14 years ago when Pramote and I bought the land where we live, it was a fruit orchard. Before the land was disturbed by erecting a house it was expedient to supplicate the resident spirit (jao tii). Promises were made to use the land in concert with the spirit, who/which after all had somehow been here for countless millennia and would supposedly be here long after we had departed one way or another back into primal elements. The resident spirit can cause trouble as well as dispense blessings. It is best to give this “lord of the place” honor.
So a lovely wooden shrine was erected, after consultation with people who are familiar with the lore regarding resident spirits. This year the structure is beyond repair so it was decided to replace it. Thursday, May 28 was selected because astrologers discerned that to be one of the most auspicious days of the year.
First thing in the morning the change was made. The old shrine was removed, after doing our best to inform the resident spirit what was about to happen. Then the shiny new shrine was put in its place. The shrine was provided with ceramic miniatures which recall a regional legend about how the Lord Buddha visited a family of giants and pacified them. The family was allowed to remain lords of the land (the literal land, soil, water, air and living creatures). Collectively and metaphorically this family signifies the supernatural nature of human precursors to any real estate. To inaugurate the new shrine, a roasted chicken along with a tray of fruit were symbolically offered and candles, incense, and flowers were presented to signify this was an act of worship, that being the highest form of honor. Then Pramote’s brother-in-law intoned a short prayer, the gist being that the promises made years ago are being renewed. It is necessary for the one who officiates at a service like this to have been a former monk, which implies a connection between formal religion and supernaturalism.
A few years ago I completed a study of the theological background for spirit shrines, along with a protest against the simplistic, demeaning assertions made about them. That discussion is available at www.kendobson.asia/blog/shrines.
Christians have almost universally insisted that Jesus Christ has rendered supernaturalism obsolete, and retaining any shred of interest in such things as resident spirits is heresy or at least weak faith. More than a couple of Christian friends and family members have wondered how I would allow a shrine to be erected on our property. My most indulgent response is that I do not own this property and I am a temporary resident here.
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Rev. Dr. Kenneth Dobson posts his weekly reflections on this blog.