It is said that once whilst consuming a woman the Tiger injured himself on a sharp bone and was forced to seek the help of a human Doctor. The Doctor agreed to help the Tiger on the basis that the Tiger vowed to no longer prey on humans. In gratitude for saving his life, the Tiger became a guardian and when the Doctor later ascended and became a deity, 「保生大帝」, the Tiger also became a God 「黑虎將軍」 and guardian of the Temple. It is believed that the Tiger can expel demonic spirits.
Another legend is that although the Tiger is king of the mountains, to hunt on human lands he must have the permission of the Earth God「土地公」, more formally called「福德正神」. Thus people would pray to 土地公 to ask for protection from becoming the Tiger’s lunch! 土地公 would also ride around on the back of a Tiger.
The Tiger God 「虎爺」also manages childhood intellectual development, protects children and has the ability to treat mumps. Parents praying for their sick children might offer sweets, chocolate or fruit to the Tiger God.
So, where might you find the Tiger God? As he is humble to 土地公, he is often found under the table at the Earth God’s shrine. This also corresponds to 土地公 riding upon the Tiger.
Below are some photos from a local temple in Hsinchu. You can see 土地公 and 土地婆 (his wife) in the centre of the shrine behind the rails and under their table you will find 虎爺. Remember to say hello to 虎爺 next time you pass by!
Wondering why I chose to write about the Tiger God in particular? Apart from the magic of finding the Tiger under the table, the answer is a little word play on my mandarin name!