Paying Homage to the Four Quarters

July 28, 2009

When moving into a new home or an old one for the first time, the more tradition minded Chinese would often carry out a folk ritual called Paying Homage to the Four Quarters (Bai Si Jiao 拜四角), with the aim to send off the wicked spirit and allow the prosperous one to return (驅邪出外,引福歸堂), so the new occupants can feel safe and comfortable when moving in. It is a symbolic way to announce to the Earth and the Yin spirit (土地和陰靈) that a new lot of living beings are coming into the place and take up residence.

There are many ways to do this ritual and I have learned a couple of different ones from my teachers years ago as well, but I found this one mentioned in a Hong Kong Feng Shui forum recently very informative (Uwants.com), because the writer (音律長鳴) gave a clear explanation of the symbols and ritual involved (additional comments by me are in brackets).

He also made it very clear that there is a big difference between Kanyu Feng Shui and dealing with the superstitious ghosts and spirits. In Kanyu Feng Shui, one uses the power of symbols through understanding and ritual to mark a new beginning, and because it is about informing and sending off whatever that is undesirable so the good can return (one must remember ghost (gui 鬼) and spirit (shen 神) have a different connotation in China as in the West), there is no need to select an auspicious date, just do it before the renovation or before settling down in the house is sufficient enough, and one can do it oneself because it is a bit like an announcement and a personal prayer. This ritual is not about contacting or dealing with any ghosts or spirits; it is about us making an ordinary house our special home.

The best place to carry out the ritual is in the center (more precisely the “Taiji”) of the house or in the living room where most of the family living takes place.

The items used for the offering are few and simple and they consist of:

1)   15 large and 15 small size sticks of incense.

2)   5 pairs of small sacrificial candles 臘燭.

3)   4 pieces of fatty pork with skin attached.

4)   1 piece of roast pork with bone attached (for the middle position).

5)   1 brick of fresh bean curd with a handful of bean sprouts.

6)   3 triangular pieces fried bean curds 豆腐卜.

7)   A small bottle of rice wine 燒酒.

8)   11 apples (Apple is used because in Chinese it sounds the same as peace and fruitful 平平果果之意)

There is no need to use other kinds of fruit and one must not use any sweet, peanut, dates or anything sugary in the offering, nor to use any paper money or talisman because the main aim is to send off the unwanted spirit, not inviting anything Yin into the house.

Of the 11 apples, use 5 of them as incense holders, one in each corner of the room and one in the middle. Put the offering (1 piece of roast pork, 6 apples, 1 fresh bean curd, bean sprouts and 3 fried bean curds) on a large sheet of paper with the bottle of rice wine in front of the middle incense holder and there is no need to pour the wine into a glass.

Distribute the 4 pieces of fatty pork to each of the corners of the room, starting with looking at the main door into the room and go clockwise (going clockwise is going with the flow and is considered auspicious). Place the fatty pork to the left of the incense holder to the left side of the room and to the right side of the incense holder in the right side of the room (a symbolic way to give a clear order and directionality to the place).

Then light up the large sticks of incense follow by the small sticks and then the pair of candles, place 3 sticks of incense each, starting from the middle and then again going clockwise by sticking them onto the apple incense holders. While doing so, grab the incense or the candles with both hands and say the prayer, “Out go the wicked and in with the prosperous” (驅邪出外,引福歸堂), before each of the 3 sticks of incense and the pair of candles are placed into the holders at the four corners of the room.

When the two lots of incense and the candles are all done in the 5 locations, then go back into the middle of the room and pick up the bottle of rice wine, with one thumb pressing against the opening loosely, spray the room three time all round clockwise 360 degrees and when the incense is finish burning, pack up the offering and take them outside. Do not eat any of the offerings before or after the ritual has ended. They are meant to be the last supper for the departing wicked spirits.

My understanding that the numbers 1, 2 and 3 (and 2X3) are used because they represent the Taiji, the Liangyi (the two poles of Yin and Yang) and the San Cai or the 3 Abilities of Heaven, Earth and Human respectively. The 3 large and 3 small sticks of incense plus the pair of candles all made up to 8. Which again is considered an auspicious number by the Chinese because it sounds the same as “Fa” or prosperous.

Bean sprouts and bean curds are use as offerings because they are the favorite food for the unwanted spirits according to popular sayings 俗語有話鬼食豆腐, so are the fatty and the roast pork. At least that is the way this Hong Kong Sifu explains it.

Another explanation is the four quarters are the four diagonal directions in a compass, referring to the Qian (north-west), the Xun (south-east), the Gen (north- east) and the Kun (south-west) directions. Qian is considered the Heaven Door 天門, Xun is the Earth Door 地戶, Gen is the Life Door 生門 and Kun is the Death Door 死戶, together they correlated to Heaven and Earth, Life and Death, that is what is above and what is below, what is the beginning and what is the end – the two pairs of Yin and Yang extremities 極 that made up the core of our being.

By paying homage to the four quarters (the actual directions are not important because they worked as symbols), we made the house the center of our universe and we seek a life of harmony and balance as well as prosperity in this spatial enclosure we call home.

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