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Symbolism in Mahjong

Practically all of the basic elements in the game of Mahjong can, if one so wishes, be interpreted according to the principles of ancient Chinese astrology as depicting the structure of the universe. The trinity formed by Heaven, Earth, and their offspring, Man, is omnipresent in old Chinese philosophy, and so too in Mahjong. The three groups of four special tiles, namely the seasons, the winds, and the flowers, correspond, to Heaven, Earth, and Man, respectively.

In a similar manner, the three ‘dragons’ each represent one of the universe’s extreme forces: the blank ‘white dragon’ goes with Heaven, the ‘green dragon’ (which has the symbol of ‘prosperity’ on it) goes with Earth, and the ‘red dragon’ (with the symbol for ‘center’) with Man, who stands in the middle of Heaven and Earth. The three colors usually selected to decorate Mahjong tiles also have a similar connection: blue, green, and red denote purity, growth, and blood, and thereby correspond to the three forces mentioned above. Of the three suits in the game, the ‘dots’ stand for the Wheel of Heaven, the ‘bamboos’ for the axis of the Earth, and the ‘characters’, or numbers, the innumerable fates of Man.

The four winds, represented by the players, are seated in the (counterwise) order East – South – West – North, which is the correct order in Heaven, the mirror image of Earth. These four directions are often associated with the four seasons and four of the five main elements of the universe. East is coupled with Spring and the element of Wood, South with Summer and Fire, West with Fall and Metal, and North with Winter and Water. The element of Earth is represented by the surface that the game is played on.

The numbers of the tiles also carry significance. The thirteen tiles in normally in a player’s hand correspond to the number of lunar months in a year. Each suit has nine different tiles, which is said to be commemorate a very special occurrence. When ‘the first philosopher of China’, Fu Hsi, saw a turtle rise from the river Lo, with the number nine carved on its back, he attained true understanding of the universe. For this reason, the number nine has a special importance in Chinese mysticism. They say.

Fortune-Telling Symbolism

The above-mentioned old Chinese way of thinking lends possibilities for exploiting Mahjong tiles in ways other than the game itself to represent the workings of the universe. Here, we will present a method of interpreting the tiles to predict one’s future in a way similar to the use of the occidental tarot cards.

All the tiles in a set are first shuffled thoroughly face down, and, guided by fate, 13 tiles are selected and placed face up in groups of three corresponding to the four points of the compass, with one tile in the middle representing the question of the moment. The group closest to the diviner, East, tells about the present, and South on the right about the near future of the recipient. West, furthest from the reader, describes the hazards and obstacles that have to be faced, and North on the left stands for the distant future. Each tile has its own meaning, and through analyzing these meanings correctly is the final result of the auguration made clear. This, however, requires great expertise, perceptivity, flexible thinking, faith, and imagination, and we are not going to fully go through all the fine points of divination here.

If a certain tile is repeated in one of the groups of three, its significance increases. When divining, the flower and season tiles of Chinese Mahjong  are also often used, and represent some sort of setbacks or problems. When one of these tiles comes up, another tile is drawn beside it to represent ways of solving this problem.

The Names And General Meanings of Majiang Tiles When Divining

Tile Name Meaning Tile Name Meaning
1 Bamboo Peacock pride, success 1 Character Open door opportunity
2 Bamboo Duck devotion, partnership 2 Character Sword choice, decision, twins
3 Bamboo Toad healing 3 Character Earth relocation
4 Bamboo Carp determination, long life 4 Character Lute music, leisure
5 Bamboo Lotus vision, baby 5 Character House home
6 Bamboo Water travel, correspondence 6 Character Fire loss, danger
7 Bamboo Turtle learning, crime 7 Character Stars dream, imagination
8 Bamboo Fungus virtue, eccentricity 8 Character Knot tying or untying
9 Bamboo Willow resilience, tact 9 Character Heaven spirituality, a ceremony
Tile Name Meaning Tile Name Meaning
1 Dot Pearl honor, refinement, an older woman East Spring, Wood self
2 Dot Pine strength, literature, a young man South Summer, Fire good fortune, growth, development
3 Dot Phoenix good news West Autumn, Metal the objective or partner
4 Dot Jade value, good deeds North Winter, Water obstacles, shortage
5 Dot Dragon good luck Red Middle fulfillment
6 Dot Peach fine art, a young woman Green Success delaying
7 Dot Insect craft, skill White Blank document, ghost
8 Dot Tiger authority, an older man
9 Dot Unicorn divination



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