Living heritage of Hong Kong

Hated colleagues, classmates and mothers-in-law targets of Hong Kong spell-casting ritual

Practice involving pounding effigies with an old shoe is particularly popular this time of the year, as believers and tourists flock to Causeway Bay spot

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 10 March, 2018, 7:32pm
UPDATED : Saturday, 10 March, 2018, 10:59pm

Amid the daily buzz of traffic and pedestrians around an area under the Canal Road Flyover in Causeway Bay, Hong Kong, a distinct pounding beat resonates from rituals performed by a group of elderly women who claim they can rid clients of bad luck and enemies.

For HK$50 (US$6), the self-proclaimed sorceresses hold ceremonies by the roadside which involve pounding paper effigies with shoes and burning incense and candles.

The effigies represent people that customers want “beaten”, including hated work affiliates, annoying classmates and even troublesome mothers-in-law.

While the stalls are open all year round, business was booming this week as it marked the beginning of Jingzhe – or the awakening of insects – one of 24 solar terms believed to be the most effective time for the ritual.

One woman in her late 20s, who did not want to be named, paid practitioner Sister Yan HK$150 to perform the ritual three times on an effigy of her mother-in-law.

She said a friend had recommended that she use the method to “solve” issues at home.

“Actually I don’t mean to wish her bad health or ill fate. But I just want her to shut up and stop stirring up trouble,” the woman said.

Sister Yan said she saw an average of 150 clients a day over the past week, compared with just 40 on usual days.

“It gets especially busy during the evening and weekends, when most Hongkongers pay me a visit. But I have a lot of tourists as well – they come from around the world,” she said.

In an hour on Saturday, Sister Yan had about 10 customers, most of whom were couples, middle-aged women or tourists who simply wanted an experience.

Stories behind Hong Kong street names: Canal Road, home of the devil beaters

Most refused to reveal their identity or who they were cursing for fear of embarrassment and trouble.

The ritual lasts roughly five minutes. After having the client write down the name or provide a portrait of the targeted person, Sister Yan then reads out a long spell before repeatedly pounding the stack of paper offerings with an old ladies’ shoe, producing the thrashing noises under the flyover that pedestrians in the area are accustomed to hearing.

Incense and candles are then lit in front of a makeshift altar, and after the casting of more spells, the paper effigies and a paper tiger are burned.

Only about half a dozen practitioners are licensed to ply their trade in the area. The rest are mostly from mainland China, and some risk being arrested for breaching their conditions of stay in the city.