Taoist mythology, Lanna history, mythology, the nature of time and other considered ramblings

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Location: Chiangrai, Chiangrai, Thailand

Author of many self-published books, including several about Thailand and Chiang Rai, Joel Barlow lived in Bangkok 1964-65, attending 6th grade with the International School of Bangkok's only Thai teacher. He first visited ChiangRai in 1988, and moved there in 1998.

Monday, August 05, 2013

Minor Taoist Deities

Minor Taoist Deities As Taoism began to develop into a religion, just under two millennia ago, it did as new religions do, and took from older religions. Naiads, dryads, nymphs and demons were embraced, with little change. Lesser gods, of great number, included the usual ones of river confluences, crossroads, mountaintops, shady groves and types of business. These consisted of Hou Tian Shen Ming (gods and goddess that originated from humans who become immortal), the Celestial emperor’s generals, gods & goddesses of constellations and stars (5 constellations and 28 stars), planets (Moon, Venus, Jupiter, Saturn, Mars, Mercury, plus one for Solar Eclipse), plus the Mother of stars, her nine sons (the 9 stars of the big dipper), the Orion Belt God, and the god of the guards in the border between Heaven and Earth. Included were 3 Star Gods of luck, fame and longevity and at least one God of Time. Then there are those who perform work with time, mountains, oceans, the after-death realm, elements, buildings, nature, rains, crops, flood, snow, community and city, who goes to hell or heaven (at least 152 Gods in this category). A few titles: Father thunder God and mother lightning Goddess. Supreme commander of thunder; Great Guardians God; Ri Ye Xun Patrol god of Day and Night; Gui Wang Demon Emperor; Bull General; Horse General. Anything believed to have spiritual power (non-Taoist, usually animist, spiritual protectors, deities or essence-forces of local custom) eventually became a Taoist god: gods of house foundations, of gates or doors, water pipes, kitchens and wells; various City Protectors, with helpers; gods of city rivers and temples, of public safety & warehouses; gods of professions; gods of medicine, who tend to birth, death, old age, longevity, luck, love and emotional attachment; gods who rule over job advancement; gods of wealth (some of whom have ambassadors); gods of the arts; gods of education; a guardian goddess of beds; gods of war, armies and the protection of soldiers; a protector goddess of sailors; gods of farms and fields; gods of carpentry and the paper business; gods of clothing and silk-worms; gods of metal, gold & silver, metal-smithing, the forge and related business; gods of protection from disaster and disease; gods and goddesses of protection for children; gods of protection of deceased spirits; gods to protect people of certain Chinese surnames; and various gods of the underworld (King of Hell, Bai Wu Chang, Bai Wu Chang and many more). Pilgrims and other travelers, penitents, recluses and insane people would, as in other religions and all over the world, have their own particular saints, spirits or overseers.
Dou Mu (Star Mother), Mother of the Plough (the seven stars of the Big Dipper), is generally depicted with three eyes in each of her four faces (one in each major direction). She has four arms on each side of her body. Two of her hands are held together, palm to palm, while the other six hold a sun, moon, bell, golden seal, bow, and halberd. Dou Mu, with her senior position in the hierarchy, can save people from many evils and troubles. She has famous Temples at Tai Mountain in Shandong, at the White Cloud Monastery in Beijing, Qian Mountain in Liaoning, and Weibao Mountain in Yunnan.
Xuan Wu Dadi (Dark Lord of the North, the Lord of True Martiality, North Lord Xuan Wu, Lord Black, or Lord of Black Martiality) ranks in popularity just behind Kuan Yin and Guan Gong. He’s usually depicted in black robes, holding a sword and wearing a jade belt, long black hair flowing freely down his back. Proper depictions of Lord Xuan Wu always include a tortoise and a snake, sometimes beneath one of his feet. He’s able to control the elements, capable of great magic, and particularly worshipped by those wishing to avoid fires (and also Chinese martial artists). He’s the ‘patron saint’ of Wudang Mountain in China's Hubei Province, where he allegedly attained immortality. The name “Wudang” roughly translates as “only Xuan Wu deserves it.”
