Saturday, December 16, 2017

Urban Grimoire: Joss Paper and Villain Beating

In this blog's relentless aim to be educational as well as entertaining, I am about to stray into multiple areas that I can't really claim to understand but am nonetheless fascinated by. Perhaps I should say at the beginning that the majority o my information up to the bit about beating up villains comes from the blog, which can be blamed for errors of fact, and I stand to be corrected on errors of interpretation.
One of the most difficult cultures for white people to understand is Chinese culture. It is difficult enough to understand even when it is explained to us, but it doesn't help that it is frequently mediated through a collection of bizarre racial stereotypes which we tend to absorb uncritically and then have few opportunities to correct.
An aspect which is fairly easy for magical people to understand is the custom of burning joss paper, and thus conveying what is burned to the ancestors in the spirit world. How magical can this get? The whole point of most magical theory is that an action in one part of the multiverse has a corresponding reaction (which is what the magician is after) in another part. I am not by saying this denigrating Chinese Taoist or traditional religious practices as merely magic - I understand that the dividing line between magic and religion can be a very changeable one - and it should be understood that these practices are not merely folk magic but part of a whole cosmology which is built into the society.
We have all seen the paper money and consumer items up to and including cars and mobile phones which are burned so that the ancestors can have these things. Where the practice starts getting really interesting is when the metal patches on the sheets of paper start to carry the Chinese for longevity or other things - this is actually carrying a virtue or strength to the person on the other side, rather than material objects. In fact, life is a recurring motif for the dead person - the astronomical denominations on the Bank of Hell notes are intended to be used in paying off the God of Death, apparently. The difference between magic intended to change things here and this practice is that it is intended to improve things posthumously. The practice is thought to date back more than a thousand years and to have started at funerals. Nowadays it isn't just done willy-nilly but at birthdays and festivals such as the appealingly (to me) named Hungry Ghosts festival when all the dead comes back at once.
Again I had better put in a disclaimer about the next practice that I am writing about - I am not making any connection between the two *as I see things*, because I am coming from a point of view where things magical, spiritual and religious are bound up and volitionally conflated on a daily basis. The next practice is probably thought to be rather disreputable.
Most of the literature I have read about this practice focsues on Hong Kong, but since the practice is not that different from any magical practuce I will bet you find similar things elsewhere. The connection I want to make between joss paper burning for ancestors and da siu yan ( or villain hitting) is best seen when we consider the role that defixiones played in ancient European magic. In Chinese culture the articles which mediate the blessing or curse are paper and beaten or burned - in Roman Europe they were lead and commonly thrown down a drain.
When we get to villian hitting we are on more solidaly magical rather than religious ground. It appeals to the Hound enormously because it's exactly the kind of magical cottage industry which tickles me. You pay an old lady to curse your enemies. Simple as that, although just like the ancient defixiones apparently you can buy DIY kits in shops. This is the kind of magic the Hound like best!
There is a customary location for doing this villain hitting, which is in an underpass - obviously in Hong Kong it will commonly mean you are under a road. I have no idea why this is, but again it is a detail which makes every magical sense in my body prick up, when I think of the magic I have done in underpasses over the years.
As is usual with magic the origins of this sorcery are venerable, and began with the practice of farmers appeasing the white tiger by smearing pig's blood onto paper white tigers so that the tiger would be fed and not attack the village. As time went on the paper tigers became the way in which people's enemies were attacked, appeased, exorcised, or banished.
The paper which illustrates this post is the object link with the target. There may or may not be a sacrifice to a divinity of choice depending on when the ceremony is taking place. Then the villian hitter merely hits the villain, apparently with a shoe, ad lib until it is done. The paper is apparently burned.
Once again I'm not completely sure I'm interpreting this right. The paper above (which I'm afraid I didn't make a note of where I found it) can only really be intended for cursing! I'm not sure if it is even actually from the villian hitting ceremony. Certainly the lady in the video below says it isn't for cursing at all. But then I say that myself...

No comments:

Post a Comment

All comments are moderated before publication