2012 New History
P. O. Box 1-44, Nankang, Taipei 11529, Taiwan, R. O. C.
02-2782-9555 # 226

Shamans and Shamanism during the Ch’ing Dynasty (1644-1911) in Taiwan


Fu-shih Lin

Research Fellow, Institute of History and Philology, Academia Sinica

This essay explores the shamanic activities and the role and status of the shaman in Taiwan during the Ch’ing Dynasty (1644-1911). During this period, the cult of plague deities (wen-shen) and vengeful ghosts (li-kuei) featured prominently in shamanism in Taiwan. Yet shamans also worshipped well-known deities such as Ma-tsu (Goddess of the Sea), Ch’eng-huang (city gods), Ch’i-niang (the Seventh Female Immortal), Ho hsien-ku (the Female Immortal Ho), Shui-hsien (Deities of the Water) and Chiu-t’ien hsüan-nü (Mysterious Woman of the Nine Heavens).

Shamans communicated with the spirits through visual contact and possession, and usually performed their rites during pilgrimages and temple festivals. Typically bare-foot and half-naked with unkempt hair, shamans usually engaged in a bloody frenzy of self-mutilation or self-mortification. They sometimes even climbed ladders with blades in place of rungs, walked across fire, sat on nail-studded chairs, and so forth. In order to perform these rites, shamans usually required equipment or ritual objects such as weapons, talismans, and paper money. In Taiwanese society, shamans primarily acted as mediums between humans and spirits, praying for blessings and warding off misfortune. People sought shamans to heal sickness, to exorcise pestilence, and to pray for fertility as well as to recite incantations or to use sorcery against others.

Shamans incurred the abhorrence, disdain, refutation, and denigration of scholarly circles and even government suppression and persecution. The literati officials sometimes cracked down harshly on shamanistic cults primarily to maintain law and order, to consolidate political control, to enhance economic development, and to adhere to Confucian doctrine. Despite this, shamans invariably attracted a great many devout followers in Taiwan.


Keywords: shaman, spiritual medium, religion, Taiwan, Ch’ing dynasty