So the orgy of self-flagellation began. Men hit themselves with swords, spiked maces and other things. They even dropped things on their own heads. When the blood ran they spit beer on each other. Underneath I could see scars from earlier events. When I asked why they did this, I was told that their inability to feel pain proves that the gods are really present in these men. When I asked about how they would feel the next day I was told that it would hurt.
-- Eric Trachtenberg
Climax and Denouement:
Some hit themselves while others really got into it.
The intensity grew as time went on and more people participated. Some would flagellate themselves while others would drift away in a more passive trance.
Still, the results were real. When the bleeding got too bad out came the beer.
Others seemed less damaged...
Finally, the trancees and the people dressed as gods gathered in the temple. They grabbed a little black box containing an essence of the god and started spinning around wildly. At the same time the drummer started up again louder than ever -- and the firecrackers went off everywhere. Things got more and more frenzied -- but people didn't mind. In their pants the men had "God's Money" (paper with gold foil) used to make offerings to the gods. Evidently, cash is still preferred by the heavens although some people use charge cards (from the "Hell Bank").
On it went. The images were almost blinding. Firecrackers, wild spinning, drumming and general chaos. People bowing frantically before images of the god of Nankunshen -- all while people watched in a rather relaxed way.
I could not believe that I was able to watch (much less photograph) such an unusual event. Yet there we were. While I have always been skeptical about whether or not anything supernatural had happened, I will never forget seeing the Gods' Visiting Day at Nankunshen Temple, Taiwan.
After things settled down, some locals invited us to lunch. After driving more than 40 minutes through more banana plantations and salt marshes we arrived at their store -- which they closed down to make way for a 20 course lunch. It was an amazing collection of dishes that took a couple hours to eat (and tested the limits of my Chinese). After that they took us to the train station and insisted on paying for our way back because they "inconvenienced" us.
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Pictures: Eric Trachtenberg