Tai Yi Jiu Ku Tian Cun (Heavenly Worthy Tai Yi, the Savior from Suffering), one of Taoism's most important Gods, rules the 10-stage Taoist Hell. After death, all human souls must appear before Tai Yi and be sentenced. He’s is depicted riding on a nine-headed lion, generally carrying a vase in his left hand and sword in his right. The vase is filled with a cleansing holy water used to deflect any bitterness or wrong-doing to people he sees as good, the sword used to subdue monsters and demons, and to punish the wicked, meeting out justice. Tai-yi ”The Supreme One" is also known as Da-yi "the Great One." During the Han Dynasty, Tai-yi was part of a triad (San-yi) but became a personified deity, one assisted by Siming, Ruler of Fate. Tai-yi dwells in the polar star, with the five legendary emperors (rulers of the cardinal points) his subjects. He’s venerated with the god of the sun. For the Inner Deity Hygiene School of Taoism, he’s the most important deity within the human body. He’s also called the Qing Xuan Shang Di (“Black Abstruse God’). When people die, it’s his job to decide where the spirits should stay.
Qiu Chu Ji (1148-1227) was a famous monk in the Jin and Yuan Dynasties. Born into a peasant family, Qiu went to Shandong as a teenager to study Taoism. Wang Chong Yang, the founder of Quanzhen Taoism, was then teaching Taoism in Shandong, and Qiu became one of Wang's seven students (the subject of the story “Seven Taoist Immortals”). After Wang's passing, Qiu founded the Longmen (Dragon Gate) sect of Quanzhen Taoism. Qiu's relationship with the Mongol Emperor's ensured governmental support of Taoism, and enabled him to found Beijing's White Cloud Monastery. When Qiu became an Immortal, his physical body was buried in a Temple in the White Cloud Monastery.
T’Shai-Shen, The God of Wealth presides over a vast bureaucracy with many minor deities under his authority. A majestic figure robed in exquisite silks, even atheists worship him. Although possessed of no cult, the God of Wealth is one of the most popular Taoist Gods. Historically poor China gladly worships this wealth-giving Deity. In modern China people continue to worship the God of Wealth, and businesses across East Asia routinely maintain an altar in his honor. Every lunar New Year the God of Wealth descends from Heaven to inspect his followers. Chinese people across Asia eat dumplings this day, as they’re thought to resemble ancient ingots of precious metal. The God of Wealth is welcomed on New Year's night in accordance with a geomantic almanac. Most images include a long white or black beard, and smiling countenance. He frequently wears a broad, heavy belt and a hat with protruding rectangular earpieces.
Ch’eng-Huang is God of moats and walls. Every village and town had its own Ch'eng-Huang, most often a local dignitary or important person who on death was promoted to godhood. His divine status is revealed in dreams, after gods make the actual decision. Ch'eng-Huang protects the community from attack and sees to it that the King of the Dead doesn’t take any soul from his jurisdiction without proper authority. Ch'eng-Huang also exposes evil-doers in the community itself, usually through dreams. His assistants are Ba Lao-ye and Hei Lao-ye - DayWatchman and NightWatchman.
Tsao Wand is God of the Hearth. Each year Tsao Wand reports on each family to the Jade Emperor; the family has good or bad luck during the coming year according to this report. Tsao Wand’s wife records everything spoken by the family! A paper image representing the hearth god and his wife is offered incense, burned for them daily. When it’s time for his report to the Jade Emperor, sweetmeats are placed at his mouth, the paper burned, and firecrackers lit to speed him on his way.
Tu-Ti local gods are minor gods of towns, villages and even streets and households. Though hardly the most important gods in the divine scheme, they’re quite popular. Usually portrayed as kindly, respectable old men, they see to it that the domains under their protection run smoothly. In traditional China, every village had a shrine to a local Earth God, who was in charge of administering local affairs, primarily agricultural and weather-related. These Gods weren’t all-powerful, but rather modest Heavenly bureaucrats to whom individual villagers could turn in times of need, famine, drought, etc. Often called “Grandpa,” which reflects his close relationship to the common people, Tu-ti typically wears a black hat and red robe.
