Bodies and Structures 2.0: Deep-Mapping Modern East Asian History

The Deity-Welcoming Festivals

The four main Taiwanese temples—and over fifteen other similar institutions, plus a host of smaller shrines and spirit-worship societies—constituted a substantial physical presence for native religion in Jilong. They were prominent features of everyday life: residents would likely have passed several each time they went out into city's streets, stopping in now and then to light incense or make an offering to request a god's assistance. The physical structure was also the core of a spiritual realm that overlapped with the physical terrain, a territorial cult, associated with each major deity enshrined at the temples. That realm had to be reestablished at an appointed time each year through an event known as a “deity-welcoming festival” (yingshen jie), when the deity was invited to inhabit the temple and provide its blessings to the community, through animal sacrifices and other rituals. The key portion of the festival was a parade of sorts, known as a raojing, in which the deity in question was placed within a portable shrine, carried out of the temple and into the streets, preceded and followed by a sizable retinue, to visit the borders of its territory. The term raojing can be translated as “to move around the boundaries.” This practice merged the literal god's-eye perspective with the person's-eye view, combining sacred and physical geography. With each annual repetition, the community of worshipers in a particular location, or tied to a particular temple through incense-division networks, recreated the bonds between themselves, the deity, and the deity's territory. We do not know the specific limits of the territorial cults of Mazu, Kaizhang Shengwang, or Chenghuang Ye in Jilong, but the map indicates both a vague sense of each deity's territoriality and that these cults could overlap in physical space. Just as most temples contained multiple deities, so, too, could a particular piece of land fall within the terrain of more than one god.

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