Characters used in Chinese Magical Invocations (Celestial calligraphy)
Having passed this test, he begins to ascend the spirit-ladder of swords accompanied by the music of cymbals, drums and the wailing notes of a buffalo-horn. Upon his descent from this ordeal (though the swords are not sharp) he is considered to be initiated, and is now a fully-fledged priest of the order.
The ceremony is completed by the neophyte approaching the altar, ringing a hand-bell, and informing the gods that he is now a Wu-magician.
Before examining the robes and methods of the sorcerers, it is important to note the immense faith in the magical efficacy of swords which is common to almost all forms of magic. In China, the main use of the sword is in the exorcism of evil spirits: as in other systems, however, magical swords must be subjected to special treatment, and may also perform a variety of functions in the ritual.
Daggers of peachwood and the two-edged kien are considered among the most valuable of demon-destroying weapons. A sword once owned by a famous warrior or general is also thought to be most effective. Failing this, the iron or peachwood blade is consecrated in the name of the renowned sword which it is supposed to represent. Frequendy red cloth is wrapped round the hilt. When not in use, it is carefully preserved, with appropriate ceremony, in silken cloth. A small model of a sword, cut from willow wood, is often worn as a badge-amulet—recalling the Arab use of a model of the marvellous Sword of Ali, worn by the Sayeds (descendants of Mohamed) in Yemen. When willow is used, it must be cut in the fifth day of the fifth month, when the sun is at its apogee. Trees which have been struck by lightning are especially favoured for all magical purposes.
Protection from evil may be ensured, by hanging such swords at the door, carrying them on the breast or at the girdle, and decorating them with red tassels or nets. Mulberry wood is also used; and in Chehkiang the power of mulberry swords is considered so great that an evil magician is generally struck dead by it, when directed against him.
Swords made of coins are most potent for all magical purposes. There has been a certain amount of speculation as to the reason for this—insofar as any reason for some magical practices can be ascertained. The circular Chinese coin, with a square hole in the centre, is said to resemble the guard of a sword. Hence a collection of such guards, made up in sword-form, might be expected to exert great protective power.
The coins (preferably all of the same reign) are fixed on an iron rod, ending in a conventional handle and guard. These twenty to twenty-five coins are threaded upon the bar, each overlapping the other. Two rows are used, to form two 'blade faces'. The hilt may be composed of a pile of coins, as sometimes, too, may be the guard and knob. The coins are held in place by means of red silk cord. Tassels, threads and nets (the latter to entrap demons) may decorate the sword. Such is the potency attributed to these weapons that their mere brandishing is enough to cause any effect desired.
As might be expected, sword-lore has many variations. Some swords have inscribed upon the blades powerful spells, which enhance their force, such as the following:
"I wield the large sword of Heaven to cut down spectres in their five shapes; one stroke of this divine blade disperses a myriad of these beings."
This formula is the one reputedly used by Fuh Hi, the first legendary sovereign of the five who established human order. Another spell, the occult art in china 167
written on the willow blade of sword or dagger, is: "Power over all spirits; power to make all things come to pass; the greatest power of all."
Some swords can operate by themselves. One Taoist sage was reputed to own one such for the purpose of destroying demons. "Whenever he desired to practise it, he placed his sword in an empty room, spurted water upon it from his mouth, and in threatening tones ordered it to cut down the spectres. He then kept the room closed to everybody, not opening it until the next day, and—flowing blood then stained the floor everywhere."
The author of this book (86) professes not to have been taken in by this trick. He claims that no demon can have blood. Therefore, he says, it was the water which turned into blood. This metamorphosis, he believes, is relatively simple, and not of the order of things which include killing devils.
Besides the officially-initiated Wu, a huge class of self-appointed magicians also exist. Having attained their powers through private study, they are often no less respected by the people at large, though bitterly opposed by the established Taoist element. The Taoists, in their turn, are condemned by the Confucians as heretics, animists and devil-worshippers of the deepest dye. Though they themselves do not always claim powers of invisibility and invulnerability, the Confucians hold that their devil-expelling works are merely bluff—white black magic and the use of occult powers for illicit ends are attributed to them.
The 'Red Garment' (Kang-i) is the principal robe worn for the accomplishment of any important magical work. It is a square sheet of silken cloth, with a slit cut in one side to form the front opening, and a round hole in the centre for the wearer's head. It is sleeveless, and generally embroidered with symbolic representations of trees, mountains, dragons, and the spirals of rolling thunder. A wider border of blue silk is sewn round the Kang. Stitched to the neck portion is usually a broad silken ribbon, whose ends hang down in front. This is identical with the 'Gown of the Universe', whose name, however, is also given to a second magical vestment. This is the dress of assistant priests, or magicians officiating at lesser rites.
