From fairies and pixies to genies and demons—Eurasian hinterlands are believed to be the home of many different mythical creatures and beings. In Taiwan, the local oft-tricksy neighbours are called mô-sîn-á.
The Taiwanese mô-sîn-á (móshenzǎi in Mandarin) translates roughly as “little devils.” These devious beings are spirits or mythical creatures often featured in Taiwanese folklore.
Taiwan’s mô-sîn-á—like the fairies, elves and pixies of British and Icelandic folklore—are believed to be spirits that dwell in the island’s mountains, forests and the countryside. Like the genies of the Arabian Nights, mô-sîn-á are mischievous and, according to the tales, interactions with them often do not end well for mortals. Like the yāoguài or yōkai of China and Japan, the term mô-sîn-á is a catch-all term applied loosely in Taiwanese tradition to horrifying backcountry-dwelling mythical creatures of various shapes and sizes.
These beings are also compared to ghosts and demons in other Eurasian traditions. But regardless of their exact nature, the mô-sîn-á fascinate the Taiwanese and haunt Taiwanese folklore like the mythical creatures of other cultures around the world.
Taiwan’s mô-sîn-á are usually believed to be small in stature. They are believed to be dwarf-like creatures. They are nimble and often appear like small children.
Unlike vampires, the mô-sîn-á are not repulsed by sunlight. They are, however, averse to loud noises, so loud explosive fireworks, like firecrackers, are useful means for deterring these creatures.
The mô-sîn-á are tricksters. It is believed that they rarely ever harm their victims directly and, instead, preferring to play pranks on the elderly and on small children.
The most common form of practical jokes played by these mysterious creatures is reportedly causing folks to lose a sense of direction and guiding them to the middle of nowhere.
Victims might find themselves wandering to into unfamiliar places deep in the woods or the mountains and unable to return home. Not entirely unlike the so-called “changelings” in Icelandic folklore, Taiwan’s mô-sîn-á stories often involve missing small children.
These beliefs about the mô-sîn-á, remarkably, are not restricted to any one of Taiwan’s many ethnic groups but are, instead, shared by all. Belief in these mischievous creatures is adapted from continental East Asian folk religion, blended with Taiwan’s native traditions and have been taken up by all of Taiwan’s cultures—Hoklo, Hakka and even indigenous. Each culture blends their own unique folk beliefs with the overall mô-sîn-á theme, creating a versatile mythical being with many different and imaginative incarnations!