Archives For Taiwan

There are lots of articles and essays of interest to modern Pagans out there, sometimes more than I can write about in-depth in any given week. So The Wild Hunt must unleash the hounds in order to round them all up.

Chico Goddess Temple entrance.

Chico Goddess Temple entrance.

  • Is the Chico Goddess Temple doomed? According to the Chico News and Review, noise complaints for an illegal festival held four years ago has led to a much larger struggle to survive and gain the permits needed to stay open. Owner Robert Seals thinks that hostility to Goddess religion might underlay the resistance he’s encountered in obtaining the permits he needs. Quote: “This is nothing new, worship of the Goddess, but it goes up against a lot of fundamental religions.” You can learn more about this struggle, and the upcoming appeal hearing, here.

That’s it for now! Happy Friday the 13th! Feel free to discuss any of these links in the comments, some of these I may expand into longer posts as needed.

There are lots of articles and essays of interest to modern Pagans out there, sometimes more than I can write about in-depth in any given week. So The Wild Hunt must unleash the hounds in order to round them all up.

That’s it for now! Feel free to discuss any of these links in the comments, some of these I may expand into longer posts as needed.

Keeping Witchcraft Alive

Jason Pitzl-Waters —  September 21, 2009 — 4 Comments

While the practice of witchcraft is often viewed in a negative light within various cultures, at times erupting into horrible anti-witch violence in places like Tanzania and India, that isn’t the case everywhere. In fact, some cultures are trying to preserve their witches for the sake of future generations. That is the case with the Paiwan people of Taiwan, who are concerned that their long tradition of witches are fading away and have decided to do something about it.

“Witchcraft is an important part of the Paiwan tribe’s culture, but the number of practising witches it has produced has recently dropped sharply. The school, which opened last July, has ten students, but the organisers hope it will expand. Wong Yu-hua, a social affairs official in Pingtung county, where the school is based, told AFP: “We are witnessing the disappearance of the ancient ritual. We are trying hard to preserve it. The Paiwan tribe numbers about 86,000 people but has fewer than 20 witches, a decrease from more than 100 half a century ago.”

Naturally the term “witch” can mean many different things, so what exactly does a witch do within the context of this indigenous culture? Well, something that may seem rather familiar to practitioners of modern Witchcraft in the West.

“Paiwan witches are seen as mediums between gods and humans, and the school teaches pupils rituals for blessing people and protecting them from evil. Witches can use their powers to worship gods and ancestors, pray for weather and for their harvests and perform healing treatments and rituals for hunting and tattooing.”

For more on the Paiwan religion and culture, check out this report from the Digital Museum of Taiwan. As indigenous traditions of seership, witchcraft, shamanism, and magic become endangered through a variety of social, religious, and economic pressures it will be interesting to see how attempts to ensure their survival fare. Will the Paiwan witches dwindle to a mere handful like Japan’s itako, or will they experience a rebirth like the Yoruba priests and priestesses have at Nigeria’s Osun-Osogbo grove have? The outcome remains to be seen, but the opening of schools of witchcraft seems like a positive first step.

My semi-regular round-up of articles, essays, and opinions of note for discerning Pagans and Heathens.

DVD Talk reviews the documentary series “Women and Spirituality”, which was recently released in the DVD format.

“There’s little doubt that goddess worship has actually picked up significant cultural steam since the original release of these pieces close to 20 years ago. While they’re all a little dated, they provide an earnest look into the history and continued observance of gynocentric worship practices and will be appreciated by those interested in the history of religion and especially women’s movements. Recommended.”

The Women and Spirituality project also maintains a blog featuring several participants from the original documentary series.

Religion Dispatches looks at the recent (somewhat controversial) appointment of a “Supreme Chief” within Haitian Vodou, and the ongoing quest for respect by practitioners.

“Voodoo suffers from a flaw built into both scholarly and popular typologies of religion, that of hierarchical thinking about religions. Beauvoir argues that Voodoo’s character derives from its location as a “popular religion.” But lacking a sacred text, law codes, or traditions of written commentary, Voodoo is a marginalized tradition – marked as “primitive,” as if religions evolve along a given trajectory-compared to those “world religions” that come to dominate empires.”

While a tiny, and until recently, officially unrecognized, religion, the article points out that Vodou has a “capacity to persist” that may allow the faith to weather the current social and political storms raging in their country.

The caretaker of a Taoist temple in Taiwan has a problem. Too many deities!