Made of silk or sometimes another cloth, it has wide sleeves, being closed in front by hanging tapes. Embroidered upon it are the mystical dragons, octagons and tortoises traditionally associated with Taoist magic.
All magicians of the Tao persuasion wear the same type of head-decoration. When officiating, the hair is piled on the top of the head (in commemoration of the style common before the pigtail was made obligatory), surmounted by a round cap. Over this is fixed a metal representation of the sun's rays—the 'Golden Apex' to the black cap. There are many variations in the priestly garb in use: but the orthodox claim that only the traditionally accepted garments are powerful enough to concentrate true magical power in favour of the genuine Wu.
As with their masculine counterparts, women Wu (known as Wu Ladies, Female Wu, etc.) may be either amateur or professional workers. Common to both types is a strange degree of concentration upon their rites, and implicit belief in their powers.
As mediums, women are often in demand. Going into a trance, the witch may either speak with spirit voices, or merely mumble unintelligible words which have to be interpreted by experts—much in the same manner as the messages traced by the magical pencil need special translation for mortal understanding.
As with mediumistic phenomena in the West, specific spirits are believed to enter into communication with the medium in the trance state. At the same time, it is more usual for the communicating spirit to be a certain well-known lady (Lady Tzse), who has been consulted in China for many centuries. Women mediums generally work among members of their own sex; and even children are reported to become rapid adepts at calling up Lady Tzse. That this spirit also sometimes materializes is evidenced by a report from Ch'en Kwah (87):
"It is an old custom on the night of the first full moon of the year, to receive the spirit of Tzse-ku. This practice is not, strictly speaking, confined to the first month. She may be conjured at any time. When I was young, I saw children in their leisure hours call her for mere amusement.
Among my own kinsmen it has come to pass that after being called she refused to go away; and as this occurred more than once, they would not call her again.
In the King yiu Period (1034-1038), the family of Wang Lun, doctor in the Court of Sacrificial Worship, was inviting Tzse-ku, when a spirit descended into one of the girls of the female apartments, and itself said that it was a secondary consort to the Supreme Emperor (of Heaven). That girl thereupon was able to write literary compositions of exquisite beauty, which even now are circulating in the world under the title of Collection of the Female Immortal.
She wrote in several different styles, and manifested the greatest artistic skill in the use of the pencil. But never did she write the seal characters or square characters which are used in this world. Wang Lun being an old friend of my father, I was conversant with his sons and younger brothers, and thus I saw her handwriting myself.
In that house the spirit occasionally showed her shape, and then it was perceived that above the loins it was like an attractive woman;
but below the loins it was always veiled as by a cloud. She could play beautifully on the lute; and when her voice chimed in, it was so sweet and pleasant that all who listened forgot his cares. Once someone asked her whether she could travel with her on a cloud. She answered that she could: and suddenly, in the courtyard a white cloud whirled up like vapour. She mounted it, but it would not bear her. Then the spirit said: 'there is some mud on your shoes—put them off and mount.' She now mounted in her stockings, and it seemed that her shoes slowly stepped towards the room. On her descent she said: 'You can go now, we will wait for another day.' Afterwards the girl was married, but the spirit did not come to her in her new home. Nothing specially good or bad resulted from the spirit's visits. All the written
Talisman of Fortune [Seep, ijj]
traditions concerning the latter give many details; and what I have seen myself is no more than roughly sketched here."
It is said that the «ailing of the spirit of the Lady Tzse is gaining in popularity. The most usual attribute which she bestows is tine ability to write magnificent literature. But the spirit also 'Understands the medical art and divination, and can play at draughts as well as the best hand in the realm.'
How is the spirit called up? She may, according to traditional custom, either come through a medium, or be conjured into a small doll, and made to answer questions.
This latter operation is said to be performed as follows:
On the 15 th day of the first month—sometimes any other day when it is desired to consult the oracle—the women take a straining-ladle, used for food, and also a door-charm. This is pasted upon the ladle; after which a human face is drawn on it. Willow branches are then taken, to form the doll's arms and legs. The effigy is then dressed in clothes.
