Sun, Mar 04, 2018 - Page 6 News List

Interpreting fortune stick poems comes with a duty

By Gao Shi-qi 高士奇

During the Lunar New Year, it is a tradition for many temples in Taiwan to draw a fortune stick that allows them to divine the nation’s fortune for the following year.

The poem written on the fortune stick and its interpretation are religious activities — it is all about belief and this is a part of the freedom of religion.

However, over-interpreting the poem and misleading people has never been its purpose.

Interpreting the poem is never as simple as only looking at the literal meaning of the good and auspicious or bad and inauspicious parts of the poem.

Instead, it is necessary to focus on the connection between one’s own situation and the story told by the poem, and make an interpretation based on that.


After all, the poem is a dialogue between the person asking the god and the god, who advises the petitioner through the poem.

Therefore, whether positive or negative, the poem itself is simply intended to illustrate the asker’s situation and indicate solutions to any problems they might have. One should not take good or bad signs included in the poem itself too literally.

In particular, a person should take note of whether the content of the poem corresponds with their situation.

This means that to gain a sense of direction and some answers, the person asking must explain their issue clearly when requesting answers through drawing a fortune stick.

As for the person interpreting the poem on the fortune stick, they should put aside their personal opinions and simply interpret the poem and its contents. They must seek explanations in accordance with the questions that the person asked.

The last thing the interpreter should do is, having guessed the petitioner’s desired answer through conversation, interpret the poem in a way that the asker wants it to be interpreted, thus fulfilling their wishful thinking.

Shooting the arrow and then drawing the target around it does not allow the poem to be interpreted correctly.


Nevertheless, before interpreting the poem, the interpreter still needs to first understand the asker’s question and background so that the interpretation can be complete and to the point.

This means that the question cannot to be answered instantly and that the answer must be arrived at through conversation.

Moreover, the interpretation of the same poem might be different depending on the questions asked — in other words, a poem that yields a positive outlook for a person’s love life might not be the best for someone doing business or seeking career success.

However, in general, whichever poem it might be, the most important thing is to advise a solution, although sometimes the poem will not tell the asker exactly how to resolve the problem, but rather indicate risks to be aware of, such as fraudulence or property damage.

Sometimes, words and sentences in the poem might also reveal the best direction and timing for a solution.

All of these are the kinds of messages that can be communicated through fortune stick poems.

Poem interpreters should be loyal to the poem’s original meaning, but still give the asker hope and guidance by reading between the lines of an unfortunate poem and its implied message.

These are the responsibilities of the interpreters of fortune stick poems.

Gao Shi-qi is an assistant professor.

Translated by Lin Lee-Kai

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