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Religious groups bicker over Mazu 'wedding' that never was

06/12/2024 08:29 PM
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Photo courtesy of a private contributor June 10, 2024
Photo courtesy of a private contributor June 10, 2024

Taipei, June 12 (CNA) A Tainan Mazu temple is threatening legal action against a hole-in-the-wall shrine that publicly proclaimed the marriage of the sea goddess to the Holy Ruler Deity Guan.

In a statement on Tuesday, the Luerhmen Tienho Temple said it was unaware of the so-called "marriage and pilgrimage" carried out by the Tainan Wuxuan Shrine on June 9.

Despite welcoming all visitors, the shrine's actions had tarnished Luerhmen Tienho's reputation, the temple said, adding that it would demand a formal apology and reserved the right to pursue legal action.

The statement came days after thousands of angry worshippers blasted the shrine's disrespectful behavior towards the deities and the temple's dismissive handling of the matter.

In the pilgrimage conducted by the shrine -- a common religious practice in which deities get to visit each other to strengthen fellowships-- the Holy Ruler Deity Guan was said to also enter marriage with a subordinate Mazu divided from the one enshrined in the Luerhmen Tienho Temple.

The shrine even had Mazu take on the married name "Guan" in its promotional materials, and placed red pom-poms on the chests of the deities inside the palanquin that carried them during the pilgrimage.

Luerhmen Tienho Temple staff initially blocked the pilgrimage, only acquiescing once Mazu and Guan agreed to shed their cherry garnitures.

In an interview with local media TVBS, temple chair Lin Yu-shan (林玉山) questioned whether the other party was trying to leverage the prestige of the Mazu temple, which was built in 1946.

While the marriage proposal was considered a private matter within the shrine, it should not have been given without a notice, Lin said, stressing that "even Mazu would be shocked."

Angry comments also spread widely online, with some expressing support for legal action, fearing that without it, "acts like vandalism or murder might be justified as the will of the heavens."

"Unblessed marriages are never happy," another commenter said.

Despite the furor, the Wuxuan Shrine initially held firm that the couple's betrothal was a blessed one.

"Any instructions from the deities do not require interference from online critics or consent from the public," it said on its Facebook page on June 9.

The shrine also urged the public to "maintain their own spiritual cultivation and avoid creating negative karma with their words."

However, the shrine closed the page and, on Wednesday apologized for "bringing unnecessary trouble to the Luerhmen Tienho Temple and causing social disturbances."

The shrine clarified in a statement that there was no "marriage" planned, and the wording of the "internal campaign" was leaked due to inadequate control, leading to misunderstandings and suspicions from the public.

"If there are further malicious attacks or verbal abuse against our legitimate religious beliefs, we will gather evidence and take appropriate legal action to uphold our freedom of religious belief," it said.

Originating from southeastern China's Fujian province, Mazu was a Fujianese shamaness believed to have special powers in protecting fishermen and seafarers.

Over the centuries, the worshipping of Mazu spread through China's coastal regions and in overseas Chinese communities in Southeast Asia. Belief in Mazu was brought to Taiwan by early Chinese settlers and is still widely held.

In later years, she came to be regarded as a benevolent protector of all, not just fishermen and seafarers.

The Holy Ruler Deity Guan, meanwhile, was a deified general from the Three Kingdoms period.

He is remembered as one of the greatest military figures of Classical China, revered for his loyalty, righteousness and integrity.

(By Yang Ssu-ruei and Lee Hsin-Yin)

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