All the women—or only one if there is a single invocant—call upon Lady Tzse to come, placing a small offering of food and incense before the figure. Within a few minutes, in most cases, it is said that the puppet is found to have become heavy: the spirit has entered into it. Questions are now put to the Lady, who is believed to answer them. This custom is paralleled in many parts of China, under different names, when brooms, trays and all sorts of different articles are consulted for guidance through a spirit conjured into them.
Those who desire to project their spirit into the land of the dead, attempt to do so by repeating an incantation: "Sister San-ku, Lady Sze-ku, please do guide me to the land of the region of Yin. What do I want there, in the region of the Yin? I want to search there for a near relation. When I have found him, I want to speak a few words with him: then pray lead me quickly back, to the region of the Yang."
The incessant repetition of this formula is believed to ensure that the invocant is carried to the land of the passed away, where she can find her relation, and is safely brought back (88).
In Amoy, a special kind of image is manufactured by women magicians, for the purpose of housing a spirit which is conjured in to it, to be used for any purpose desired by the practitioner.
A small doll is made of peachwood—the wood containing the vital shen-magic. Before making the doll, the wood is collected under cover of darkness, or in some other way which will avoid suspicion of witchcraft felling upon the women. The carving of the doll is made after treatment. The latter consists of concealing the wood somewhere in or near the house of a pregnant woman. There it stays until the child is bom: but the mother must not know of its existence.
As soon as the infant is born, the wood is removed and carved by the witch, who at the same time utters spells calling upon a spirit to come and inhabit it. The doll is made as far as possible in the shape of the new-born child, and must be of the same sex. It must then be hidden behind a Taoist altar, so that spells pronounced over the latter will have effect upon it. Alternatively, the witch herself calls upon a spirit, through her own altar, behind which she has placed the peachwood effigy.
This is considered to be an operation of the Black Art: for, as the spirit enters the doll, it may well leave the body of the child in whose image it is made. Alternatively, the infant may become maimed or mentally affected. For this reason such practices are hated by most Confucians, and by many other people.
Called the 'Operation for Drawing Out Life', or the 'Means of Compelling a Spirit', the dangers of detection seem only to add to the value of the rite. It is implicidy believed that after it has been completed, the familiar will remain in the doll, and answer any question. Another method of using an image is this:
"The image is first exposed to the dew for forty-nine nights, when after the performance of certain ceremonies it is believed to have the power of speaking. It is laid upon the stomach of the woman to whom it belongs, and she by means of it pretends to be the medium of communication with the dead. She sometimes sends the image into the world of spirits to find the person about whom intelligence is sought. It then changes into an elf or sprite, and ostensibly departs on its errand. The spirit of the person enters the image, and gives the information sought after by the surviving relatives.
The woman is supposed not to utter a word, the message seeming to proceed from the image. The questions are addressed to the medium, the replies appearing to come from her stomach; there is probably a kind of ventriloquism employed, and the fact that the voice appears to proceed from the stomach undoubtedly assists the delusion. Anyway, there' are scores and scores of these mediums implicidy believed in, and widows who desire to communicate with their deceased husbands, or people who desire any information about a future state, invariably resort to their aid."
A common form of the death spell as used in China may be quoted here as typical. Most houses and all villages have a tablet consecrated to the name of the local deity. Upon it is placed a piece of paper, containing the name of the person it is intended to kill, with an intimation that they 'are already dead'. The spirit will then think that the person has already died; and he will prepare for the soul's arrival in Heaven. Such will be the force of this belief among the spirits connected with receiving departed souls, that their concentration will attract the soul out of the body of the person named, and he will thus die.
Of course, if the doomed man were to know that his name had thus been placed before the spirit, in a number of cases he would expire from pure fear. This is an interesting parallel to sympathetic magic and the curse-mechanism throughout the world.
It is believed that rain can be caused to fall by burning an image of a deformed or otherwise pathetic person. The idea behind this is that Heaven will feel pity, and will pour down water to relieve his plight.
Like all other peoples, the Chinese have always been highly interested in the possibility of securing eternal life. Many believe that the following method will secure it, but that it does not always function satisfactorily:
A silver-coloured insect—the 'silver-fish'—(Lepisma Saccharina) is captured, and made to eat a piece of paper upon which the characters Sbeti-Hsien have been inscribed. This formula, signifying 'immortal-spirited', will, it is thought, cause the creature's body to take on multicolour hues. Anyone eating the prepared silver-fish will then be protected from death for ever. The magicians recommending this process warn that it 'may take months of experiment before a suitable fish be found, whose body will react correctly, and will display several colours'.
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