Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Taiwan Celebrates Chinese New Year with "Eye-Dotting" Ceremony

From thestar.com.my
Monday February 8, 2010

Dragons and lions come alive at eye-dotting ceremony
GEORGE TOWN: With a thundering roll of drums and cymbals, a huge group of “dragons” and “lions” came “alive” at the Goddess of Mercy Temple. The event – a grand eye-dotting ceremony to usher in the Year of Tiger.

It was a sight to behold as the coterie of 26 lions and two dragons slowly formed a circle and bowed in homage to a statue of the deity.  (Photo: A group of 26 lions and two dragons paying homage to the Goddess of Mercy at the temple in Jalan Masjid Kapitan Keling in Penang during a grand ‘eye-dotting ceremony’. Several different kinds of lions performed amid a thunderous roar of drums and cymbals to start the Chinese New Year festivities. GOH GAIK LEE / The Star)
The “heavenly creatures” included five lions bearing the Hokkien head patterns from Taiwan and a dragon with the design of lotus flower on its body.

Tourists and children were seen chattering with excitement and snapping pictures during the ceremony.

Among them was seven-year-old Law Ee Jie, who appeared fascinated to witness such a grand “reunion” of lion and dragon dances.

“I have never seen so many lion heads for an eye-dotting ceremony and it is simply beautiful,” he said.

The ceremony for the animals was performed by state Tourism Deve­lopment and Culture Committee chairman Danny Law.

Penang Ching Xing Sports Gymnasium secretary Jeffrey Goh Thian Hooi said the event traditionally symbolised the animals “coming alive” before being used for performances during their house-to-house visits to bring good luck and prosperity.

“This is the first time we have brought along all our dragon and lion dance heads for a grand eye-dotting ceremony and we are planning to do it every year,” he said.

Senior instructor Kok Siew Hong said the troupe charged between RM600 and RM2,000 for their performances, depending on the type of function they are booked for.

“Many hope the lion dances can ‘roar’ for better luck this year. Our troupes have been fully booked since a month ago,” he said.
The Goddess of Mercy is Kwan Yin (also Kuan Yin, Guanyin -- Goddess of Compassion and Healing).

What is an eye-dotting ceremony?  I found some fascinating information.  It is based in Taoist tradition.  In essence, it is a ceremony that brings life force and power to a statue or another object (such as a lion costume -- see below) - it actually represents the "birth" of the object into the world!  According to this description of a recently-enacted ceremony (January, 2010), a special red-colored ointment, the color associated with life, is used to dot the statue in a ceremony designed to "invite" the spirit and soul of the god or goddess into the statute.  Without the ceremony, the statue has no life and no power and, therefore, cannot hear one's prayers and supplications.

I cannot help but feel that it may be a very ancient practice.  The use of red ochre, for instance, on objects and in cave paintings that date back into neolithic times, is often associated with fertility and birth.  Perhaps the ancient "Opening of the Mouth Ceremony" used to "open" a mummified person so that his or her ba and ka could easily travel back and forth from the body to the outside world shares an archaic common source with the eye-dotting ceremony practiced in Taoism, rooted in traditions that date back to shamanistic practices long before writing was invented in China. 

Check out this description of an eye-dotting ceremony to awaken the spirit within a new "lion" - a costume used by dancers in ceremonial dances:  Han Shou Tang Lion Dance: Eye Dotting Ceremony - Hoi Gong

New Southern Chinese Lions must be initiated through a traditional ceremony called the Hoi Gong (eye opening/dotting). A new lion should not be used if it has not been through the Hoi Gong ceremony. According to the tradition of the lion dance, if the lion is used at any kind of event without being initiated or awakened, it will bring misfortune and bad luck.

"Dotting the Eye" refers in particular to the Chinese tradition of painting in the eye of the Chinese lion before the start of the lion dance to awaken the spirit of the lion. Hoi Gong is a traditional ceremony to awaken a new lion, or from a more traditional viewpoint, bring down the spirit of the lion from the heaven and give it life. This ceremony signifies the existence or birth of a new lion into the world.
Interestingly, the description of this ceremony focuses on - literally - "dotting the eye" - that is, painting in an iris on an eyeball -- a practice the author traces to these stories from Chinese history:

"Eye Dotting" Origin Of The Tradition
(Chinese Text from Ming Pao Daily, Translated by E. Hou)

It is generally believed that the tradition of "eye-dotting" originated from two Chinese stories concerning painting pictures.

During the Eastern Jin Dynasty [314-420 A.D.] a painter named Gu Kai Zhi was famous for painting portraits. However, he had a strange habit of leaving the eyeballs out, even for several years. When he was asked why, he said, "The most life-like strokes of a subtle portrait come from the eyes."

When a painter called Zhang Seng Yu was designated to paint a mural for the An Le Monastery in Nanjing during the Southern Dynasty [420-589 A.D.], people found that all the dragons on the wall-paintings lacked pupils in their eyes. When the Abbot invited him to add the pupils, Zhang replied, "It must not be done, otherwise they will fly away from the wall and into the sky." The Abbot was not convinced and had the pupils painted in. Eventually those dragons with eyeballs painted on them emerged and flew away, while those without stayed on the wall - This is the origin for the Chinese proverb "Draw the dragons, dot the eyes."

When we dot the eyes for dragon boats, lion dance or masks, the meaning is the same: We draw the eyes, we give them life.
An old Yiddish proverb tells us "The eyes are the mirror of the soul."  Poet Ralph Waldo Emerson's take on this ancient wisdom - "The eyes indicate the antiquity of the soul."

Eyes reflect internal and imputed sources of power. Only think about some of the expressions we know today and the context in which they are used -- "who blinked first" -- "staring someone down" -- giving someone a "hard stare," a "look that could kill." And we've probably all heard about someone getting "the evil eye." There was a very good reason for not looking into the eyes of the Medusa...

