How is a magical mirror made? No Chinese book of any antiquity gives the recipe. But Shi Chen gives a clue. Any mirror which is sufficiently antique, he says, and large enough, when hung in the house, is capable of detecting spirits. It should be kept covered until needed, and not used for any other purpose.
An immense number of stories are told of the virtues of these mirrors in China.
Charms are probably more widely used in China than anywhere else. One of the 'guarded books' of charm-writers is the classic of Koh Hung, who wrote his Pao Pob-Ts^e in the fourth century. Written charms, he says in the seventeenth section, are especially efficacious for travellers, particularly in the mountains-—where spirits frequently reside. Peachwood, with its magical properties, is the material used in the magical pen for inscribing the characters:* while red cinnibar paint is the pigment. So powerful are such amulets that they not only defeat all ghosts and spectres, but hostile animals and men as well. Some of these protective spells took the form of five arrows—which were also used in a similar way by the Moors of Spain during the Arab period.
Charms are written in a strange form of script known as Thunder Writing, or Celestial Calligraphy, f While many of the characters resemble conventional Chinese ones, some of it cannot be interpreted by the usual methods, and may be meaningless. It is interesting to note here that the Chinese method of indicating the stars and planets in vogue among charm-writers are found in a number of the Books of Sorcerers published in Europe during the Middle Ages. J If these have been copied from Chinese originals, the intermediate links are missing.
Women in China gready favour a triangle of gold or silver, with two swords suspended from the outer angles. This is considered to contain within it all the fortune which any woman needs or desires.
Charms, when written, are always inscribed on red or yellow paper. "Sometimes a picture of an idol is printed or written upon this paper, with red or black ink. It is then pasted up over a door or on a
* For the Western use of magical rods (witch-hazel, walnut wood, etc.) see Scot: Discoverie 1665, and The Grand Grimoire, for the 'Manufacture of the Pen of the Art', see B.M. MSS. 36674.
f Cf. for Western and Cabbalistic magical alphabets, the Fourth book of Occult Philosophy (attributed to Cornelius Agrippa) and the Heptameron of Peter of Abano, 1665.
bed-curtain, or it is worn in the hair, or put in a red bag and suspended from the button-hole." (82). Or it may be burned, and the ashes mixed with tea or water and drunk, so that its influence permeates the body. Many houses have eight or ten of them, suspended in the eaves and other places where evil influences are thought to reside.
This habit of drinking the water in which a charm has been steeped is also widespread in the Middle East.
Bells are regarded as a powerful charm, being also used in the rituals of magic as practised by Chinese wizards. This belief in the power of bells is thought to have come from India: certainly it was widespread in Arabia when Mohammed prohibited the superstitious ringing of bells, which had been imported into the Hejaz from Byzantium, and is still known among the Yezidi devil-worshippers of Kurdistan.
Raising thunder by means of charms is considered an important part of the Taoist system of magic. Such spells must contain in written form the representation of the characters 'Thunder' and 'Lightning'. The intention here may be to smite spirits which are causing trouble, or merely to raise thunder and storms to punish someone meriting it. An example of the versatility of the thunder-charm is contained in a story of Shun-yu Chi, in the fourth century a.d., as given in the Standard History of the Tsin Dynasty:
"Kao Ping is a place in Shensi where Liu Jeu, while asleep one night, was bitten on the middle finger of his left hand by a rat. He consulted Shun-yu Chi, who said: 'This beast wanted to kill you, but could not succeed: I shall now kill it in retaliation.'
And, having drawn around his pulse a red line, and three inches from it the character EI3, one inch and two-tenths square" (this character is a component of the Chinese figures expressing thunder and lightning); "he ordered him to leave his hand uncovered while asleep. Next morning, a big rat lay dead close by."
This character is a modification of the sign denoting the roll and flash of thunder and lightning; and occurs in very many Chinese charms.
The whole system of writing charms and their combination is extremely simple: only unfamiliarity with the meanings of the Chinese characters themselves makes them appear inexplicable. An understanding of the fundamental characters, and a list of the forms of 'Celestial Calligraphy', covers most of the forms encountered in the usual charms. Exceptions to this are those written in fragmentary script, and those which have been copied from archaic versions.