“Yang Liang, who takes care of the small Suxi Temple, said yesterday he used to tend to only five land gods, the lowest deities in folk Taoism. Last February, Yang said, he found two statues of Avalokitesvera, or the Goddess of Mercy, abandoned in front of his temple in west Suao … Sheltering the abandoned Goddesses of Mercy probably encouraged those who wanted to get rid of their deities to dump them at the temple … Altogether 12 statues, ranging from Avalokitesvera to Third Prince or San-tai-zhi, were left at the door of the temple Monday. “I can’t take care of that many gods,” Yang protested.”

Yang has posted bulletins around his village imploring locals to please take their gods back, as he doesn’t have the space and resources to care for them all. Perhaps he could ship them to willing polytheists outside Taiwan?

As modern Paganism continues to grow, more local journalists start to notice the Pagans in their own backyard. This coverage starts with the inevitable “meet the Pagans” piece. Here, we have a classic example of this phenomenon from Great Falls, Montana.

“…like the others [Melinda Berry] keeps her faith to herself around here. “I came from California, where no one really cares,” Berry said. “In the UK they were really open and didn’t care. In the military no one really cares. In Great Falls, Montana, people care.” But there is a growing pagan population locally and around the state. At least five to 10 people regularly attend the monthly Great Falls Pagans meetings at Hastings. Some area gatherings have drawn upward of 40 people…”

Though “people care” if your a member of a minority faith in Great Falls, Montana, this introduction is far more friendly than the one that arose in Great Falls, South Carolina.

Following up on a story I blogged about a year ago, the Delhi High Court in India has ruled that naked paintings of Hindu goddesses aren’t necessarily blasphemous.

“Maqbool Fida Husain, 92, a Muslim who has been dubbed “the Picasso of India”, was served with seven private criminal complaints by Hindu groups for the painting Bharat Mata (Mother India), a work representing the nation as a nude woman. The Delhi High Court judged that the picture, for which Mr Husain has apologised, carried no religious content and could not be construed as offensive. “A painter has his own perspective of looking at things, and it cannot be the basis of initiating criminal proceedings,” Justice Sanjay Kishan Kaul said.”

This is a big step forward for artistic freedom in India, where Hindu-nationalist “moral police” (essentially the Indian equivalent to the Religious Right in America, only more powerful) are on the constant lookout for violations against their conception of “cultural purity”. These Hindu-nationalist groups vow to keep on fighting against Husain and others who transgress against their moral outlook.

That is all I have for now, have a great day!

My semi-regular round-up of articles, essays, and opinions of note for discerning Pagans and Heathens.

To start off, happy birthday to Rome, which was founded by the mythical twins Romulus and Remus on April 21, 753 BC. On that day a pagan festival ensues that some call the “Christmas of Rome”, and hundreds dress in traditional Roman military garb.

The ‘Natale di Roma’ includes parades, fireworks, banquets, and gladiator shows. For more information check out this Italian web site devoted to the holiday.

The Wall Street Journal shows that gods and goddesses can indeed change over time. Representatives and mediums of anticommunist ancestor deities residing in Taiwan are softening their stance towards China as political relations thaw between the two nations.

“…after being anti-China for decades, some of the gods around here are having a change of heart. At least that’s what their representatives say. The keeper of the temple of Lee Kuang-chi’en, a colonel in the Nationalist army who died fighting the Chinese in the 1940s, says Mr. Lee now wants to return to his homeland in peace. Su Ai-chih, a 67-year-old retiree and spiritual medium, says a woman who was drowned by Chinese soldiers and turned into a goddess has even asked believers for help in reconnecting with her family on the mainland. ‘The goddess possessed me and told me that she wanted to go home,’ she adds.”

This is a perfect illustration of polytheistic theology in action. Gods can change, practice can change, and those who do not change risk losing worship. There is no singular text or law holding these faiths in a static position.

“Fortunately, Chinese folk religion — a widely practiced mix of indigenous beliefs and elements of other religions — is remarkably forgiving. Not only does it often co-exist alongside other beliefs, its worshippers can create, discard or modify gods. That’s particularly true of gods who aren’t considered to be ling — effective or powerful. As ties between China and Taiwan improved, Kinmen’s anticommunist gods started to lose their ling. ‘Chinese folk religion doesn’t have a scripture, so everyone has his way of interpreting a god,’ says Chi Chang-hui, an anthropologist on Kinmen who has studied anticommunist cults. ‘And nowadays, that is less hostile to the mainland.'”

The gods and worshipers remain, but to survive in different eras, they adapt and adjust (or they fade away). A common event throughout the history of polytheism, one that can seem alien to those growing up in a culture dominated by a “religion of the book”.

