Black Matsu (媽祖)

北極神宮: The Spirit of the North Star

I took this shot from the grounds of my apartment complex facing south in Wanhua (萬華), Taiwan this rainy Sunday afternoon. I guess I have looked at this spot countless times, but it never registered there was a gate with Chinese characters rich in religious content. This comes from leaving in the opposite direction for the office in morning every day, I suppose. I pass by the lane only at night. 

The characters read 北極神宮, or the Spirit of the North Star. They are advertising a temple inside the lane and inviting people to come. I went to have a closer look and one of the proprietors told me the temple (below) mostly focuses on Matsu (媽祖), Taiwan's Goddess of Fishing (though obviously the Spirit of the North Star would also be relevant to this topic). When I asked her why their Matsu was black, she said: "There are three versions of Matsu," she told me. "One is how She was in life. [Matsu lived in China and after Her death was deified.] The second is gold while the third is black." 

"Why?" I asked. 

"There's no why," the woman at the temple said. "This Matsu is black. It is as it is."

Actually, an explanation exists. According to Internet sources, all Matsu statues once started out as the color She was in real life. Later, when the temples gained wealthy benefactors, it was possible to see more snazzy, gold-faced Matsu statues. Black Matsu statues originally meant the temple had a lot of patrons in general, not necessarily rich. Over time, the statues were smoked black because many incense sticks had been burned in worshipping Her.

We need to be wary though. Recently, Matsu statues have often been made with black wood. Repeated burning by countless and appreciative worshippers have thus done little to bring this about. 

Gaining worshippers is it seems a competitive business in Taiwan, as it is for religions and their institutes all over the world. 

Black Matsu (媽祖), 2.5 centimeters from the right, back row 


My colleague has a new blog called The Cycling Canadian up. It looks interesting and well-written: http://www.thecyclingcanadian.com/  Doug is a pretty expressive individual. This should be worth following.

1 comment:

EyeDoc said...

Hi Patrick, I might be wrong but the focus of 北極神宮 is actually 北極玄天上帝 - the tall black one with long beard on the left of the group photo. The black color is a symbol of North. Not sure why Matsu is in there; although competing for worshipers as you have pointed out is probably not far off.