Earlier this week I went to Causeway Bay to put a spell on someone. A curse, to be exact. The glitzy shopping district might seem an odd location for it, but it is here (underneath a freeway overpass) that Hong Kong’s most sought-after avengers ply their trade. The grandmotherly women who sit at makeshift sidewalk shrines on Canal Road East “beat out the devil” in the service of the cult of the White Tiger.
Apparently rural women in Southern China had long worshipped a white tiger god and kept its effigy to rid their homes of pests, rats and other undesirables. Somehow in the twentieth century this concept morphed, giving the women wider powers to exterminate the bigger pests of modern life – incompetent bosses and unrepentant exs.
Forget the tiger moms. Its the claws of White Tiger Grannies you really have to worry about!
By a stroke of luck (or was it destiny?) I arrived in Hong Kong halfway through the annual White Tiger Festival. This is when the screeching pitch of vengeance reaches a crescendo and the wronged masses descend on the old White Tiger ladies to deal out retribution.
People line up all night to see their tormentors suffer, and the most famous of the Tiger women is said to work around the clock, clearing 30,000 HKD per day ( typical of Hong Kong that even the supernatural is discussed here in crassly commercial terms).
The process takes about ten minutes and costs 50 HKD. Not bad to destroy a life. First, the woman will ask you to hand over a picture of the subject of your spell, ( or failing that you can write their name on a piece of paper). Then she will place the paper or picture on a small brick and pound it with a shoe, kept at the ready for just this purpose, berating the hapless person all the while. This is “beating out the devil”. When some serious damage has been done, the tattered remains of the accursed’s identity will be placed in one of the cardboard tiger effigies, and ritually burnt.
Incense is then burned and white rice thrown on the customer to cleanse them of any bad karma. Still, the people who were thronging to the vengenace shrines looked shifty. More than one turned away from my camera (or was it their own conscience?)
People warned me that any bad karma sent into the world would be returned, but I chose to take this as tacked-on moralist mumbo jumbo. I have a feeling in the original White Tiger cult, they really didn’t care.
So who did I curse? And will it work? Well, I won’t answer the first point but await with interest to find out the second…