The Dark side of Talismans
It was March of 2006. A pregnant woman and her unborn baby had been murdered. The Taiwanese police had narrowed their suspects down to one person, the boyfriend. A police raid is conducted on his house and the police find a most eerie thing when they burst through the doors.
The murderer has plastered hundreds of Taoist talismans over every square inch of his apartment. His purpose was obvious, at least to Taiwanese observers, and that was to protect himself from the ghost of his murdered girlfriend and their unborn murdered child.
Although Taoist priest and pundits were quick to try and distance "legitimate" Taiwanese Taoism from the dark evilness of the murderer, nonetheless folk belief in Taiwan is that such talismans are, for better or worse, "morally neutral," meaning they will work regardless of the motive or personal morality of the users. It is noticeable to any observer of Taiwanese Taoism or any observer of Taiwan's criminal element that the two things often go hand in glove. For example Taiwanese gangsters often wrap their illegal firearms or knives in Taoist talismans.
First of all let me recommend a really great Horror Movie on the subject, Double Vision (Taiwan, 2002) [review].
Kennedy is right that Talisman (as a whole category) are "morally neutral," but so are Emergency Rooms, Technology, and the Law. An emergency room will take anyone who bleeds.
Confucius listed four categories that he would not discuss. One of them was random/domestic violence. His reason was that it is so common, it happens everywhere to all types of people. The horrible scene above is all too common, a young man, probably in a possessive rage, kills his pregnant girlfriend. If the story is like so many others, he was instantly filled with unbearable guilt.
Kennedy says the Talisman are Daoist. It would be more accurate to say "Red-Hat Daoist," sometimes referred to as Wu, and in this blog what I have been calling Trans-mediums. However, there is no central authority in Daoism, so if someone puts on a black hat and calls themselves at black-hat-orthodox-Daoist, they may be able to get away with it, especially where people are uprooted from their traditional communities.
The Chinese term for Talisman is fu. Fu means contract. A fu, in this case, is a contract between the living and the unseen world. Those talisman he put up around the murder said something. Probably not "I'm sorry" and also probably not, "burn in hell," they were likely an attempt to protect the man from his own intense feelings of guilt. He was afraid, as anyone in that situation would be, that he was going to carry feelings of guilt for every minute of the rest of his life. The newly dead, had in a very real and even physical way, implanted themselves in his body.
These fu were likely a request that the dead be resolved as quickly as possible. When people die, especially young people, and especially people who die violently, they often leave intense unresolved problems, and feelings behind.
Does ritually creating and hanging a contract asking for resolution actually bring about resolution? I don't know, but I'll bet he is going to do some time behind bars.
footnote: The ad photo for Double Vision at the top, has a slogan for the English speaking audience about belief. It ain't in the movie.