Taiwanese Divination: Moon Blocks and Fortune Sticks

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.” 

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Photo by Lisanto 李奕良 on Unsplash

How to Interpret Moon Blocks 

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. 

  • One block flat side up and another block round side up is a ‘yes’ answer.
  • Both blocks with both flat sides facing up, it means the god is “laughing” and is not answering the question, yet. You can throw the blocks again.
  • Both blocks flat sides up have several interpretations; in any case it is said the gods are laughing at the question depending on what has been asked. 
  • It can also be interpreted as an emphasized ‘no’ answer, the question that was asked was unclear, or that the answer to the question is obvious.
  • Both round sides face up (yinjiao) means the answer to the question is “No.” 
  • Although it is not as common, if one or both blocks land on their edge, and do not fall on either the flat or rounded sides, it suggests that the gods did not understand the question, and so it should be asked again, or worded differently.

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.

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Photo Credit: Triangulations

How to Use Moon Blocks with Fortune Sticks

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. 

  • If yes, you can go to the corresponding number in the fortune boxes and take out your fortune note. 
  • If no draw a different stick and try again. 
  • If you don’t read Chinese well or if Google Translate is not translating it clearly, there are often professionals at the temple who can help interpret your fortune for you. 
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Photo Credit: Sooglepot

For the Skeptics and the Tourists

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. 

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Photo by Danielle Hoang on Unsplash


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