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A huge statue of Mazu in Beigang. (SC)  <img src='http://www.guidegecko.com/images/spyglass1.png' align='texttop' /> Click for full image
Travel Guide > Asia > Taiwan > People & Culture

Taiwan's Goddesses

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Taiwanese make offerings to goddesses almost as often as they do to male deities.

Mazu 媽祖

Taiwan’s most popular goddess - and most revered deity of any kind - is said to have been born Lin Mo-niang (林默娘) in Meizhou in Fujian in 960AD. Her birthday is now marked on the 23rd day of the third lunar month. As a 16-year-old, she saved her father and brothers, then far away on a fishing expedition, when they were caught in a tremendous storm. She slipped into a trance just as the storm was at its fiercest. After she regained consciousness her father and brothers returned home safely, swearing that Mazu had projected herself out into the ocean to save them.

During her human existence, Mazu was revered as a rainmaker. She also tamed two demons who then became her devoted servants. Altars dedicated to Mazu are very often flanked by human-sized statues of these two: Shunfenger ("ears that hear the wind") and Qianliyan ("eyes that see a thousand leagues"). According to legend, at the age of 26 she told her family she was going to leave this world. After climbing a nearby mountain she ascended to the heavens.

Fujianese migrants sailing to Taiwan very often carried effigies of Mazu with them to ensure a safe crossing. Koxinga certainly brought with him a number of icons, as did Shi Lang, the general who defeated Koxinga's grandson. Over time, Mazu has become much more than the patron saint of seafarers. Nowadays many Taiwanese who venture nowhere near the ocean seek her blessings in times of plenty and her aid in times of distress. Her eminence is made clear by one of her alternative names: the Queen of Heaven. Many of the 800-plus shrines dedicated to her around the ROC are called Tianhougong (天后宫, "queen of heaven temple"); especially lively ones can be found in Lugang and Tainan.

Guanyin 觀音

A deity of Buddhist origin now found in many folk temples as well as conventional Buddhist places of worship, Guanyin is described as a goddess of mercy. Her common name is a shortened form of a longer title meaning, "the one who sees and hears all cries [i.e.. prayers] from humanity." Intriguingly, this divine personality was regarded as male until around the 12th century, when she was adapted by Chinese Buddhists from the Indian figure of Avalokiteshvara, 'the merciful lord of complete enlightment.' Guanyin effigies in Taiwan's temples bear soft and kindly countenances that contrast greatly with the fearsome appearance of certain other deities. Guanyin is commemorated in the name of a town in Taoyuan County and the names of several mountains in Taiwan and mainland China. Major houses of worship dedicated to her include the Longshan temples in Lugang and Wanhua.

Zhusheng Niangniang 註生娘娘

The women who worship icons of Zhusheng Niangniang are hoping this fertility deity can protect them while they are pregnant, or help them conceive if they aren't yet pregnant. Some also believe the goddess can answer their prayers for a child of a particular gender (usually male; the preference for sons over daughters remains very strong in Taiwan). She has very few temples of her own, but she is represented very widely in major places of worship, more often than not on the left of the main altar.

City God's Wife 城隍夫人

Chinese tradition decrees that every adult should be married, gods being no exception. Each city god thus has a wife, and in city god shrines across the island there are altars where she is represented and propitiated. Instead of fruit and dried foods, offerings to the city god's wife typically include candies, combs and cosmetics.

Type: Tip
Location: Taiwan

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