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inner room, with some paper, a writing-pencil, incense and water. Then he told him to lower the mat which hung over the door, and silendy pay attention to what would happen.
After a while Wang said 'Now let us go and see', and they found eight large characters on the paper, with an explanation in ordinary square writing, reading thus: 'Your dignity will be that of the very highest Minister; you will live to your sixty-fourth year.'
Wang now hastily asked permission to go home, and it was never ascertained whither he went. In the Hwuichang Period (a.d. 841-847), the prince was three times registered as a grandee of the very highest official rank. He died in Hai-nan just at the age which Wang had ascertained."
The Emperor Shi Tsung of the Ming Dynasty, reigning from 1522 to 1567, regulated most of the Court affairs by means of spirit-writing, in spite of the fact that in general the rulers of that House were greatly opposed to this form of divination.
Several forms of'possession by evil spirits' are recognized in China. Most of these accord more or less closely with the possession by spirits familiar in Semitic and Mediaeval occultism. Phenomena of the type now attributed to 'poltergeists' are common, both in recent fact and in historical references. Devil-dancing, however, is interesting in that it has several characteristics foreign to demonaic possession as understood elsewhere.
Devil-dancers may be either voluntary or involuntary. That is to say, they may be persons driven to ecstatic frenzy by a hostile spirit, or they may be professionals or amateurs who deliberately induce in themselves a state of frenzy for the purpose of divination.
The actual dancing resembles the state which is induced by Obeab workers in the West Indies, or the Nilotic Nyam-Nyams of the South Sudan. If a Chinese family feels that some problem demands supernatural aid or information for its solution, professional devil-dancers are called in.
Like all other observances in China, the correct ritual must be followed. A great feast is prepared, which the dancers first consume, while incense is burned, and all present compose themselves in a state of mind conducive to concentration upon the question which will be asked.
During the meal the host gives the chief dancer all facts relevant to the case. It may be that he is uncertain as to whether to seek a certain person as the husband of his daughter, or he may want to know where treasure is buried. In other cases, there may be a haunting which charms have failed to remedy.
Accompanying the dancers there will be a troupe of musicians, equipped with drums, bells, cymbals and other instruments. These they begin to play, at first very slowly. Within minutes the pace quickens; as the tempo increases, so the whirling of the dancers becomes more rapid. Intricate steps and revolutions are described and more incense is lit. The contortions of the performers come to a sudden and dramatic end with the head dancer falling heavily upon the floor.
During this time—which may last from twenty to fifty minutes— no word is spoken by the audience. As in the case of the 'whirling dervishes' of the Mevlevi Order, the dancer picks himself up after a few minutes of rapt silence. He is now receptive to questions. These are put to him one by one. As the replies are sometimes extremely rapid, it is usual to have a scribe on hand to record the answers— particularly when these refer to remedies for sickness, in which the list of medicines can be long and detailed.
Different troupes of dancers have their own special methods of inducing the trance-state. Some demand certain food, like a whole pig, eaten hot out of the cauldron while the dancer is held by each hand by two small children. Others have such a flourishing practice that they do not visit homes, but must be met at their houses, and propitiated with expensive gifts. Their ways and rites vary from one province to another.
The devil-dancers of Manchuria, men and women, are particularly feared and yet revered. "In seeking their aid," says one authority, "the suppliant takes with him presents of incense and paper money to worship the demons, besides valuable presents of bread, red cloth and red silks. These neither dance, beat drums nor ring bells, but sit and commence a slow shaking as from ague. Then they fall into a fit. They tell the suppliant to return home and place a cup on the window outside, and the right medicine will be put into it by the spirit. The suppliant is at the same time made to vow that he will contribute to the worship of the particular demon whose power and intervention they now invoke, and that he will also contribute towards some temple in the neighbourhood."
The initiation and practices of the Taoist magical priesthood are based upon degrees of specialization. That is to say, the Wu (magicians) are divided into those concentrating upon soothsaying, exorcism, theurgy or sacrifice. Both men and women are admitted into this priesthood, though it is usual for the office to be hereditary. Few advertise their powers: the clientele comes, as it were, by recommendation, and they are styled 'honourable sir', or 'Wuist Master', or some such honorific title.
The overwhelming majority of candidates for admission to the priest-magician order have been for years associated with their parents in occult practices, so that the time for final ordination finds them already possessed of considerable knowledge. Only the initiation remains to be done, and this is entrusted to any respected magician other than a relative.
For seven days preceding the rite, the candidate must isolate himself in a cell, abstaining from fish, meat, onions, leek, garlic and alcohol. During this time, he remains in a state of ritual purity and cleanliness, and repeats conjurations and incantations. The entire process is minutely described in one of the books of the Li Ki.
"The superior man, when he desires to sacrifice at the seasons of the year, observes a vigil. Vigil means collection or concentration (of the vital qualities of his spirit and intelligence). It is a concentration of what is not yet concentrated, and must thus be effected. The superior man does not undertake a vigil unless he has to perform some important act, or worship. Without the vigil, no precaution need be taken against material things, nor desires or lusts restrained. But he who is going to undergo it must protect himself from things that are objectionable, and check his desires and lusts. His ears may not listen to music. The saying in the Record, to the effect that man while observing the vigil 'has no music', means that he does not venture to divert his attention in more than one direction.
He has no vain thoughts in his mind, but strictly adheres to the principles of the Tao. His hands and feet make no disorderly movements. They move stricdy according to the ritual rescripts. Such is the vigil of the superior man, purporting the development of the highest faculties of the vital spirit, and of his intellect. The vigil is rigorous for three days, and less vigorous for the rest of the seven days. The fixation of these attributes into the desired concentration means the perfecting of the vital spirit, after which he can enter into communion with the gods."
On the last day of the vigil is celebrated the ceremony of initiation. For three days offerings have been made at the Taoist altar, in honour of the idols therein. At a set time the initiate enters the precincts of the shrine, clad in his sacerdotal garb, with bare feet and an emblem of the sun on his head. His journey from the place of retreat to the temple, if it is not the same place, is performed without his feet touching the ground. This is generally effected by someone carrying him on his the occult art in china
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