1. The Origin of china's Primitive Religious Cults
1. The Origin of china's Primitive Religious Cults (Part 1)
In China's Primitive society, owing to the exceedingly low productivity,
people used to worship almost everything that was directly concerned 'with
man's daily life as well as the natural phenomena which were closely related
to the interests of human beings, and regarded such things as some substances
which have personality and will. Therefore, there were in that society
such practices as nature cult, totem cult, the cult of ghosts and spirits,
occult science and divination.
Besides, the physical features of all these deities are very particular, as they have either "a human face on an ox trunk" or "a human face on a horse trunk," while the Holy Mother of the West "looks like a person but has a leopard tail and tiger's teeth and is capable of roaring." The deities described in the chapter "the Book of the Southern Sea" of that same work are all things like a dragon, a bird or a snake. They are featured by "a dragon trunk with a bird head," "a bird trunk with a dragon head, a human face on a snake trunk," "a beast trunk with a human face" or "a human body with sheep's horns." In describing the sacrifices offered to various deities in the 12th lunar month in accordance with the custom of the Zhou Dynasty in the Book of Rites, considerable space is devoted to the description of the worship of animals which render meritorious services to farmwork. As the primitive people were very much limited in their ability to safeguard themselves, they not only dared not offend but tried their best to win the favor of almost everything, especially those wild beasts which they feared but had no power to tame.
To those good and kind animals, they would try to repay them and express their thankfulness for their useful services. In their daily life, people of antiquity used to deify and worship such wild beasts as the tiger, the leopard and the snake which made them dreadful and fearful and most dangerously threatened their life. In the work A Critical Surrey of the Foik Customs, there are records that in their helpless situation in resisting the attack of wild beasts, the ancients turned to worshiping some fierce beasts in their attempt to borrow power from them to conquer the attacking beasts. It was an ancient belief that the tiger was capable of eating ghosts, and that explains why there used to be the common practice of painting a tiger on the door so that no ghosts dared to enter. And, it was out of the same reason that the tiger's hide and paws were believed to be able to exorcize evil spirits.
The fear harbored by the primitive people for some natural beings made them pray for some supernatural power which could control the disasters. Such a tendency was out of man's sense of dependence. Man's dependence upon the natural world, the social groups and colonies, especially that upon the natural world, would necessarily give rise to the dualism in his ideology. As a result, the natural world was artificially differentiated into good and bad, benefitial and harmful. Measured by human interests, even one and the same creature might be good and benefitial or bad and harmful simultaneously. For the latter, people would embrace fearful sentiments, while for the former, they would cherish rapture and thanksgiving.
The dragon, an unreal animal, came into being from the Tao-pursuing practiceis.
Taoist practitioners can behold such image when they, after a staunch
persistent practice, reach the stage "Harvest True Medicine and Go
Through Three Passes" Such image, once introduced to the physical
world, would stimulate the imagination of ancient people. Judging from
the patterns of the dragon inscribed on the bronzeware and earthenware
in ancient China, the dragon looks very much like a snake with claw. Naturally,
it also bears some resemblance to the dinosaur. According to the explanation
of the dragon carried in the Analytical Dictionary of Characters
compiled by Xu Shen, Eastern Han Dynasty, the dragon is as long as a scaled
snake; it can readily change its features: being bright or dark, fat or
thin and long or short; it goes up to the air on the day of the Spring
Equinox (the 4th solar term) and dips into deep water on the day of the
Autumnal Equinox (the 16th solar term).
Totem cult once was an important practice in China's primitive society.
At that time, it was believed that the existence and reproduction of the
human beings did not depend upon the sexual intercourse between the two
sexes in real life, but instead, they depended upon some totem that entered
the body of the female parent. Such a totem might be an animal, a plant
or even some lifeless thing, all of which were regarded as man's first
ancestors. So, every generation of the clan members was supposed to be
the posterity of the totem worshiped by the respective clan. That is why
people of antiquity used to take their totems and some animals and plants
as their cults and guardians. For instance, the clan headed by Yan Di
worshiped fire as their totem, and the clan headed by Gong Gong worshiped
water as their totem, while the clan headed by Tai Hao worshiped birds
as their totem. Within the clan under Shao Hao which worshiped the pheonix
as their totem, all the posts of the chiefs were named after various birds..
They also included "horse keeper" (si ma) and "space manager"
(si kong), which were interpreted by later-time historians as ''governor''
and ''minister of works'' in accordance with the age they themselves lived
in. Moreover, the ancients deified and worshiped such natural objects
as the sun, the moon, the stars, mountains and rivers, land, rocks, water
and fire. They believed that what was to be worshiped should be useful
and helpful, and in fact, such an idea reflected their dependence on nature.
As people of antiquity had no idea of the physiological structure and the spiritual phenomena such as dream, there were such beliefs as "Everybody becomes a ghost after his or her death" and "All living creatures are bound to death, will be reduced to earth after they die and thus will all become ghosts." It was believed that the soul was independent of the body, and that it left the body after the person's death and was known as "ghost." The rulers of the Shang and Zhou Dynasties believed that the souls of their ancestors were on high attending the Lord-on-High, the supreme god, and that was why the Duke of Zhou, Regent to King Cheng of the Zhou Dynasty, decreed that when a sacrifice was offered to the lord-on-High, the ancestors should he offered concerted oblations. In his work Records of the Historian, Sima Qian mentions the association of worshiping the supreme god on august Heaven with worshiping the sacred souls of the ancestors, and that was the basis for the maxim "Revere Heaven and venerate ancestry."