Yeng-Wang-Yeh, Lord Yama is the greatest of the Lords of Death, judge of all souls newly arrived to the land of the dead. He decides whether to send them to a special court for punishment or put them back on the Wheel of Transmigration. Man Cheung (Wen-chang in Putonghua), is said to have been a handsome man of Szechwan during the T’ang Dynasty. After several reincarnations, he was deified in the Yuan period, 1314 CE. It’s said he transformed himself 98 times, wrought numerous magnificently wonderful effects, promoted all three national religions (Confucian, Buddhism and Taoism), and equals in authority the 3 rulers of heaven, earth, and sea, and assists those seeking office, or taking examinations.
The 3 Mao Brothers, Mao Ying, Mao Gu, and Mao Zhong, were born at Jun Qu Mountain in Jiangsu Province 150-141 BCE. When Mao Ying was 18, he ran away to Heng Mountain in Shanxi Province to practice Taoism. After 31 years he returned, with miraculous healing powers. His brothers, government officials at the time, saw Mao Ying's level of cultivation, and decided to dedicate themselves to the Taoism he preached. The three earned fame as mystics and healers, and are believed to have ascended to Immortality. After their physical deaths Jun Qu Mountain was renamed Mao Mountain, in their honor. A Mao-shan Sect started in the 4th century CE, offering special mediumistic and visionary communication with Taoist divinities.
WenChang is God of Culture, patron saint of scholars, students, and bureaucrats. He’s depicted as a stern mandarin in formal dress. He sits in judgment on mortal men, writing his verdict in the Cinnamon Record (a constantly updated ledger of people and their fates as ordained by Heaven and modified by human action). Wen Chang has been worshipped for over two millennia as a constellation of six stars near the Big Dipper. The Cult of Wen Chang was once one of China’s largest, and persists throughout the Chinese world.
P’an-Chin-Lien is Goddess of prostitutes. After her husband died, she saw little reason to remain faithful… she became “much too liberal and inventive with her favors” and her infuriated father-in-law killed her. Her more professional associates (professional for charging money, anyway) honored the tragedy of her death, and eventually she rose to be the goddess of sexual entertainers.
Songzi Niang Niang is an ancient Goddess involved with childbirth. If a woman couldn’t become pregnant after years of marriage, she’d pray to Songzi Niang Niang, and take some ash from an incense burner at a temple to her, mix it water and drink it, bringing the Goddess’s power into her own body, trying to relieve her infertility. Men pray to Songzi Niang Niang for sons.
Yao Wang is patron of healers, famous as a physician during the Sui and Tang Dynasties. As Medicines King, he often has long sleeves and the walking stick of a wandering Taoist.
Zhong Kui is popular Deity believed to drive away ghosts and evil fortune, while also bringing good luck and success. He’s depicted as a large warrior with wild beard and sword for use in his duties. He has ghosts following him as servants, and also bats (a symbol of luck). Stories recount Zhong Kui's adventures in taming evil; traditional people hang his picture in their doorways on the 5th day of 5th lunar month, and on lunar New Year's eve.
Zhang Sanfeng was a Ming Dynasty Immortal credited with inventing the martial art of taiji quan. He’s regarded as a founder of internal martial arts, and worshipped at Wudang Mountain.
Heavenly Master Zhang, officially named Zhang Dao Ling, was a powerful Taoist mystic said to have founded institutionalized Taoism in 141 CE. In that year he founded the Five Pecks of Rice Sect, dedicated to a somewhat socialist society worshipping Taoist Gods through spirit-writing, mediumship, and other occult practices. The Five Pecks of Rice Sect eventually grew into one of Taoism's most popular sects, and remains active throughout the world of Chinese influence.
60 Year Cycle Gods: many know of Chinese astrology’s simple 12-year animal cycle, but Taoism's calendrical system is much more complex, with an overlapping rotation of ten “heavenly stems” and twelve “earthly branches.” In this 60-year cycle, each year in this cycle is ruled by a particular Deity; the ruling Deity in your birth year is your ‘guide’ or ‘guardian angel.’ Children born to any of these Deities (born in the time they rule) are believed to exhibit similar, and particular, characteristics. One 60 years cycle god is the Grand Duke of Jupiter rotation.

