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Zodiacal roosters
Ghosts are afraid of cocks
Prayer boards
Goddess of laughter
Meditating Buddhist chickens
Confucian weddings
Eating chicken to go to heaven

Chook (Meditating Buddha Chicken) Early 21st century Tibet
Bronze with cloisonné

Buddhist theology places a cock right smack at the very center of the wheel of life, representing desire, clinging, and attachment. Roosters are used in rituals to exorcise evil spirits. So if you see a ghost, crow like a rooster to scare it away. Buddhist temples often keep roosters on their grounds.

In Japan, the cockcrow is associated with the songs of the gods. Japanese prayer boards (ema) are small wooden plaques, common to Japan, in which Shinto and Buddhist worshippers write prayers or wishes. The ema are left hanging up at the shrine, where the spirits receive them. Typically, they display images of animals or symbols from the zodiac. The rooster (tori) the tenth symbol in the Japanese Zodiac, is associated with gain and considered lucky for business. This rooster symbol also represents kindness, hospitality, bravery, loyalty, wisdom, courage, and diligence. A typical prayer board depicts roosters and chickens watching the rising sun in celebration of the new year. The public display of the prayer boards is also a way to communicate wishes to both priests and the community. As a ritual, the boards are burned to symbolically liberate the spirit of the wish into the world. In some cases, however, boards are taken from the shrine to be hung at home.

Uzume is the name of the Japanese Shinto goddess of laughter. One time, the sun goddess Amaterasu was deeply offended when her brother, killed a sacred horse. This outrage drove her to hide in a cave, but it was disastrous because she took the light with her. The gods pleaded with her to come out but she refused. However, Uzume had an extraordinary idea. She placed a mirror outside the cave, grabbed some chickens and did a ludicrous striptease dance on top of a barrel. This chicken dance was exceptionally obscene and hilarious. As Uzume absurdly took off her clothes to expose herself, the gods laughed hysterically. At all the ruckus, the sun goddess’s curiosity got the best of her and she went to the entrance of the cave, where she caught a glimpse of her own brilliance in the mirror which prompted the roosters to crow—and she was lured out. The gods sealed the cave behind Amaterasu, but she was so cheered up by all the laughter and the cockcrowing that she vowed to remain outside. Uzume’s dance, called the Kagura (god-entertainment), is still widely practiced during various festivals.

In Tibet, bronze cloisonné statues of Buddha-like roosters meditating in the lotus position can be seen in shrines throughout the land. In Confucian weddings, a live chicken can be used as a substitute for one who is deceased or is seriously ill and cannot attend the ceremony. A bright red silk scarf is placed on the chicken’s head while a relative embraces the chicken, so the ceremony may proceed. At Chinese funerals, eating chicken is believed to help the deceased’s soul fly to heaven. As well, funerals in the American South often feature fried chicken, which is consumed as a comfort food.


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Partner to a press called Tenement, Hotel is a publications series for new approaches to fiction, non fiction & poetry & features work from established & emerging talent. Hotel provides the space for experimental reflection on literature’s status as art & cultural mediator. 

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