AAS Annual Meeting

China and Inner Asia Session 327

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Session 327: Constructions of Daoist Pantheons and Their Functions in Ritual

Organizer: Poul Andersen, University of Hawaii, Manoa, USA

Chair: John Lagerwey, Ecole Pratique des Hautes Etudes, France

Discussant: Sheng-chih Lin, Academia Sinica, Taiwan (R.O.C.)

This panel is focused on some recent, groundbreaking developments in the study of Daoist ritual in its relation to popular Chinese religion and culture. So far, little attention has been paid to the all-important visual aspect of Daoist ritual. A few books by art historians are currently forthcoming, but like all earlier work in this field, they are entirely based on the holdings of museums and occasionally on illustrations found in printed books. The study of Daoist icons in terms of their ritual functions and meanings to those who use them, has largely been avoided. The proposed panel builds on the Daoist Iconograhy Project, an international database project for analyzing the visual language of Daoism by studying it in context. It addresses some of the basic questions concerning Daoist ritual: Who are the gods being worshipped, and how are they represented concretely and mentally? How have pantheons varied locally and through history? Where are individual gods derived from, and how do they change by being included in a Daoist pantheon? The presenters have based their research both on fieldwork (either in Taiwan or in Hunan) and on textual studies, for instance, in the Daoist Canon and in popular forms of literature normally classified as “fiction” but in reality constituting the basis for popular perceptions of the gods. Each paper will analyze a specific pantheon, focusing on either historical, social, literary, or art historical approaches, and seeking to throw light on it in terms of its ritual functions.

The Pantheon of the Yushu jing and the Gods of Late Song Thunder Rites
Poul Andersen, University of Hawaii, Manoa, USA

This paper is focused on the cult of Puhua tianzun, the supreme Daoist god of thunder who emerged in the twelfth century along with a multitude of new traditions of Thunder Rites, leifa. The main vehicle of Puhua tianzun was the Scripture of the Jade Pivot, Yushu jing from around 1200. Since the fifteenth century it has been produced in a number of lavishly illustrated editions, which, in addition to illustrating the narrative, present a syncretized version of the pantheon of several traditions of Thunder Rites. It will be demonstrated that the specifics of this pantheon is only indirectly related to the text of the scripture, and that it provides a key to the original contexts from which these editions derive. The different functions of the illustrations will be discussed in relation to the special rituals for reciting the scripture, and to Daoist meditation practices in general.

Gods, Patriarchs, and Masters in Living Color: Representations of a Daoist Pantheon from Hunan Province
David Mozina, Boston College, USA

This paper will explore a pantheon that is being invoked by a lineage of Orthodox Unity (Zhengyi) Daoists who currently practice a form of Thunder Ritual (leifa) in central Hunan Province. When interpreted in the living context of the “Invocation of the Sages” (qingsheng ke) rite, the organization of the visual images of the various deities of the pantheon emerges in clear view. We see that the images function not only as representations of the deities recognized by this lineage, but also as visual markers of the bureaucratic relationship between the masters of the lineage and the celestial, earthly, and chthonic deities of the pantheon. The images work within the rite to connect the Daoist officiants with the larger pantheon of gods and patriarchs on whose authority and power they rely to perform any ritual program.

With both feet firmly up in the air: Who controls Zhang Wulang, the controller of demons?
Mark Meulenbeld, University of Wisconsin, Madison, USA

This presentation will explore the topsy-turvy presence of Zhang Wulang, “Zhang the Fifth Lad,” in the local exorcist traditions of central Hunan. The statue of this rebellious god with a baby-face is always placed underneath the altar of the exorcist. Uncommon for Chinese gods, he stands on his hands; with his body upside down he performs the demonifuge acrobatics that have given him the epithet “altar-toppler and cave-turner.” Despite his playful appearance, he is the commander of the local demonic forces, embodied as the Five Furies, Wuchang. I will ask various questions about Zhang Wulang, based on several oral and written versions of his life, as well as observations and interviews in the field. Who is Zhang Wulang? Where does his power come from? What is he expected to do? And, those exorcists who may summon him – what kind of powers do they have? How does Zhang Wulang help us understand the exorcists of Central Hunan? Is he categorically related to other altar-divinities, such as Zhao Gongming, known as “Marshal of the Dark Altar,” and also commander of the Five Furies; or Li Nuozha, known as “Marshal of the Central Altar,” and commander of the Five Camps, wuying?

What pantheon is this? The gods and practices of the Central Scripture of Laozi
Gil Raz, Dartmouth College, USA

The Central Scripture of Laozi is among the earliest texts to present a vision of the human body as a microcosm. The text also presents a complete cosmic pantheon, beginning with the Primordial One and extending to the gods of the body. The names of the spirits included stem from various early sources, including imperial religion, mythical and historical figures, many of which received reverence in popular religion, as well as abstract technical categories stemming from divinatory and calendrical traditions. At several points the text refers to the summoning of particular spirits with specific meditative techniques – yet the overall purpose of the text remains unclear. Intriguingly, several passages in this text overlap with texts of other lineages and practices. This paper investigates several questions: What are the sources of the many gods and goddesses listed in the text? What is their function here? What is the purpose of the text? Which Daoist lineage does it represent? Finally, the paper discusses how the complex vision of cosmic and microcosmic gods and associated practices presented in The Central Scripture of Laozi tell us about the development of medieval Daoism, and about the interaction of Daoism with other traditions.