The curving line wriggling downwards from such charms is the i nr. ucuuiji ajxa hi vuitii»
magician's version of the normal character for a bow, symbolically used to smite the spirit or other object of wrath.
The signs for happiness and felicity are used to counter the supposed evils which are being combated. Those for long life, peace and prosperity are likewise employed against spirits and powers which bring illness, adversity and poverty to bear upon their victims. It is natural, from this, to expect the signs for 'murder' and 'slaying with a sword' to appear in talismans whose arcane power is believed to act in this manner against evil forces.
Thus a combination of some of these ideographs will, when interpreted, read sometimes like this: "Murder, death with a sword (like) lightning, against this spectre; (let) happiness, prosperity and order (come)."
In addition to these, the inclusion of planets—such as the sun and moon—ensure that the effect is deepened: for both the sun and moon are reputedly powerful in charms.
Light and Fire are two further potent powers which ensure the complete victory of the spell against anything. For this reason these characters are widely used. The sign for 'East', when repeated many times, invokes all the power of the purifying sun which rises from the east, multiplying by its repetition the force of the rays.
These powers are not seen simply as abstract forces. In the Taoist System, each sign stands for a particular god. Pre-eminent among these is said to be Chang Tao Ling, the founder of the cult. Hence his surname—Chang—is often found upon the reputedly most potent charms. Chieftainship of the Taoist magical sect is vested in Chang's lineal descendant, who lives in the Kwang-sin department of Kiangsi Province, being greatly revered, and carrying the mandate of Chang himself.
His charm is perhaps the most potent of all, and serves for any purpose: its action depends upon the desires of the possessor. For this m nm
The 'all-powerful' seal of Lao-Tze, used in Taoist magic—'bringer of good fortune'. Worn by psychic mediums
reason two people with the same charm may believe that it will bring them, respectively, wealth and relief from disease. A third may use it to ensure abundant crops, or a woman may carry it for the purpose of bearing a male child.
Another form of spell consists of sentences written on strips of paper, commemorating some event connected with the result desired by the magician. Thus we find "Let General Li Kwang shoot his arrows here"; the general was a redoubtable warrior of the second century a.d., whose victorious campaigns against the Huns have passed into legend. By association of ideas (and hence the supposed association of forces), this charm is considered to be immensely powerful.
Charms not containing the names of gods are fewer; but they do exist. In all cases such talismans must contain the characters Shen or Ling. The theory behind this is that of 'concourse'. It is believed that the crowding together of many people produces a certain power of its own. This concentrated power is stronger than that of either single people or spectres. While it is not always possible for the wizard to collect a number of people to concentrate upon a desired effect, he can achieve a similar result by putting this desire into writing. Hence the use of the character Hiao or Wao, which signifies 'shouting by many mouths'.
In addition to being inscribed with a peachwood pen on paper of imperial yellow, certain other requirements must be observed in the making of charms. Foremost among these is the uttering of powerful spells.
At the same time, the magician concentrates upon a particularly powerful god, generally a thunder-deity. One spell considered most effective if repeated seven times when making the charm is this:
"Heart of Heaven, eyes of Heaven, core of Heavenly light, defeat the spiritually powerful light of the earth, sun and moon, produce your light; quick, quick, let the Law and the command of the Five Emperors be obeyed."
Following this, the talisman is vigorously blown upon: in exactly the same manner as the pre-Islamic Arabs blew upon the knots in which they 'tied' forces for their form of the death spell.
A number of other miscellaneous requirements must be fulfilled to make a charm effective. The pen or brush must be new, the ink 'complete in purity'—and also never before used. Really powerful magicians can weave spells merely by describing the characters in the air with the forefinger.
Historical and legendary instances of Chinese miracle-workers are many. One of the most famous was the great Ming Ch'ung-yen, the sorcerer of the T'ang Dynasty. It is related that he was tested by the Emperor Kao Tsung, in the following way:
"The Emperor, in order to test his powers, caused a cave to be dug, and put some servants therein, to make music. Calling Ch'ung-yen, he asked what good or evil this music portended, and whether he could stop it for him.
Ch'ung-yen then wrote two charms on peachwood, fixed them in the ground over the cave, and immediately the music stopped.
The musicians declared that they had seen a strange dragon, which had frightened them so much that they could not continue."
One of the most famous wizards of China was Kiai Siang, who was asked to give a demonstration of his power before the king of Wu, and some of whose feats are reported in the works of Koh Hung.
The monarch having expressed a desire to eat fish, the magician dug a small pit, filled it with water, and an excellent sea-fish was caught. While it was being cooked, His Majesty complained that there was none of the famous ginger of Szchewan to eat with it.
Immediately, continues the chronicler, Kiai Siang wrote a charm, which he enclosed in a green bamboo suck, and handed to one of the king's couriers. Then he was instructed to close his eyes and ride away. As soon as he did so, the messenger "found that he was in that distant land; bought the ginger, and closed his eyes once more". In a flash he was back at the court, just as the fish was ready (83).
It is hardly surprising that, backed with a huge number of such tales—which are in most places implicitly believed—tens of thousands of charms are in active use among the Chinese.
In the nineteenth century the strange resemblance between Chinese and Western mediumistic phenomena was first described (84). Confined to the intellectual classes, these practices were mainly devoted to discovering facts about the future, particularly in relation to whether a certain course of action should be taken.
Where 'automatic writing' was the method of communication, a peachwood pencil was used.* It had to be made from a twig which, when on the tree, faced eastward; before cutting, a magical formula was pronounced, composed of four lines, each of four syllables: 'Magical pencil, powerful one, each day bearer of subtle power, I cut thee, to tell all.'
The word signifying 'spirit of the clouds' is cut in the tree's bark, on the side opposite to the twig. Following this, the characters for
* Willow-wood is also very often employed.
"Wondrous Revelation of the Heavenly Mysteries' are cut below the first hieroglyphics. The chosen twig has to be so curved as to form a hook at one end. After being fitted into a small piece of wood—some six inches in length—it is placed in the hands of the man or woman chosen as the medium.
All the participants in the ceremony must be in a state of ritual purity, wearing clean clothes, and having observed a fast. Two long tables are placed side by side in the hall which forms the scene of operations. One of these holds the 'altar', bearing wine, fruit and sweetmeats; while the other is sprinkled with powdery red sand, rolled smooth to ensure the legibility of the characters which the 'spirit pen' will trace upon it.
Completing all these operations before nightfall, the officiating magician then writes on a card his prayer to the Great Royal Bod-hisattwa, stating that the sacrifices are ready, and asking that spirits be sent. The exact location of the house, together with the name of the enquirer, are meticulously added, in order that the spectre may be able to make his way there without undue difficulty.
This card, and a quantity of gold paper, is then carried to a shrine dedicated to this deity, and burnt before his altar. After returning home, the owner must write his name and address clearly on another card, which is fixed to one of the door-posts.
When evening fells, several of the supplicants make their way to the door, burn gold paper, and make a number of bows, to welcome the spirit to the house with due ceremony.
A short pantomime is then enacted. The invisible spirit is conducted into the hall, candles and incense are lighted in his honour, and a chair is pulled up to one of the tables for his use.
While this ceremonial is being observed, the medium approaches the sand-strewn table. The handle of the twig rests on both hands, while the end touches the surface of the sand. The supplication to the spirit follows, in some such form as this: "Great Spirit, if you have arrived, please write 'arrived' in the sand on this table."
Immediately the medium has finished speaking, the pencil traces the requisite character in the sand. The whole company then asks the spirit to be seated; and the Deity, who is thought to have brought him, is offered another chair. Everyone now bows before the empty chairs, offering a little wine and gold paper.
The ritual proper always begins in the same way. The medium invokes the spirit with the words: "Great Spirit, what was your august surname, what your honourable name, what offices did you hold, and tinder which dynasty did you live on earth?"
The 'magic pencil' traces the answers in the sand at once: and the séance has begun. The session is now open for individual questions. These are put by writing them on a piece of paper, and burning them together with a slip of gold paper. As each piece is burned, the answers appear in the sand-tracing. The end of the reply is indicated by the character 'I have finished'; frequently the replies are in poetic form. If a message cannot be understood, the pencil again traces its writing upon the table-top, until it has been deciphered. When someone has correctly read the message aloud, the pencil writes 'that is right'. After each reply, the sand is smoothed in preparation for the next.
During this proceeding, the strictest rules of decorum are observed. If anyone shows any sign, however small, of irreverence or uneasiness, the pencil rapidly writes a rebuke on the sand.
As the medium balances the pencil between his two upturned palms, and appears not to exert any control over it, an explanation for this phenomenon by means of ordinary reasoning seems difficult. All the Western observers who have been present at such seances seem at a loss to understand how the pencil writes: particularly because the method of holding it would make it extremely difficult for the medium to manipulate the stick.
It is considered most important that, while the table is being prepared for the next question and the sand smoothed, the entire company should humbly thank the spirit for his kindness and help. His poetical ability is also praised. With true modesty, the pencil replies to these compliments by writing the words 'absurd', and similar self-effacing formulae.
After midnight, the spirit begins to write phrases asking for permission to depart. He is invariably asked to stay 'just a little longer'. His reply is that he 'must go at once'. He also thanks the company for their kindness and hospitality.
When it is apparent that he will not stay, the assembled company chorus: "If there was any want of respect or attention, great Spirit, we
m entreat thee to forgive us this sin." He is then 'conducted' to the door, accompanied by more burning of gold paper, and seen off the premises with bows and prostrations.
The most excellent form of KJ—'magical pencil'—is said to be one cut from the east or south-eastern part of the tree. The twig should be commanded to give clear and accurate information. It is sometimes forked, like a water-diviner's rod, painted red, and about a foot and a half in length. Variations of the ritual allow the red sand to be replaced by incense ashes or bran. Other methods of holding the fork include that in which the medium himself grips one arm of the twig, while any other member of the company holds the other. The writing-instrument, when not in use, is kept with great honour in silk or other good material—always red in colour. Many finely carved examples exist. An instrument capable of passing on information from the respected spirits of the other world, it is felt, should be treated with the dignity which must obviously be its due.
The remarkable 'life' which is felt in the pencil, once the spirit has appeared to get control of it, can only be compared to the twitching of the willow or hazel wand in an accomplished water-diviner's hands.
The reason for ascertaining the spirit's true name and offices is because an undesirable spectre or demon may well get hold of the fork, and write misleading messages : but he is unable to 'impersonate' a good spirit, and can thus be detected by his signature.
When such attempted deception does take place, it is seldom for more than a few moments, and the true spirit expels the demon of his own accord.
Many strange happenings are reported from such séances. In some cases a mighty deity may arrive and declare his presence, indicating that he is in need of certain sacrifices before his altar. Great men of the past apparently here communicated by this method, and their signatures and messages been obtained by means of red ink on the brush passing over a sheet of paper. Even an ordinary brush has been used for this purpose, when the 'power' of the visiting spirit has been felt to be strong.
If it is desired to consult any specific god, his image is brought into the house where the session is to be held, and honoured with offerings for a few days before the date fixed for the interrogation. It is considered much more difficult to conjure gods into the pen than the spirits of those who have already passed away, and who are people more connected with the earth.
Mediums of the Ki in China do not form a distinct class. Often a person is chosen at random to hold the magic stick. But the interpreters of the writings upon the sand or paper are highly esteemed.
Due to the difficult nature of Chinese calligraphy, relatively few people can interpret with certainty some of the hurried scrawls of the pencil. This art is thought to date back to a very early era, and a great many predictions by this means are on record.
One is contained in a small book of the T'ang epoch, by Li Siun (8 j).
Its title—On Strange Matters Collected and Written Down—is amply vindicated by this extract:
"When the high Minister of State and feudal prince of Wei was only a secondary officer in Ping-cheu, before he had been on duty there for ten months, suddenly a man from the country, named Wang, politely applied at the gate of his mansion for an interview.
The prince told him to sit down, and he said that he was a man who could find out things from the unseen world. As the prince did not show much interest, the visitor bade him place a table in the principal
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