Pinkytoky writes on a wide variety of content. Her main interest is in feng shui, Chinese operas, and Chinese & Japanese art and culture.
Divination by jiaobei (or moon blocks) is one of the most common divination methods used in the Chinese folk religion. The blocks are made of wood, bamboo, or plastic, and are either red or black in color. Their crescent shape looks like the moon’s shape on the third lunar day of the month. One side is bulged (yin) and the other flat (yang), but both are similar in size.
These divination blocks are also called moon boards and are always used in pairs. They are commonly used in temples and home shrines to seek the direction of the gods for certain problems.
The Taiwanese called these blocks “poe” in Hokkien (Chinese dialect). Poe divination is the most common everyday divination used in Taiwan.
The procedure for jiaobei may vary slightly from temple to temple and region to region.
Jiaobei blocks first need to be purified by being revolved around the incense burner thrice.
The worshippers kneel while clasping the blocks together on their flat surfaces in their palms. They then state their name, date and time of birth, age, address, and the question with its phrased answer. They should be precise and clear when asking their question. Each divination session should only be for one problem.
After giving all the necessary details, the worshippers silently pray for guidance with the jiaobei raised to the forehead, after which the blocks will be tossed before they fall onto the floor. The tossing of the jiaobei is known as “bwa bwei” (掷筊) or “wen bei” (问杯).
The answers are believed to be produced by the pattern of the jiaobei’s landing. Three consecutive positive indications are required to confirm the validity of a ‘Yes’ reply. After every toss, gratitude should be expressed and the question reiterated.
If the indication is negative or unclear, then both the question and its answer need to be rephrased, and the whole process to be repeated.
[Note: If there is still no clear answer after several attempts of tossing, the divination session should be terminated. For repeat consultation of this same problem, the next divination session should only be held after a lapse of some time.]
Patterns of Block Landings
The way jiaobei landed on the floor contains different meanings that represent the divine will.
Four possible answers are produced:
(1) Divine answer: Shengjiao (圣筊) (一阴一阳）
One bulged side (yin) and one flat side (yang) facing upwards represent a positive ‘Yes’ reply.
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(2) Negative answer: Yinjiao (阴筊) (阴阴)
Both bulged surfaces (yin yin) facing upwards indicate a ‘No’ reply. When a Yinjiao reply is given for an important matter, repeat consultation can only be done after some period of time.
This pattern of fall is also called the Crying answer Kujiao (哭筊) or Angry answer Nujiao (怒筊). By having the blocks fall flat on the floor, it is said that the gods are showing their displeasure or anger with the question posed.
(3) Laughing answer: Xiaojiao (笑筊) (阳阳)
Both flat surfaces (yang yang) facing upwards can have the following different interpretations:
- No divine answer as the question posed is not clear enough.
- The divine reply is not sincerely sought as the worshiper already decided on how to handle the problem.
- The worshipper knows the time is not ripe for the matter posed and yet still wants to seek divine direction. The question posed is therefore considered irrelevant.
This pattern is named as such because the swaying back and forth of the blocks upon landing symbolizes the show of laughter.
(4) Standing answer: Lijiao (立筊)
One or both blocks stand erect on the floor upon landing indicating that the gods do not understand the question posed. The question is, therefore, nullified. The worshipper has to repeat the whole process.
Reasons for Divination
Divination has long been an important decision-making tool for the Chinese people.
These folks like to seek divine guidance when they are faced with some major decisions concerning love, marriage, career, health, and wealth.
Examples of the questions posed to the deities are:
- Is the guy, who is courting me, the right guy for me?
- Should I get married? Is he/she the ideal life partner for me?
- Should I take up the new job offer?
- Should I undergo the operation? Will it be successful?
- Should I start a new business?
- Will he/she (a missing person) be found eventually?
Due to the nature of the divination, questions that can be posed are somewhat limited.
Cheap Method of Divination
As moon block divination is cheap, it is commonly used to seek divine guidance, even though some other divination methods may be resorted to later.
Quite often, worshippers actually have answers to their questions before divination. However, being half-hearted in their own decision, they seek a divine answer in the hope that the gods will also agree to what they have already decided upon. It is, therefore, not surprising that a ‘No’ reply from the gods is sometimes not taken very seriously.
The temples do not charge for such divination. Traditionally, the worshippers will make a small donation to a donation box.
Besides mundane affairs, jiaobei are also used to verify a range of issues, such as whether the gods are satisfied with the rituals performed in their honor, whether they are spiritually present and whether they have eaten the offering presented to them.
In addition, jiaobei blocks are usually used to verify an oracle produced by the fortune sticks.
This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.
© 2011 pinkytoky
David on August 24, 2020:
I watch a lot of Chinese (both mainland and Taiwanese) programming as well as Korean and Japanese so am familiar with this type of divination. I have never actually tried it but am curious.
Richard Ingate from UK on February 13, 2012:
This was completely new to me and even more interesting because of that.Good hub!
pinkytoky (author) from Singapore on October 19, 2011:
As long as you approach Chinese metaphysic subjects with an open mind, you can find lots of interesting things in them. Thanks for dropping by and commenting.
TheListLady from New York City on October 18, 2011:
How interesting! I've done the I Ching - but this is totally new to me.
Thanks for all the information as well. I'd love to do this with my feng-shui friend.