These Gods have changed over time, in the way of myths. Such progressions can also be seen as cycles, spirals, or recurrent dreams with but focus, mood or some details altering according to the needs of those who might listen. Modern trivializations by Shanghai’s Western capitalists of the 20s and 30s (anxious to diminish all things Chinese), and Fantasy game players today, show but some of the many facets of this process.

Secrets and the Greater Good.

Secrets and the Greater Good.

As early humans increased in number, they diverged into various tribes, and developed colorful, distinctive characteristics: in language, games, clothing, food and religion. Many could be chiefs, and more could think, and explore for themselves, this way. People also feuded and fought, and limited themselves. Only a few could attain personal independence, with social knowledge and also ability to find food and adequately fend for themselves. Around some of these grew cults, and misunderstandings.
What is it that sets people apart? Why must we have feelings of envy, jealousy, resentment, and even avarice? Why is it hard to achieve the dignity to which we are taught to aspire? Is there a general basis for respect? What is Good? To fly, to dive and underwater witness spectacular beauty, to excel and inspire others, to come in out of the rain and help others do so as well, to fully satisfy appetite and exchange smiles… to gain, to share, to profit from interaction, is good. But, one comes to wonder, do secret understandings the world’s top people have access to, contribute to, or detract from, the dignity they hope to be seen having, and might well wish more fully to possess?
As alchemic herbalists’ knowledge advanced, it grew more esoteric. Much as many “Taoists” misunderstood the message and sought grandeur (immortality), some who actually learned longevity techniques sought other kinds of grandeur. By living long enough, and seeing things at least partly in the genuine Taoist way, recurrences, cycles and repeat patterns in human events started to became somewhat comprehensible, accessible, usable, and even manipulable. But, as ever, after pride came fall.
The Assassins of the Old Man in the Mountain, the Knights Templar, Rosicrucians, etc. are certainly no longer with us, except in name. New cliques of powerful conspirators with various capacities incomprehensible to the multitudes (through access to wide and specific information, training in mass-manipulation, the power of massive money and great connections – we need not stoop to belief in shape-shifting extraterrestrial magic a la extreme conspiracy theorists such as David Icke!) now wield their Pride; soon they too will fall. Did any of these really have life-enhancing knowledge? Have happy Hunza people ever really had “the longest lifespan in the world” (20-140 years, with virtually no cancer, degenerative disease, dental caries or bone decay)? Did cardiologists Dr. Paul D. White and Dr. Edward G. Toomey really claim, in the American Heart Journal for December, 1964, that 25 Hunza men, “on fairly good evidence, between 90 and 110 years old,’” had not a single sign of coronary heart disease, high blood pressure or high cholesterol? Apparently so, although others cite a life expectancy of 53 years for men and 52 for women.
The Tao te Jing is hardly a book of aphorisms of anti-aging advice. It’s about wisdom, and how it operates. “The Sage” does this, “the sage” does that. The sage, who has become separated from what others cling to, is going to be a certain way, and that isn’t about preference. It’s about how things work. “To be full, become empty” isn’t advice, a recommendation, a sign-post an author wants all to follow… it’s a statement, a warning, or perhaps a kind of notice or disclaimer. It says, to gain wisdom you must give up much. More than most should do. The Sage does not advise all to become sages. “Recognize good and evil is born.” The Sage does his work, but sets no store by it.
The course of human events, even in historical times, has always had more to do with habit and misapprehension than with decisions (plans, strategies, loyalties, trading patterns etc). Much results from the irrational: fear, greed, hate, wanderlust and bragging. Little more has resulted from fine, pretty, evocative words than dreaming and temporary mayhem. And especially, heirs to great money have done the course of human history little benefit. It’s not been individual personality that has mattered, but mass delusion, and emotional tide.
The Tao to Jing is for a privileged few, with talk of immortality a motivating carrot to lead on the mule (the greater populace). Alchemy never came anywhere close to matching the little power science has had, but fabulous tales have always garnered attention (and often helped in the maturation process, too).
250 years and more ago, during historical times (the era of which we have records with individual names and associated dates and places), families with control of armies owned most of what could be owned. They exerted great influence over much else, and still do. What they didn’t have authority over, they once considered too wild to be bothered with, but now have started to perceive need of. Such families certainly understood the world and its workings differently than others, and had knowledge unavailable to those they considered their lessers. As early trade developed, more going longer distance, new forms of authority, knowledge and control developed. Merchant clans became wealthy, but seldom got control of armies. To protect their position, they developed hoards of secrets.
With information available, it’s possible to accept that there really have been cults, or other groupings, which enabled some privileged people, even long ago, to achieve life-spans much, much longer than average, just as it’s possible to believe in the wisdom of the tiny minority leading humanity to total destruction. People able to take good advantage of beneficial herbs and exercises, and a healthy diversity of food-types, could easily have achieved life-spans well over twice as long, on average, as those of people amongst whom they traded. Such longer-lived people might have accumulated, and transmitted within their group, valuable knowledge. Or perhaps they only pretended to.
