An 88-year-old grandmother in Chiayi County has landed in legal trouble for allegedly resorting to the dark arts to change her fortunes, prompting a frightened neighbor to file a complaint with the authoriries.
On the morning of Sept. 16, the neighbor, an 80-year-old grandmother surnamed Huang (黃), of Chiayi County’s Lioujiao Township (六腳), found two little straw dolls, each about 20cm in height, placed on either side of her front door.
Frightened, she contacted a local Taoist monk to handle the matter, but the monk was not sure how powerful the straw dolls were and what kind of sorcery had been invoked.
Treading carefully, the Taoist monk did not dare remove the straw dolls, which were crafted to represent a male and a female.
The monk performed a Taoist ritual asking deities for divination and received the answer that “the person involved meant no harm and one should try to avoid further quarrels.”
Even though the divination gave guidance to mitigate and reduce any dispute, no one had the courage to remove the straw dolls, including the police, who came to handle the case and gather evidence.
Huang continued to live in fear for several days, until her son, a police officer, requested an official investigation.
Going through the area’s surveillance camera footage, the police found a suspect who lived about 100m from the Huang family: an 88-year-old grandmother surnamed Lu (呂).
Police went to Lu’s house three days after the incident was reported and the 88-year-old admitted that the straw dolls were hers. She then accompanied the police to Huang’s house to remove the dolls.
Lu said that during Ghost Month she felt the presence of ghosts around her house and often felt dizzy.
A few days later she rode past Huang’s house and the latter called out to her.
“You are so old, yet I have never heard of you getting sick,” Huang allegedly said.
Following that, Lu felt discomfort after coming home and could not sleep at night.
Lu thought she had been cursed by her neighbor.
Lu said she recalled that when she was a child, her mother told her that people could use straw dolls to break a curse and change one’s fortune.
“So I made the pair of straw dolls and placed them outside Huang’s house,” Lu said.
“My purpose was to restore my health. I had no intention of affecting other people’s lives. Also, the straw dolls were not put inside her house, so should have no effect on her,” she added.
Huang said she often felt sharp heart palpitations since the pair of straw dolls appeared, adding that she was frequently woken up through fear, became absent-minded and felt dazed during the day.
Despite her initial consideration to patch up the dispute and not go after her neighbor, her family insisted on pressing charges as her health deteriorated.
Commenting on the case, geomancy expert Chang Ming-yung (張銘勇) said that according to Taiwanese folk culture, straw dolls are used to put a hex on someone. When it is not proper or it is inconvenient to curse the victim openly, the straw dolls can do the job in a covert way.
This is a common folk belief in Taiwan and represents a form of sorcery, Chang said.
This belief and its symbolism are so strong and powerful that when most Taiwanese see straw dolls, their minds and spirits are greatly affected, and they experience fear and anxiety. Under such stressful pressure, it is easy to fall victim to illness, he said.
He suggested that victims have Taoist monks perform a traditional ritual called shou ching (收驚) to drive out evil spirits and assuage their mental distress.