Wednesday, March 16, 2011

The Tiger Spirit

Chinese color ink painting of a tiger
(Image: 峨嵋畫廊

According to popular Taoism and popular folk religious tradition, the Birthday of the Tiger Lord (虎爺誕辰 Huye Danchen) is observed on the 12th day of the 2nd Chinese lunar month. The Tiger Lord (虎爺 Huye) is an honorific name for the Tiger Spirit (虎神 Hushen). It is also known as the Tiger General (虎將軍 Hu Jiangjun) and its formal Taoist religious title is The General of the Lower Altar (下壇將軍 Xiatan Jiangjun).

An artifactual effigy of the Tiger Lord
(Image: National Museum of Taiwan History)

A contemporary statue of the Tiger Lord manufactured for religious usage
(Image: 佛山軒佛具店)

The Tiger Spirit represents the raw power of courage and strength and is regarded as a protector spirit. It is also traditionally seen as the animal mount or vehicle of several independent Taoist deities. In their traditional iconographies, the deity is depicted as sitting on a tiger.

An example of a tiger serving as the mount of a Taoist deity
This picture shows the famous Ancestral Patriarch Zhang Daoling (張道陵祖師),
founder of the Way of the Celestial Masters (天師道 Tianshi Dao) school of Taoism
(Image: Source unknown)

In ancient times, it was believed that locality gods like the earth god, mountain god, or city god controlled the tiger spirit. Therefore, an image of a tiger is sometimes seen next to, or under, the image of a locality god in his shrine. The tiger spirit is an assistant to the locality god in protecting the people and livestock in the area under his jurisdiction. It is also believed that the tiger spirit possesses the powers of inviting wealth and prosperity, expelling plagues and epidemics, and suppressing demons and negative forces. Due to its popularity, it is also not uncommon to see a tiger image near that of other gods and deities as well.

An auspicious protective poster depicting the Tiger Spirit
The top of the poster reads The Tiger Lord Suppresses (Protects) the Residence (Home)
(虎爺鎮宅 Huye Zhenzhai)
(Image: Taichung Tun District Art Center 臺中市立屯區藝文中心)

Text © 2011 Harry Leong

1 comment:

  1. I love Taoist tiger shrines. Always hidden a way yet so important.