Photo Credit: NSPP MOFA
Perhaps you’ve seen them in action, perhaps you’ve used them yourself, perhaps you’ve only heard the echoey clack of the red curved tiles the way one might hear the wingbeats of a butterfly sending a hurricane towards a continent a world away. In this edition of our blog we are bringing you back to the realms of religion and the different methods of divination that are commonly practiced in Taiwan. If you would like to read more about religion in Taiwan, please see our other blog post first.
Moon blocks or jiaobei (筊杯), are a common feature of many Taiwanese temples to which foreigners are, invariably drawn. Referred to as moon blocks in English because of their shape, these red crescents are a traditional method of divination used to call forth “one’s answer from the gods.”
To begin, a practitioner will hold the two blocks in both hands and purify them three times around the incense burner before kneeling down, saying their name, date of birth, residence, and question (normally in their head) all the while still cupping the blocks in hand. After this is done, at the right moment they will drop the blocks to the floor to “read” or interpret the answer of the gods.
If they are used alone, you will see the blocks are thrown three times in order to maintain accuracy of the deity’s answer, a successful answer usually being three consecutive throws showing “yes” or saying “yes” best two out of three throws.
The blocks can also be used in conjunction with the Qiuqian (求籤), or fortune sticks, at a temple.
In a temple you will see tubes of bamboo sticks each with an individual number corresponding with a fortune note (that sometimes comes in the form of a poem) that can be found in a row of numbered drawers nearby.
Step 1: To begin with you will pick a bucket that you are drawn to or from the bucket in front of you. If small, hold it in your hand and start your prayer / wish to the deity generally preceded by your name, and age.
Step 2: Next you will tilt the tube and try to shake or slide free only one stick. If more than one falls out you try again.
Variation: If the sticks are large you simply shuffle them with your hands in the tube and select one at random.
Step 3: Once you have shaken forth or selected your stick, you will pick up the pair of jiaobei and ask the deity if this is the right stick.
Jiaobei and Qiuqian is a form of divination that has been practiced within Daoist, Folk Tradition, and Buddhist communities within China and other parts of Eastern and Southeastern Asia for a very long time.
As with many forms of divination, it operates powerfully on both a spiritual and psychological level. For the devout it is a direct means of conversing with the divine. For those less religiously inclined, it operates in the same manner of a coin flip – it doesn’t necessarily tell you what you should do, but rather helps reflect what you internally want or have decided.
The next time you are in a temple in Taiwan, take a moment to ask a question you have wanted answered and then cast the moon blocks or draw a fortune stick as a means of calling forth a response.