Nine songs: a study of shamanism in ancient China - Yuan Qu - PDF ebook

Nine songs: a study of shamanism in ancient China 

Nine songs: a study of shamanism in ancient China

From introduction:

In ancient China intermediaries used in the cult of Spirits were called wu.  They figure in old texts as experts in exorcism, prophecy, fortune-telling, rain-making and interpretation of dreams. Some wu danced, and they are sometimes defined as people who danced in order to bring down Spirits. But it is clear that dancing was not invariably a part of their technique, and the idea that they were by definition 'dancers' is perhaps partly due to a popular etymology which equated wu, 'spirit-intermediary' with wu, 'to dance.' 
They were also magic healers and in later times at any rate one of their methods of doctoring was to go, as Siberian shamans do,  to the underworld and find out how the Powers of Death could be propitiated. Indeed the functions of Chinese wu were so like those of Siberian and Tunguz shamans that it is convenient (as has indeed been done by Far Eastern and European writers) to use shaman as a translation of wu. Early references to shamans, though fairly frequent, unfortunately, tell us little or nothing about how they set to work. 

The Spirit talks to or through the shaman, but whether the shaman receives these divine communications when in a state of trance or whether some incorporeal part of him climbs to Heaven and there converses with the deity is not made clear. Nor are we told how one becomes a shaman. There is a second-century B.C. story5 of a woman upon whom a Spirit first descended when she was ill, and it appears that afterwards, it was only during spells of illness that she shamanized. The malady initiatique is of course a common stage in the career of shamans, magicians and saints in many parts of the world, and shamans used often to be described as neurotics by European writers. With this view of them, it is interesting to contrast the following passage from a discourse on the relations between men and Spirits supposed to have been delivered about 500 B.C. 

The shaman, according to this text, 6 is a person upon whom a Bright Spirit has descended, attracted to him because he is 'particularly vigorous and lively, staunch in adher- ence to principle, reverent and just; so wise that in all matters high and low he always takes the right side, so saintly (sheng) that he spreads around him a radiance that reaches far and wide . . . 

This is of course an idealized picture, perhaps intended to apply only to shamans of a Golden Age in the past, such as the famous shaman Hsien (Wu Hsien), a divinized shaman who became one of the principal gods in north-west China, and figures in the famous imprecation of the country of Ch'in against the country of Ch'u, in which the King of Ch'u is accused of 'showing no fear of God on High in his August Heaven, nor of that very illustrious Great Spirit, the shaman Hsien.' But to return to the question of how one becomes a shaman. The frequent expression 'shaman family' (wu chid) seems to suggest that the profession was often hereditary. But in Ch'i (northern Shantung) such an expression would have had no meaning, for there every family was a shaman family: 'among the common people the eldest daughter is not allowed to marry. She is called the "shaman-child" (wu-erh) and is in charge of the family's religious rites. 

This custom still (i.e. c. a.d. 80) prevails.'7 Spirits constantly appear to men in dreams or simply as day-light apparitions and communicate freely, without the aid of a shaman; and the conditions under which they required a shaman as a necessary intermediary are not at all clear. The most striking example of this is the story about the spirit (or ghost, if you will) of Prince Shen-sheng of Chin. In 655 B.C. the Duke of Chin murdered his son, Prince Shen-sheng. In 650, after some years of the sordid scramble for succession, a brother of Shen-sheng succeeded to the Dukedom. One of his first acts was to disinter Shen-sheng and re-bury him without the rites due to a former Heir-Apparent. Shortly afterwards Shen-sheng's spirit descended from Heaven and appeared to one of his former retainers. 

He announced that he had complained to God (Ti) about the new Duke's insulting conduct, and God had promised that to punish the Duke He would cause his country to be conquered by a neighbouring country to the west. The retainer pointed out that it would be fairer if the Duke were punished in some way that did not involve the whole land of China. 'That is true,' said the spirit. T will talk to God about it again.' The spirit then instructed his retainer to go in seven days' time to a certain place in south-western Shansi, where he would find a shaman waiting.

the book details :
  • Author: Yuan Qu
  • Publication date: 1955
  • Company: London,: G. Allen and Unwin

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