Matsu cult is extremely important in Taiwan:
The earliest Mazu temple in Taiwan is the Heavenly Consort Taoist Hall in Makung on the Penghu Islands. During the Qing dynasty, the rising tide of belief in Mazu among the public eventually resulted in the cult receiving official support. Mazu temples appeared all over Taiwan. For these geographical and historical reasons, the cult of Mazu in Taiwan has attracted an enormous following. The number of people making at least occasional offerings to Mazu has been estimated to equal about two-thirds of the population, and more than 500 Mazu temples are scattered throughout the island.
The oldest Matsu temple in Taiwan is in the Penghu. The AmCham article above notes:
Daily ritual worship in a Mazu temple, with the exception of the pilgrimage season, is no different from that of other folk-religion temples. One averts the wrath of powerful beings, or gains their favors, through elaborate rituals, where one makes offerings of food, sacrifices, spirit money, and other objects. One worships Mazu because she is regarded as more ling than other gods and as having had a good record of granting adherents' wishes. Indeed, one's frame of mind or what one really believes is less important than the correct observance of the rites when beseeching Mazu.
The month of March on the lunar calendar is the height of Mazu mania. On March 23 (which usually falls within the month of April on the Western calendar), Mazu's birthday is celebrated with special events in all the Mazu temples. Easily among the most famous of these ceremonies was the tradition of the escorting the Mazu icon from the Jenlan Temple in Dajia in Taichung County to "visit her ancestors" in what was regarded as the "mother temple" in Beigang in Yunlin County and to "obtain the flame" from the incense burner there. That journey, a distance of some 300 kilometers, is known as jinxiang (carrying the incense) and has been carried out since the time of the Japanese occupation (1895-1945). But in 1987, a dispute broke out between the two temples over the ranking of their respective deities, and the destination was changed from Beigang to another temple nearby, the Fengtien Temple in Singang.
Marching in the Dajia Mazu's procession is believed to be a way of receiving the goddess’s blessing, and every year tens of thousands of people join the trek, with the line stretching for miles. The marchers, showing their reverence for nature and the deity, walk day and night, stopping for only five hours of sleep a night. Of course, each adherent will have a different reasons and motivations for joining the procession. According to many believers, one cannot enjoy the full protection of Mazu until one has personally completed the eight-day jinxiang journey.
[Taiwan] [Mazu] [temples] [religion]