Sunday, March 6, 2011

Earth God

The Earth God

According to the Taoist tradition, the Birthday of the Earth God (土地福德正神聖誕 Tudi Fude Zhengshen Shengdan) is observed on the 2nd day of the 2nd Chinese lunar month. The Earth Land God (土地神 Tudi Shen), or simply Earth God in English, is the ruler of a local area of land in the heavenly bureaucratic system of the Taoist religion. He is generally portrayed as a benevolently looking elderly man with a white beard and wearing a robe and hat. He is also affectionately called Grandfather Earth (土地公 Tudi Gong) and is sometimes depicted together with an elderly lady as his wife called Grandmother Earth (土地婆 Tudi Po). The formal title of the earth god is the Righteous Spirit of Fortune & Merit (福德正神 Fude Zhengshen) because he is also a wealth deity and is sometimes depicted holding a ruyi scepter and gold ingots.

Statue of the Earth God depicting him holding a ruyi scepter
in his right hand and carrying gold ingots in his left hand
(Image: Jin Xiang Yuan Handicrafts Manufacture Co Ltd)

There isn’t just one earth god but many, because there is an earth god for each different area of land on the earth. The earth god is a minor ranking bureaucratic deity in the spirit world and is analogous to being the landlord of a particular piece of land property. His duty is to protect the inhabitants on his piece of land and to distribute fortune and happiness to them.

The practice of worshipping the earth in China goes back to antiquity where it was already mentioned in the Book of Rites (禮記 Liji), one of the five classics of Confucianism that was compiled probably between the 5th to 3rd centuries BCE. The earth was seen as the giver of birth to all things and the provider of all things necessary for life. Animals and livestock are reared on the earth and vegetables and grains are harvested from the soil. Therefore, the earth held a venerable place in the minds of the people. Altars and shrines were established in all the cities, towns, and villages to venerate the earth. Later, it was believed that famous local heroes and those that died for the welfare of the people became the earth gods of the places where they had extended their beneficial influence. In both Taoist and Buddhist theory, those people who have accumulated a certain moderate amount of spiritual merit can also become locality gods like the earth god after their death if their karma is of such a predisposition.

Statue of the Earth God
(Image: Source unknown)

The earth-land god (i.e. earth god) is not to be confused with the land-host spirit (地主神 Dizhu Shen) who is a different entity. The two are often confused with each other. The earth god is a spirit in a bureaucratic position recognized by the higher deities as being the ruler of a certain area of land, while the land-host spirit is in actuality any miscellaneous spirit that has taken up residence, without any official permission or recognition from higher deities, in the space of a single home or residential unit.

A spirit-tablet depicting the Earth God

It is very common to see the spirit-tablets (spirit-plaques) for both the earth god and the land-host spirit in traditional Chinese homes. The spirit-tablet for the earth god is placed on the ground just outside the home, while the one for the land-host spirit is placed on the floor inside the home, usually under or near the home shrine beneath the images of higher deities and/or the ancestor’s spirit-tablet. It is customary to offer incense and food at least twice per month on the new moon and full moon days (the first and fifteenth days of the lunar month). In pre-modern China, each and every village had a common shrine dedicated to the local earth god.

A small space dedicated to the Earth God
commonly seen just outside a home or business

A public outdoor shrine dedicated to the Earth God

Text © 2011 Harry Leong

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