If you think the myth of “The Burning Times” is overblown and harmful, wait till you start to explore the Christian persecution complex. A “discursive entity”, according to Professor Elizabeth A. Castelli, “impervious to critique, self-generating and self-sustaining.”

“This trend mobilizes the language of religious persecution to shut down political debate and critique by characterizing any position not in alignment with this politicized version of Christianity as an example of antireligious bigotry and persecution. Moreover, it routinely deploys the archetypal figure of the martyr as a source of unquestioned religious and political authority.”

The article is wide-ranging and covers a growing spiritual militarism within Christianity that is fueled by a deep-seated (though often illusory) sense of persecution. The Reveler web site offers only an excerpt, for the entire article head over to the Differences journal page, where you can download the entire piece, along with several related works.

Speaking of “The Burning Times”, Christian blogger John Morehead interviews Christopher S. Mackay about his brand new translation of the infamous “Malleus Maleficarum” (“The Hammer of Witches”). A tome that is blamed for enabling the execution of thousands of innocent men and women for the crime of “witchcraft”.

“I’d say that the Malleus was responsible for the acceptance of a new “paradigm” (in the sense advocated by Thomas Kuhn) about witchcraft. That is, the dissemination and widespread acceptance of the point of view (or world view) that underlay and instigated the so-called “craze” of witch hunting in the sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries can be attributed (ultimately) to the Malleus.”

The new version, which is apparently far more coherent and readable than previous translations, gives us a means of understanding how this establishment of “diabolism” (Satanic witchcraft) still lingers in our world today, and helped inform such tragedies as the “Satanic panics” of the 80s and early 90s. An important text to have, though I think I’ll wait for the soft-cover edition, since the two-volume hardcover runs for several hundred dollars.

Over at “Blog o’ Gnosis”, Anne Hill criticizes efforts by Reclaiming to reach out to racial minorities in order to make the group more “diverse”. Hill questions why the organization should be on a diversity recruitment drive when they don’t even have their own “house” in order.

“…the obsession with proselytizing, I mean bringing in new blood – no, I mean reaching out to others who could be helped by people like us. As several people at my table mentioned, other religions are not diverse, and they seem to have no problem with it. Wasn’t the point of a spiritual community to give aid to its members? Why were we even discussing strategies for bringing different kinds of people in, when we were gathered for a rare opportunity to meet each other face to face? It was at this point that I had to point out the essential backwardness of our discussion topic. Reclaiming is insular. Painfully so, embarrassingly so. We really needed to be asking the opposite question: why don’t we get out more? Why aren’t more of us involved in interfaith activities? There’s plenty of diversity there, but that would involve going to meet others rather than reeling them in to us. Why don’t more folks even make the trek to San Jose for Pantheacon each year? Isn’t there anything we can learn from other Pagans?”

The issue of expanding racial diversity (and similar issues) is, according to Hill, a “red herring” that prevents Reclaiming from working through deep divisions that already exist within the community. A state of affairs that has distanced several Reclaiming veterans from the tradition they helped create.

In a quick final note, a Llewellyn Journal article tells you what you really need to do.

“The only thing that we as new magi
ckians really need to do is rely on a made-by-reputation company like Llewellyn Publications, because nothing is as easy as it seems.”

Indeed, nothing is as easy as it seems.

That is all I have for now, have a great day!

The Taipei Times reports that an international conference sponsored by the Academia Sinica (the national academy for Taiwan) will be held to look into belief in the Taoist sea goddess Matsu.


A shrine to Matsu in Taiwan.

“Academia Sinica is organizing an international conference next month to discuss belief in the goddess Matsu and her connection with the Matsu Islands, officials with the Lienchiang County Government’s Cultural Affairs Bureau said yesterday. The officials said that Academia Sinica’s Institute of Ethnology would invite 40 academics from Taiwan and abroad to participate in the conference on Oct. 17 and Oct. 18 at the Matsu Folklore Culture Museum in Nangan, one of five major islands in the Matsu archipelago … Today, Matsu has become the most widely worshipped deity in Taiwan, with temples dedicated to her seen in almost every township and city.”

Matsu (“Mother-Ancestor”) is a deified human once known as Lin Moniang. According to the stories, Lin Moniang was the daughter of a fisherman who used her affinity with the sea to help people in her village, at the age of 28 she was taken to heaven and became a goddess (though other stories say she drowned, then became a goddess). As the article mentions, Matsu is the most popular deity in Taiwan.

Reading this story you can almost envision a world where European paganism never diminished, and international conferences at Cambridge or Harvard would be called to discuss belief in Brigantia or Athena.