Tin How Temple (天后古廟) ranks as one of the oldest Chinese temples in North America, dating back to the 1850's, when early immigrants from Guangdong province in China arrived to seek their fortune on America's "Gold Mountain". Most stayed, despite discrimination, establishing traditional religious services in local temples (known then as joss houses) and in the shrines of benevolent associations. One of two temples in Chinatown surviving from that time (the other being the Guang Gong Temple), the Tin How Temple has long a place of worship for believers in Chinese Popular Religion, the folk-based mixture of Daoist, Confucian, Buddhist, and local traditions, in San Francisco and the surrounding area. This joss house gave its name to secluded and stately Waverly Place (Tin How Lane 天后路). While the current building dates from the post-1906 Fire era, Tin How Temple has been at this location or near it since its founding. The holy icons and many altar trappings were saved from the fire and returned upon rebuilding.
There are several deities enshrined here, but the central altar seats Tin How/Tian Hou (天后), the Empress of Heaven, also known as Mazu/Matsu (媽祖) or Holy Mother of Heaven Above (天上聖母). A goddess mostly worshipped by the peoples of Southeast China, there is an English hagiography and breviary available in the Tin How Temple describing the earthly life of Lin Moniang （林默娘）, and how She attained enlightenment and ascension as the Empress of Heaven over 1000 years ago. Written by the local Daoist priest serving the temple in the 1970's, the complementary pamphlet (in the brown cover on the side table) also includes short prayers, invocations, and a Chinese vita of the goddess. Small editions of Tin How's devotional scripture are also usually available for free.
The busiest days at the temple are Chinese New Year, the Birthday of Tian Hou in springtime, and the first and fifteenth of each Chinese month. Crowds tightly pack the small sanctuary to burn incense in prayer for a good year. Vegetarian food is also sometimes available for the pilgrims. On other days the temple is usually open during normal business hours for the prayer needs of the faithful. One may obtain a small blessed talisman from the temple (look for the printed red cloth triangles hung on strings); a $1 donation is requested. After bowing in prayer can of bamboo divination slips (靈籤) can be shaken until one slip pops out; the number on the slip indicates a divinatory poem of the Tianhou Oracle on the stacked little papers. The caretakers and members of the temple are all very friendly; while they sometimes speak little Mandarin or English, they are happy to help travellers and answer any question.
Any traveller wishing to deepen their understanding of traditional Chinese culture and its enduring legacy in America likewise should visit. Daoist, Buddhist, or Chinese believers journeying to San Francisco especially ought to pay call on Mazu, the Empress of Heaven at the Tin How Temple.
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