Yesterday, I enjoyed the Erjie Wanggong Fire Crossing Festival in Yilan’s Erjie village. What a fun event – fabulously colourful, noisy, hot, and theatrical. Loved it! I’m copying some of the historical information below from the Taiwan Religious scenes website where you can find more details if you like. I think that overall this year the attendance was more local and the crowd much smaller. As a foreigner, I stood out and received curious looks and also smiles. And free food (rice congee and noodle soup). It was fun!
So, here’s a bit on the history and what it’s all about:
The Wanggong Fire-Crossing Festival in Yilan’s Erjie Village is the largest religious fire-walking event in Taiwan. An old saying passed down from the pioneering settlers of Kavalan, today’s Yilan, states that the birthday of the Wanggong (a title collectively given to three brave warriors) is more important than the Lunar New Year, an indicator how highly regarded this festival is in the region. The fire-walking ceremony is a tradition that serves to consolidate local society and strengthen villagers’ sense of identity. It is also a religious purification rite. The phenomenon of the Wanggong selecting and possessing human spirit mediums (luětóngjī) is unique to the region. Today, the event is organized as a cultural festival, helping to preserve and promote traditional folk art troupes and theatrical performances. For this reason, the festival is considered an important cultural asset to Yilan.
Erjie’s Wanggong Temple is dedicated to three ancient warriors who were later referred to as the Three Kings (Gugong Sanwang). They became renowned for their courage in fighting the Mongols at the end of Song Dynasty in the late 13th century and were later enshrined and worshiped by residents of the Shikeng area of Fujian Province’s Zhangpu County, in China. In 1786, some early immigrants escorted the statues of the Three Kings to Kavalan and enshrined them in Erjie Village on the south bank of the Lanyang River. As worshippers moved to other parts of the island, duplicates of the statues were taken and enshrined in more than fifty temples around Taiwan. In consequence, a unique Gugong Sanwang religious network was built up. The purpose of the annual fire-walking ritual on the birthday of the third Wanggong is to ward off disasters and remove suffering and bad luck. The festival has been the primary religious event of Erjie’s Wanggong Temple ever since its beginnings in the Qing Dynasty over a century ago. It was an enormous spectacle even in its early years.
The Wanggong Fire-Crossing Festival celebrations begin at daybreak on the eve of the birthday of the third Wanggong with a ceremony of thanksgiving to the Gods of the Three Realms for their blessings and especially to the God of the Underworld for safety. Festival events include:
1. A ceremony of thanksgiving to the God of Heaven, the God of Earth, and the God of the Underworld for the harvest and for blessings bestowed upon the townspeople;
2. The Wanggong’s birthday celebration;
3. A feast to honor the heavenly soldiers and offerings to the other realm; and
4. The fire-walking ceremony, (the only part of the festivities I attended yesterday, on the 15th day of the 11th Lunar month) which is divided into seven steps, namely
(1) setting up ritual tables for the generals leading the heavenly soldiers, the Five Battalions of heavenly soldiers, and preparing the fire pit;
(2) asking the Wanggong to bless the fire and setting the charcoal alight;
(3) placing the statues of the deities on the palanquins;
(4) the Wanggong seeking out and possessing a spirit medium;
(5) performing Taoist rites to ritually purify the fire pit;
(6) the fire-walking ceremony; and
(7) returning the Wanggong statues to their thrones in the temple.
More at the Taiwan Religious scenes website. You might be throwing salt on your sidewalks and driveways now – they were throwing salt and rice on the burning coals to cool them down.
There were loads of photographers (often getting into my frames) and it was challenging to get clear shots of the actual fire walkers. The videos capture a bit more. As I can’t post videos easily here, you’ll find some in the Facebook post. Enjoy!
A bizarre addition was… pole dancing on trucks right at the entrance… a “hmmm” moment. Was wondering what part of the community had pushed for this as it felt completely out of place and was not appreciated by most of the crowd. And not only one dance, no, three (three too many for me – I must be getting old).
Free meals and loads of fire crackers…