Eyes can also invite and seduce. A man will certainly have a different reaction to seeing an attractive young lady staring at him as to, say, a tatooed homey with a gold-plated toothpick dangling on his lip. Well, usually...

Here is what Barbara Walker has to say about the Eye in The Woman's Encyclopedia of Myths and Secrets:

The All-Seeing Eye of ancient Egypt once belonged to the Goddess of truth and judgment, Maat.(1) The Mother-syllable Maa meant "to see"; in hieroglyphics it was an eye.(2)

A late text transferred the All-Seeing Eye to a male god, Horus, and the common symbol came to be known as the Eye of Horus, also representing the phallus as the "One-Eyed God." Yet the same Eye was incongruously described as a female judge: "I am the all-seeing Eye of Horus, whose appearance strikes terror, lady of Slaughter, Mighty One."(3) [sounds like the fearsome lion-headed goddess, Sekhmet, to me] The Eye whose appearance strikes terror was the original prototype of the evil eye which, like the petrifying glance of Medusa, was usually associated with women and was feared by simple folk everywhere, up to the present day.

Staring idols of the Neolithic "Eye Goddess" have been found throughout Mesopotamia. [Image - note below].  In Syria she was known as the Goddess Mari, whose huge eyes searched men's souls.(4)

Ayin was the "eye" in the Hebrew sacred alphabet, possibly derived from Aya, the Babylonian Creatress.(5) Islamic Arabs diabolized her and corrupted her name into Ayin, spirit of the evil eye. Moslem Syrians called her Aina Bisha, the eye-witch.

Like Moslems, Christians diabolized the female spirit of the All-Seeing Eye. Old women were credited with the ancient Goddess's power to "overlook" - to curse someone with a glance. Judges of the Inquisition so greatly feared the evil eyes of their victims that they forced accused witches to enter the court backward, to deprive them of the advantage of a first glance.(6)

Oddly enough, remedies for the evil eye were often female symbols. Necklaces of cowrie shells, those ubiquitous yonic symbols, were and are valued in India as charms against the evil eye. The triangle or Yoni Yantra, representing the vulva, is similarly used in India, Greece, and the Balkans. Northern Indian farmers protect crops from the evil eye by hanging Kali's symbol of a black pot in the field. In 18th-century England, the classic witch's familiar, a black cat, was supposed to afford protection; and sore eyes could be cured by rubbing with a black cat's tail.(7) In addition there were many signs, gestures, and other kinds of counter-spells to be used as instant remedies if one suspected having been "overlooked."

It seems men were very much averse to meeting a direct glance from a woman. In the most patriarchal societies, from medieval Japan to Europe, it was customary to insist that "proper" women keep their eyelids lowered in the presence of men. In 19th-century Islamic Iran, it was believed that every woman above the age of menopause possessed the evil eye. Old women were not permitted in crowds attending public appearances of the Shah, lest his sacred person be exposed to an old woman's dangerous look.(8)

Any person invested with spiritual powers, however, could be credited with the power to curse with a look. Several popes were reputed to be bearers of the evil eye or jettatura. Pope Pius IX (d. 1878)was a famous jettatore. Pope Leo XIII, his successor, was said to have the evil eye because so many cardinals died during his reign.(9) [or maybe he just had them poisoned to get rid of them, ahem].

(1) Budge, G.E. 1, 392.
(2) Budge, E.I., 55.
(3) Cavendish, P.E., 167.
(4) Neumann, G.M., 111-12 pl. 87.
(5) Assry. & Bab. Lit., 133-34.
(6) Lea unabridged, 831.
(7) Gifford, 79-81.
(8) Gifford, 47.
(9) Budge, A.T., 365.
Goddesses and eyes and lions, oh my!  It is, perhaps, no coincidence that the "eye-dotting" ceremony for the lions and dragons reported in the article at the beginning of this post was held within the precincts of a Goddess's sacred Temple. The associations of Goddess and lion, and Goddess with eye, pre-date writing.

Note from above: Alabaster Eye Idol, British Museum. From Tell Brak, north-eastern Syria, about 3500-3300 BC

What is that symbol on top of the pyramid on the flip side of a U.S. dollar bill?  Yep - it's the All-Seeing Eye!  Notice the rays shooting out from it, denoting both divinity/godhood and light - i.e., enlightenment. Sounds like a segueway into Dan Brown's "The Lost Symbol!" Hey, the Masons would not have lasted this long if they didn't have at least some things right... Annuit Coeptis...

From the British Museum
Faience wedjat eye
Egypt, Third Intermediate Period, 1069-945 BC

An Egyptian healing symbol

The wedjat is associated with Horus, the god of the sky, who was depicted as a falcon or as a man with a falcon's head. In a battle with Seth, the god of chaos and confusion, Horus lost his left eye. But the wound was healed by the goddess Hathor and the wedjat came to symbolise the process of 'making whole' and healing - the word wedjat literally meaning sound. [cf. the Goddess Kwan Yin]  The left eye of Horus also represented the moon. The waxing and waning in the lunar cycle therefore reflected Horus losing and regaining his sight. [Moon = multi-cultural goddess symbol -- think crescent Moon and "horns."]

The first use of a wedjat eye as an amulet was when Horus used one to bring Osiris back to life. Their regenerative power meant that wedjat eye amulets were placed in mummy wrappings in great numbers. Faience is a type of ceramic, commonly used to make amulets.

But, of course, what the Eye Giveth, the Eye Can Taketh Away...
Check out Nazar Boncugu -- a classic response, creating an eye talisman to ward off the effects of the Evil Eye.

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