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Get to know the local religions in Taiwan!

From the bustling temples in Taipei to the serene shrines in the countryside, religious practices are deeply woven into the fabric of Taiwanese life. Whether you're exploring ancient Taoist rituals or joining the joyous celebrations of the Mazu pilgrimage, the spiritual landscape of Taiwan offers a unique glimpse into the island's rich cultural heritage.

However, for those coming from Christian or Muslim-majority countries, the local religions in Taiwan can be confusing with the countless faces of different gods and their distinct professions. Further complicating matters, many Taiwanese practice a mixture of folk religion, Taoism, and Buddhism, making it difficult to identify their specific religion!

Today, Like It Formosa shares an overview of the local religions and tips for navigating the sacred temples in Taiwan. Keep reading to learn more!

What are the most common religions in Taiwan?

In Taiwan, The Association Of Religion Data Archives (ARDA) records show that about 43% of the population practice folk religion, 26% Buddhism, 12% Taoism, 6% Christian, 4.5% non-religious, and the rest practice other religions.

At first glance, this suggests that folk religion is the most popular. But foreigners should remember that most Taiwanese worship gods of different religions. In reality, many households worship their ancestors (folk religion) along with Taoist or Buddhist gods. In most cases, you can differentiate between the gods by their names: if the name ends with “Buddha” (佛) or “Bodhisattva” (菩薩), it belongs to Buddhism; if the name ends with the respectful term for lords (君/爺), it belongs to Taoism.

If you happen to understand written Mandarin, you can also identify the different kinds of temples by their names, as Buddhist temples end with the character 寺 and Taoist temples end with 宮/觀/廟, or the main god or goddess they worship.

Don’t beat yourself up too much if you are still confused after visiting a temple - oftentimes, the temple will also include gods from other religions! For example, the popular Longshan Temple in Taipei is a Buddhist temple with Guanyin Buddha as the main goddess, but you can also find Taoist gods such as Mazu and Old Man under the Moon in the rear hall!

Who are the most popular gods?

In Taiwan, there are over 15,000 registered temples nationwide, not even including all of the local shrines. Among the most popular ones, some temples see millions of worshipers annually! These temples are known for their powerful main gods or goddesses who have protected the people of Taiwan from all kinds of disasters and blessed our way of life.

Here are some of the most popular gods that you will be able to find everywhere in Taiwan:

Tudigong (God of Earth)

With over 1,200 temples that worship him, Tudigong is one of the most common gods you will see in Taiwan. Often portrayed as an old man with a long beard, each Tudigong is seen as a guardian of the local community, and many Taiwanese will even say goodbye to their local Tudigong if they are moving away!

Patheon: Taoism

Number of Temples: 1,200+ temples

Active Region: Northwest Taiwan, but also nation-wide

Known for: Guarding the local neighborhood

Preferred Offerings: Dessert or fruit that are soft and easy to eat

Guanyin Buddha (Avalokiteśvara)

With over 1,000 temples, Guanyin Buddha is also known as Guanshiyin and was originally a Buddhist Bodhisattva. Usually portrayed as a smiling female goddess, Guanyin is worshiped as a merciful goddess in Taiwan and often makes her appearance with lotuses.

Patheon: Buddhism

Number of Temples: 1,000+ temples

Active Region: Southwest Taiwan, but also nation-wide

Known for: Mercifulness and divine blessing

Preferred Offerings: Flowers and fruit

Mazu (Goddess of the Sea)

With over 900 temples, Mazu was deified from Lin Mo-Niang, a fisherman’s daughter from the 10th century, who saved her family from drowning at sea during a typhoon. She is one of the most important gods in Taiwan, revered as the Goddess of the Sea due to the island's maritime culture. Originally worshiped by sailors and fishermen, Mazu has evolved into a powerful goddess who will protect her believers in different aspects of life.

Patheon: Taoism

Number of Temples: 900+ temples

Active Region: Mid to southwest Taiwan, but also nationwide

Known for: Protection of sailors and guardian of safe journeys on sea

Preferred Offerings: Fruit such as apples, pineapples, and oranges

Things you should know before visiting a temple in Taiwan

With all the different gods and their professions, it is natural to feel overwhelmed! Don’t worry, here are some do’s and don’ts for you to keep in mind:

  • DO pray to the main god/goddess before going to the minor gods.

  • DO bring offerings if you have a request for the gods.

  • DO use moon blocks if you are looking to ask the gods a question (if you want to know how to cast them correctly or read the answers - keep reading this post!).

  • DON’T use expired items as offerings!

  • DON’T place the incense stick upside down!

  • DON’T step on the threshold when entering the temple!

Following these tips will help you avoid basic cultural and religious taboos when in Taiwan, but if you are looking for more in-depth information or guidance, you will have to learn them in person!

Want to know more about religions in Taiwan?

“My guide was so knowledgeable with her local background. She made the tour very interesting! I would like to come back again if I had a chance!”

“Very informative and fun tour in Kaohsiung on the different religions. Our guide brought a very bright atmosphere. I’d recommend it to everyone!”

“This tour was super informative! The guide was attentive and exhilarating. I would love to attend this tour again!”

Follow Like It Formosa through Kaohsiung's spiritual landscape and experience the harmonious coexistence of Buddhism, Taoism, and folk religions, each weaving its unique thread into the fabric of Taiwanese society!

Join us at the Religion Tour in Zuoying, Kaohsiung!


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