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Fenxiang (分香), literally the incense division, is a term that defines both hierarchical networks of temples dedicated to a god in Chinese folk religion, and the ritual process by which these networks form.
Networks of affiliated temples dedicated to the cult of a specific god or deity can proliferate extensively. These networks are economic and social bodies, and in certain moments of history have even taken military functions. They also represent routes of pilgrimage, with communities of devotees from the affiliated temples going up in the hierarchy to the senior temple.
Ritual of creation of a new temple
When a new temple dedicated to the same god is founded, it enters the sacred network through the ritual of division of incense. This consists in filling the incense burner of the new temple with ashes brought from the incense burner of an existing temple. The new temple is therefore spiritually affiliated to the older existing temple, and back in the hierarchy to the very first temple dedicated to the god.
- Shahar & Weller 1996, p. 24.
- Shahar, Meir; Weller, Robert Paul (1996), Unruly Gods: Divinity and Society in China, University of Hawaii Press, ISBN 0190258144