Mahjong Oracle Origins

Mahjong Readings Origins

In China, the professional soothsayer is held in great reverence.
The calling is a dignified one, and does not attract the sort of suspicion that
it does in the western world, where 'fortune-tellers' are regarded
at best with amusement, at worst hostility, and generally, with tolerant scepticism.

 
(Français)


Throughout the Far East, many of the major temples have their own diviners attached, and the most celebrated of them support a considerable staff of soothsayers to minister to the faithful each day of the week. For millions of people divination is actually an integral part of their worship.

Within the temples themselves, the oracles used are elementary enough. The most basic is the Kao Pui: the enquirer takes two curved blocks, which are thrown on the ground three times to elicit a straightforward 'yes' or 'no'. (These are likely to be similar, if not identical, to the 'urim and thummim' mentioned in the Bible.) The other well-known temple oracle uses bamboo sticks, each bearing a number, which is then interpreted by one of the resident priests or diviners in attendance.

But beyond the temple precincts, however, there are vast numbers of ways by which the uncertain future may be revealed. Sometimes recourse is made to a professional astrologer, but as this usually involves an exorbitant fee it is a considerable asset if one of the elders of the family is adept at the Ya Pai Shen Po - literally, 'divination by ivory blocks' - by which the Chinese understand dominoes, cards, or Mahjong tiles.

The modern game of Mahjong is actually a direct descendant of an ancient oracle that was consulted by Chinese soothsayers thousands of years ago. When Chinese astronomers first began to record the progress of the Sun, Moon and planets they used a simple device - a divining board - to calculate the expected positions of the heavenly bodies. Their progress through the skies was recorded by moving counters round the divisions of the board. In the course of time this primitive planisphere was adapted into a board game which would be readily recognizable today as Ludo; later, the dice used in the game evolved into dominoes, and then, when the Chinese invented printing, the domino patterns were transferred to cards. So it was that an ancient oracle came to be the ancestor of virtually all our present indoor games from poker to Monopoly.

In the west the mystical origins of cards, dominoes and dice have been ail but forgotten, except by the Mah Jongg player who is constantly reminded of the game's dignified ancestry in the ritual preparation for play, the affectionate names for some of the pieces, and the technical terms used for strategies and tactics of the game.

Source: Walters, Derek, The Fortune Teller's Mah Jongg, Eddison Sadd Editions, 1988 ISBN 0-670-85640-1