  The furnace (which is located outside the temple) looks like this:

And a closer look at the fire:

I gotta admit, it was fun throwing the paper in and watching it burn up.

That was my temple trip.  While I didn’t feel any prodigious amounts of evil ghost essence leaving me, I did learn a bit more about the life of my average Taiwanese neighbour.  And if I my chi has been cleaned up in the process, score.  I win!


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