The purported assassins of the Old Man in the Mountain (Hasan-I Sabbah of Alamut, Southern Persia), 750 to 1000 years ago, were given lengthy training, then expected to travel to, and remain productively in, their place of advantage, a long time. Some are claimed to have abided unobtrusively over 20 years before carrying out orders to assassinate the individual to whom they cultivated proximity, though at that time people in their forties were considered old. The Old Man in the Mountain somehow expected his assassins to remain strong enough to accomplish their tasks, even after much time and trouble. Many believed him to have transmitted to them understandings to which most others have not had access. Did Knights Templar gain longer than average life-spans? Given their success over 175 years, it’s easy enough to believe that ones who didn’t die violently did… As have many nobles, in many places and times.
It’s sensible to accept that early trading societies and esoteric cults intentionally influenced human societies towards increased tribalism, provincialism and even mutual antipathy. This viewpoint, well developed, might help explain much about mysteries of money, religion, migrations and fears of conspiracy.
Or not, as whatever of such secrets as were, have been kept much better than most secrets are reputed to be! Still, if ancient gold of the Israelites were to be analyzed to pinpoint place of origin, it shouldn’t be surprising to find much came from Mexico. Traces of cocaine and tobacco have reportedly been found in the noses of Egyptian mummies. Basques from the upper Iberian Peninsula were fishing off the coast of Nova Scotia long before Columbus; and doing well by it. Phoenicians and Armenians engaged in extensive sea trade well before the voyages European histories make so much of. Armenians with boats carrying as many people as in a large town of their time and place sometimes came home to a country completely separated, removed from its location when they left. Yet they successfully carried on! Long ago Chinese, Malays and Pacific Islanders traveled intercontinental distances, surely with knowledge of winds, currents and tides which they went to great lengths to keep private. People engaged in trade have need of secrets. They do not try to teach any general public to do as they do.
Language barriers, separating different cultures traders go between, help maintain the traders’ lucrative position. Members of restricted clans, cults, and secret societies feel assured of privilege and plenty by filling perceived or real needs. This was easiest when they could appear to offer luxury without presenting any threat. At the time markers became necessary – cowry shells, cocoa beans or large rocks like millstones – there was already a prevalence of deception in the conduct of those who introduced such markers. Before this business started, mankind may not have been so clannish, or divisive, much as the tale of the Tower of Babel suggests.
Through such understanding of history, limited though it is, we can better understand our general failure to truly share. The good of society in general, and especially the ‘need’ of its lowlier members to understand, has seldom seemed, to its most successful and informed members, to be to their own greatest good. Most importantly, to a greater extent than they have been about selfishness, secrets kept have been about survival. Without proper acculturation, socialization and experience, common, “expendable” folk would find no meaning in them, nor even understanding enough to pass such secrets on. And certainly there isn’t room for too many decision-makers.
But hasn’t selfishly unshared success become rather worse than being a big fish in a small pond, or king of a rubbish heap? Depends on what one thinks of one’s limits, and one’s exclusive group, it must be supposed. Such restriction hardly seems what an attuned mind would aspire to. Confidence does not hoard, nor deceive. Are we here to replicate, originate, tend a garden or simply seek gratification? Is intelligence part of life’s striving to respect itself? Might not success at bettering ourselves bring even better things, still unimagined? Clearly, humanity can do more than it has done. To do so would involve co-operation, even general sharing. It may not be foolish to quite actively heed warnings of looming disaster of so many kinds, and to look wherever possible for new ideas, guidance, leadership and chance for working together to save the belief that there will be a future worth living.
Dignity, as a concept, must involve co-operation. Classy titles, wardrobes and secrets have sufficed long enough. Our world might expand, if our concepts really do. Considering the variety of problems incumbent to inter-generational transfer of almost anything (much is lost in translation, as it were), every bit as much important information may have been inadvertently lost as has been lost through the burning of libraries. Dynasties have disappeared, guilds too; even religions. The secrets of animal breeders, chefs, perfumers and fund-raisers are small compared to those of actors, directors, publishers, and doctors; and nothing compared to those of politicians and their “national security” state secrets. Certainly these secrets could add to our general understandings, but clearly, these understandings will remain, for now, limited.
Lost knowledge and understanding should hardly be irretrievable, although that some might be, is conceivable. But once hope for the future is lost, all is gone, quite irretrievably. And, I submit, without this Earth to live on, not even religion offers hope.
No need now for intellectual “property,” or for fame and fortune, nor even for power. With everything disintegrating beneath us, what value do they have? We need now only wisdom, insight, and willingness to do what we can to clean up the mess we’ve made. It might help to remember the words of Karl Mannheim in Ideology and Utopia (1936), “Strictly speaking it is incorrect to say that the single individual thinks. Rather it is more correct to insist that he participates in thinking further what other men have thought before him.”
Confusion about Khazars and Prester John, about Aryans, Tatars and tartars and Dervishes, results from these secrets kept for the preservation of power. This syndrome continues to obstruct the effectiveness of education, and thus social stability, harmony and justice. But gaining insight into Tao can help ameliorate this! J.K. Rowlings says in a Harry Potter book, “If you want to know what a man’s like, take a good look at how he treats his inferiors, not his equals.” Of course, some of us don’t have inferiors…
Immortality, like all else (perhaps even the mess we’ve made, but it hardly seems wise to count on that one), is illusion. There is only today, the work before you now, the love you share, and bits and pieces of memory. We are blessed with little more, but it is no matter. A full life can indeed be full!