A great many of Taiwan's spiritual rituals are undertaken with the aim of securing blessings from the gods, such as wealth, love, or good health. One very common way to try to secure such blessings is by lighting a blessing lamp in a temple. These are almost always paid for, and so a source of revenue for the temples - if you wish for help from the gods for yourself, or someone you care about, you can donate to the temple, and in return they will put the name of the person to be blessed under one of their many blessing lamps. There are four types of blessing lamp, used to benefit the named person in four different areas of life - Ping An Deng (平安燈) lamps are believed to offer peace and happiness, Yuan Cheng Deng (元辰燈) lamps provide physical wellbeing and long life, Cai Li Deng (財利燈) lamps are thought to bring wealth, and Guan Ming Deng (光明燈) lamps are said to be beneficial for working life or learning.
These lamps are strongly associated with a belief in Chinese mythology called Fan Tai Sui (犯太岁). The Chinese Zodiac, with 12 animals, was originally based on the 12 year orbit of Jupiter around the Sun. However, as the orbit is actually a little under 12 years, over time this presented problems for keeping track of the current Zodiac year. This lead to the belief that there is an invisible star directly opposite to Jupiter in the sky, which is a deity called Tai Sui, the god of the year, but with a perfect 12 year orbit. According to this belief, the holder of the position of Tai Sui cycles between 60 different gods, according to the 60 year cycle of the Chinese calendar. This 60 year cycle comes from the different combinations of the twelve earthly branches, Shi Er Di Zhi (十二地支), and the ten earthly stems, Shi Tian Gan (十天干). The twelve earthly branches originate from Jupiter's orbit but were used in China more than 3000 years ago to divide up directions, as well as multiple periods of time, including days, when each would last two hours, and years, when each would last a month. They are also associated with the animals of the Chinese Zodiac. The ten earthly stems, similarly ancient, were originally used as the ten days of the week, and for ancestor worship.
Each year of the Chinese calendar, it is believed that four animals of the Chinese Zodiac, and those who were born in the years corresponding to them, are in conflict with Tai Sui. People with these animal signs are thought to be destined for bad fortune and challenges throughout the year. Thus, one major reason for paying for a blessing lamp, particularly at the start of a new year in which you are in conflict with Tai Sui, is to try to mitigate some of this misfortune. It is also believed that the direction facing the Tai Sui must not be disturbed, so for example doing building work on the part of your home facing that way is thought to bring misfortune, a belief that also forms part of Feng Shui.Next: Moon blocks and fortune sticks