On Worship

Happy Chinese New Year! ? Today is the first day of the year of the Ox. Following the traditions, I visited an old Tin Hau temple to dedicate incense sticks and paper offerings and ask for good fortune in the coming years. Tin Hau is the goddess of the sea and the patron saint of fisherman. Honouring the maritime heritage of Hong Kong, Tin Hau is the most popular deity in the city. Someone asked me if I had religious beliefs at the temple, as they wonder why I’d decided to participate in the worship. And that made me think about the customs and traditions of deity worship and the role they play as a stand in for institutionalised religion. 

As a young person growing up, I relegated this kind of worship as superstitious practices. But as an adult, I’ve come to realise the spiritual aspects of them. Folklore traditions stand in for codified religious practices in offering inner peace and harmony, a chance for the locals to say thanks and make a wish. 

This ties in with my last post on ancestors worship and what the Japanese director Hirokazu Koreeda once answered when asked why he likes to use the departed as a theme in his films, he said that unlike Western societies, there is no absolute God in Japan, the departed is therefore used as a stand in. For example, they have the saying “to feel ashamed of in face of our ancestors”, to give a place to the departed and the need for its existence are therefore purely to make life more meaningful. I could not agree more the Koreeda. 

Film still, Still Walking (2008), Hirokazu Koreeda. This still describes a scene where the family visits the tombstone of the eldest son of the family.

Here’s a video sketch of my visit to the temple. The drum sound in the beginning of the video signals to the deities that a new visitor has entered the temple. Visitors burn incense sticks and paper offerings to the deities to bring good fortune in the coming year.

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