Ji Tong 乩童 (aka Tong Ji 童乩 or Tang-ki in Taiwanese), is a rarely seen event of old Taiwanese religious belief. It’s a type of shamanism, where the “spirit-medium” human is possessed by the spirit of a god. After doing so, the god can live for a short while in the body of the medium to prove his existence or even answer questions to the benefit of believers. The more visually interesting aspect of Ji Tong is when the gods take possession at a temple festival. That’s when the spirit-medium often starts self-flagellating himself with spiked bats, swords, and other medieval pain and blood inflicting devices.
Everyone I’ve talked to about this, has had very little information for me. It seems that many Taiwanese don’t believe it, and even fewer know anything about it. Even inquiring about it at local temples, people don’t know much, and never seem to know when the next event will happen. So, finding a ceremony with people practicing Ji Tong just seems to be something you have to be lucky to find. This was the first time I’ve seen it in over 8 years of living in Taiwan.
Ji Tong is made up of two symbols that explain the meaning well. The symbol “tong” (童) stands for child, as the spirit-medium is like an innocent child who’s soul is being replaced by that of a god or ghost for a short while. The symbol “Ji” (乩) stands for “asking questions through divination”.
There are two types of Ji Tong. The more spectacular is when a spirit-medium, usually a man, is possessed at a temple event and proves his divinity in a bloody spectacle. These events often happen on the god’s birthdays and can incorporate using an number of sharp, spiky weapons to hit one’s back or forehead. The spirit-mediums reportedly feel no pain as they do this, and often only report some soreness afterwords.
I had the opportunity to take some photos at one of these events that I randomly walked by on a visit to Tainan. It seems that on this special occasion, the spirit idols (literally small idols that are said to hold the spirits of local gods) were touring the country and were about to make a stop in this small temple in a back street of Tainan. Apparently, even the gods need vacations, and will occasionally go on tours of their friends’ temples every couple of years. Some of these idols are hundreds of years old and are highly regarded by believers. While this event had two men performing Ji Tong, the majority of the rituals and performances were from other aspects of Taiwanese Daoism, pretty much all of which I can’t explain.
Taoist Temple Event:
Ji Tong 乩童:
The second form of Ji Tong might be better described as a séance. At one of these events the spirit-medium, more often a woman, can be possessed by any number of gods or ghosts in order to help the living. The mediums often have a specific god that speaks through them, but often they can communicate with different gods or even the ghosts of old doctors to help people. Either in special rooms in the temple, or at private shrines in the homes of the devotees, common people can ask the gods for cures to their physical ails, relationship advice, or often financial advice. The Gods will answer the questions through the medium, which often needs to be translated by an assistant.
Unfortunately, I don’t have any photos from one of these séances, but as my interest in this subject has been peaked, I’m going to be looking harder for all of the interesting aspects of Ji Tong for many years to come. As I find more information, I’ll post updates. If you have any information about Ji Tong or a Ji Tong event happening, please let me know in the comment section!!
Thanks for reading,
More Information on Ji Tong:
I highly recommend you have a look at Taiwanese-Secrets page about Ji Tong, as he has some really gruesome pictures at a Ji Tong event!
Also, I found most of my information about Ji Tong at the following websites: