Taoist Sorcerers have always been deeply concerned with time.The late Han through the Six Dynasties time period was one of political chaos and social turmoil. Constant warfare, rampant epidemics, and natural disasters were perceived as symptomatic of a continuing cosmological crisis: the various cosmic cycles and the natural harmonies were disordered, leading to the disasters and depredations which inflicted suffering on the population.(much like today) Scriptures from this period abound with descriptions of the sorry state of humanity and are filled with eschatological foreboding of the end of civilization.
The solution advocated by Daoists was twofold. On the one hand, Daoists were urged to adhere to a moral and ethical path, which called for following the precepts of the Dao as presented in a number of texts. On the other hand, they championed ritual that would enable humanity to reestablish the original harmony within time. If one were to follow this twofold program, one would be able to change the course of events in his or her favor.In this post I will examine the ritual to summon the Eight Archivists (bashi ), spirits of the Eight Trigrams, which exemplifies working with time in Daoist ritual. This ritual is, first and foremost, a ritual for the mastery of time. I will focus on the ritual for summoning Eight Archivists as it appears in the The Upper Scripture of the Five Ascendant Talismans of the Highest, Limitless Great Way and the Self-Generating Perfect One (hereafter shortened to Five Ascendant Talismans), one of the original Lingbao.Note, that as of yet I’ve not performed this ritual,for it is quite difficult to do correctly,but may write a version of it that is able to be performed without the insane requirements of this one,but not until I try and work this ritual as closely to true form as I can.
In the rite of summoning the Eight Archivists the herb employed, zhang ju , more commonly known as zhanglu, or shanglu , is used for its psychoactive qualities.Modern researchers identify it as Phytolacca acinosa,“Masters of the Dao always plant this medicinal herb in the garden of a Silent Chamber. It leads one to communicate with the spirits.”These effects occur not only when the herb is ingested but also when the roots are carved, as during the preparatory stage of the ritual for summoning the Eight Archivists. At this stage, zhangju roots are carved into human shape, while the adept contemplates the forms of the spirits of the twelve chronograms . This causes the spirits to appear, indicating that the active ingredients may be absorbed cutaneously. Intriguingly, this use of the herb was still known in the early-Qing:
“Those of the left Dao carve the zhanglu root into human shape, and utter incantations to it. It enables one to know calamity and fortune. It is called Spirit of zhanglu. Medical books say to take the leaves of shanglu and dry them in the shade for 100 days. As you pound it, not yet eating it, lie down and think of things which you wish and they will immediately appear by themselves before your eyes. Two aspects are supernatural in these perfect plants, their moving the Yin pneuma and their possibility of imparting much knowledge. Small men will be transformed in a flash. Ghosts and goblins by the hundreds will be expelled.”
As you can see,this has a number of analogs in Western Occultism and ritual,not to mention that south American use of psychoactive Plants,but that’s for another time and post.So here we go….
THE RITUAL FOR SUMMONING THE EIGHT ARCHIVISTS
The ritual begins by marking out the ritual space, which at this stage extends beyond the home:
You must mark, around your home, the eight directions and the twelve chronograms. At each chronogram direction and to the left and right of the gate plant the zhi herbs of spiritual communication, fourteen shoots in total. Take the memorial-like diagrams of the Eight Trigrams to make the Mysterious Cavern Talismans of Numinous Communication at the eight directions. Place the five talismans of ascendance in the center of the room, on the central roof beam.
The ritual space is therefore marked on the outside by the twelve markers of time. Note that at this point these markers of time are outside the home. Inside this circle are placed the eight talismans signifying the trigrams, the Xuandong tong ling fu.The five Lingbao talismans are hung on the central roof beam.
In the next stage the ritual space is moved inside the home: Purify the hall, making it a pure chamber, mark the eight directions and twelve chronograms. Take the zhangju roots, fourteen in all. First, place those of the gate in front of the hall outside the doorpost, so as to forbid the hundred evil spirits from being able to enter and oppose [the ritual]. Then, take the twelve [plants at the] chronogram points, beginning with yin , to the front of the hall. Each is carved into a human [shape]. [Plants on] Yang [chronograms] are to be made into males, [those on] Yin are made into females. Place each inside the hall at their respective chronogram point. At each point dig into the ground, making holes [deep enough] so that their heads are level with the ground.
This completes the emplacement of the ritual space. The instructions now turn to the time element of the ritual:
On the fifth yin day of the vernal equinox, pick orchids and, in the center [of the ritual arena] make an infusion [with the flowers]. Wash [yourself with this]. On the fifth mao day take the brewed chrysanthemum and boil it to a broth, at the place of yin and mao. On the next day pick the zhangju stalks. Just as you are about to pick them, purify the [ground at their] side. Of small mats make fourteen seats for them. Light incense, and worship each with wine and dried meat. Bow repeatedly and say the incantation: “Zhangju beings, of pure and uncorrupt bodies, protectors of the twelve pneumas of the palaces,40 communicators with spirit numina, now I shall unite my spirit officers with you,41 be your companion and travel with you to some famous mountain’s south face. If called you must respond, if asked you must reply. Neither of us is to deceive the other in this [contract]. We join tallies as a covenant.”(Notice the conjuration technique,sounds like something straight out of a 18th century grimoire ,Hmmm?)
After presenting wine, the adept is to carve the roots into human shape, naming them and distinguishing male from female. Now that the twelve images are ready, the ritual enters its climactic stage. This is the first mention of the East Well (Dongjing ) constellation, which marks the beginning of the ritual cycle:
At dawn the next day when the heaven points to East Well, and the sun is before the door, kneel and say to yourself: “Your descendant, so-and-so, has taken this day to bathe.” Then, enter the room and set out the zhangju. At the advent of each of the “days of the five ascendances” take a brush to draw the talisman of the day. Make the five talismans in accord with the method. In ten days you will be finished. Then light incense and sacrifice to each zhangju at its chronogram position. First, using their names call out this incantation: “Lord so-and-so of Numinous Communication. Now, together with you I guard the twelve chronograms.” After sixty days they will respond to you. When the twelve days of sacrifices are over, at the following dawn light incense, and retain in mind the eight Archivists, recalling their surnames and personal names. At the same time take “dried white flowers” powder and ingest a spoonful of it in the hall so as to make your body spirits and the archivists unite in companionship.
This completes the procedure for the first stage in the ritual cycle.
From this point we seem to be entering into the realm of ritual time played out on the divining chart:
At the following occurrences of the East Well day, unfasten the talismans and always take them when you wash. When finished, return and refasten them. The next day, again, take them out according to this model. When all five washings have been completed, a period of 124 days will have elapsed. All the spirits will have arrived. You will have heard their voices or seen their shapes as on the charts. At dawn the next day worship them below the doorpost. The spirits will then speak with you. You must ask the Eight Archivists about seeking the methods of spiritual transcendence and long life. The archivists will enter the heavenly lodgings for you to examine the registers and tell you. If initially you lack a life record on the transcendent registers, and are far removed from transcendence, it is fitting that you cultivate and revere the Archivists, in order to garner wealth and extend your life by three to four hundred years.
As you can see,the final preparatory stage of the ritual is reached when the zhangju plants are harvested and carved into human shape. This part of the ritual proceeds according to a precise timetable. On the fifth yin day after the vernal equinox the practitioner is to prepare an orchid infusion and wash. On the next day, the fifth mao day, he is to boil this infusion and place it between the markers of yin and mao. On the next day the plants are picked. On the following day, defined as the day of East Well, the actual rite of carving occurs and subsequent communication starts.
The day of East Well is a crucial date for the ritual. East Well, a constellation of eight stars in the southern Palace of the Vermilion Bird, is the twenty-second Lunar Lodge.49 In calendrical terms it correlates to the second month of summer, in which falls the summer solstice. The timing of the ritual follows the passage of the sun among the twenty-eight lunar lodges. Depending on the actual day of the sexagesimal cycle on which the spring equinox falls, the fifth yin day after the vernal equinox would fall 51 to 60 days later, almost a month before the summer solstice. Within two days, we are told, the sun rises in East Well. This makes good astronomical sense. Although usually associated with the summer solstice, the East Well constellation actually covers a wide swath of the heavens. The sun enters it a month before the solstice in the median period of the fourth month.
In temporal terms, the constellation covers three fortnightly periods.The ritual of Summoning the Eight Archivists, which incorporated the symbolism of the East Well, demonstrates the synthesizing process by which the Lingbao scriptural and ritual tradition was formed,this shows the Daoists’ rejection of popular practices as theological,and taking a more Left Hand Magical outlook. First, the unity and formlessness of the Dao transcended all popular deities,and it was often thought passe to worship anything at all. Secondly, moral and ethical precepts were intended to transcend the taboos related to demons and ghosts terrorizing the populace. Thirdly, the petitioning ritual that the Daoists used for spirits was to replace popular sacrifices to Gods or Deities.
I will try and cover more on the East Well and The Eight Archivists as I do more study and work with the rite as I understand it (now to find some zhangju roots,anyone is San Francisco want to take a trip to Chinatown for me?),but for now I think that is a good taste of it for the evening.Till next time,Stay gold.
Sources: Nathan Sivin, “Chinese Alchemy and the Manipulation of Time”, Fabrizio Pregadio, “The Representation of Time in the Zhouyi Cantongqi, Nickerson,“Shamans, Demons,Diviners and Taoists”,Marc Kalinowski, “The Use of the Twenty-Eight Xiu as a Day-Count in Early China,David Pankenier,“The Cosmo-political Background of Heaven’s Mandate”.Gil Raz,Time Manipulation.
Copyright 2015 Vincent Piazza