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Divination, the art of using omens or magic powers to discern movements in the supernatural world, has long been an important decision-making tool for Chinese people. Whether it means consulting inscriptions on animal bones or tortoiseshells or using wood blocks to learn the response of an ancestor or deity in temples and homes, negotiating the three levels of heaven, earth, and the underworld through divination constitutes a point of continuity in Chinese religious culture.
Pair of divination blocks (jiao) made of two pieces of crescent shaped, dark wood. The blocks are connected with a short length of string. The tag identifying the blocks has broken off the string, and is stored in a small mylar sleeve.
Tag, 'Divination / by throwing / Bamboo Blocks / see Dore Vol. 4 / p.353'.
These divination blocks were made in China in the early 20th century.
One of the most common methods of divination used in China and Taiwan makes use of the jiao, known in English as 'moon boards' or 'divination blocks'. These blocks are made of wood or, preferably bamboo root, and are cut into the shape of half moons, each of which is flat on one side and rounded on the other.
Divination blocks like these are used in ordinary consultations in household and temple josses, as well as with ancestors. Questions that might be put in this way are limited, but as the method is cheap, it is the one most often used for a start on eliciting divine information, even should other methods later be resorted to. Another important use of jiao is in conferring with gods as to whether rituals are being conducted to their satisfaction, and a very common question put is whether the offerings have been in place long enough for the god to have eaten his fill.
The divination blocks are from a collection of diverse Chinese objects transferred from the Asian Studies Department, University of Sydney, and possibly used as part of a teaching collection. A tag formerly attached to the divination blocks is inscribed: 'Divination by throwing bamboo blocks see Dore Vol. 4 p. 353.'