The ancients believed that they could dominate the dead souls of the members of other clans and those of the members of the sarne clan who died an unnatural death. That was one of the chief ideological sources of the rise of religious Taoism. Clear evidences of such a convention of worshiping ghosts and spirits can be found in the tomb relics and the cultural remains of ancient China. In the ancient graves of the Bempo Clan excavated at Xi 'an, Shaanxi Province, the heads of most of the dead which were laid toward the west, but there are a few heads which were laid toward the east, the south or the north. Moreover, most of the bodies whose heads were laid toward the north were buried in a position of lying prone and with very few burial articles. Besides, there are those who were buried with crooked limbs or broken hones. According to the burial custom of the Bempo Clan, the normal burial position should have been that the body lay on its back with the head pointing to the west. Therefore, those who were not thus buried should have been the dead souls who could not return to the land of their native clans. Analysed in the light of ethnology, such dead souls were all treated as ill spirits. They were buried in different positions so that their souls might be easily dominated. Besides, people who had no posterity would not be offered sacrifice to after their deaths, and it was believed that such souls would haunt and plague the living persons out of their dissatisfaction and complaints. That explains why it was widely belived that only by sacrificing abundantly, could healthiness and peace be secured.
Archaeological data show that during the Shang Dynasty, the custom of
burying living souls together with the dead was prevalent. In such a practice,
the slave-owners' idea of worshiping ghosts and spirits played a particularly
significant role, because they dreamed to continue to be attended like
a despot after they died and entered the nether world. Of this, there
are quite a number of discussions in the book Mo Zi. Furthermore, people
of the ancient times believed that ghosts were able to feel grateful and
could try to requite kindness, while they often embraced resentment and
avenged themselves. For instance, we can read from the classical works
many stories how kindness was repaid by ghosts and King Xuan of the Zhou
Dynasty was shot to death with arrow and bow by ghosts out of their revenge
after he had wronged and had his minister L}u Bo executed.
The book Mo Zi asserts that "Ghosts and spirits do exist," and classifies the ghosts of all ages into three classes, i. e. "there are celestial ghosts, mountain and river ghosts and the ghosts of human beings after they die." No doubt, such an idea of Mo Zi implied his philosophical hypothesis that the worship of spiritual beings would serve to unite the people and win their hearts. Compared with the statement carried in the Book of Changes that "the sage extended his teachings in the name of gods and thus won the whole world," Mo Zi 's confirmation of the existence of ghosts intended for the same result by a different approach. As a matter of fact, the work Mo Zi exerted rather great influence on the rise of religious Taoism in the following ages. For instance, the hook the Philosopher Who Embraces Simplicity by Ge Hong of the Jin Dynasty (265 - 420) absorbed from the Mo Zi such ideas as reverence for Heaven, confirmation of the existence of ghosts, universal love and mutual assistance. Besides, religious Taoists even ascribed some of the occult wiz ardry to Mo Zi the philosopher, whom Ge Hong listed in his work Stories of Immortals as one of the imrnortals on earth. Ge Hong asserted that Mo Zi studied the classics externally, practiced Taoism internally, meditated on the Tao and looked forward to immortality on earth, and then, being granted a divine book by some Divine Man, he became an immortal himself.
That proved that religious Taoism utilized some of Mo Zi 's ideas such
as the reverence for Heaven and the confirmation of the existence of ghosts.
The Taiping Scripture, the well-known earliest Taoist classic, partly
adopted some of the Mohist ideas. In addition, in Ge Hong's Stories of
Immortals, Mo Zi is said to have become an immortal on earth, while in
the chapter "Stories of the Occult Wizardry" of the History
of the Latter Han Dynasty, some of the Taoist arts practiced by such Taoists
as Liu Song, Fei Chang fang and Zuo Ci were all acquired through immortals
or wizards in accordance with Mohism.
There are written records about the worship of the Lord-on-High as early as during the Xia Dynasty. In praising Yu the Great, Confucius says in the Analects of Confucius, "He himself used coarse food, but offered sumptuous oblations to the ghosts and spirits; he himself wore shabby clothes, but prepared resplendent sacrificial robes..." From this, we can see what a respectful and pious attitude Yu the Great had adopted towards the worship of Heaven. According to the Book of History, it was in strict compliance with "the will of Heaven" and "to enforce justice on behalf of Heaven" that the Shang Dynasty had overthrown the Xia Dynasty, which was sinful and guilty. "Heaven orders us to wipe them out, and nobody dares to disobey," they claimed. In the Shang Dynasty, in order to escape from the in ternal troubles and natural calamities, King Pan Geng moved the capital, and the excuse he made for his act was also "to follow the will of Heaven," which could never go against. During the Zhou Dynasty, the Lord-on-High or the supreme god was generally known as "Heaven," "august Heaven" or "God. " Besides, oracle inscriptions show that Heaven was believed to be both in charge of the celestial phenomena and responsible for the good or bad fortune of the earthly world. The chief means of the Shang people to consult the will of Heaven was divination. Such decisions as on waging a war, offering sacrifices, touring, hunting, moving or even giving a banquet had to be made after divination, through which the will of Heaven was supposed to be found out.
In China, occult science had an origin of antiquity and had a very long history. It came into existence as early as in the country's primitive society, when man's ability to conquer nature was exceedingly low and various ideological obstacles resulted from the impact of the religious sentiments. Since man's exertions up on nature did not turn into useful experience, man's cognition of the outside world did not develop in a scientific way, and in stead, it developed visionarily and dogmatically This point found expression in the irnaginary, conventional and rigid occult wizardry. The primitive people feared anything strange and mystic; they only believed in things and ways they had got used to. In such a case, occult science which had some conservative power began to establish itself firmly in the human mind. It covered a very long range and included most of the concerns listed in the classics, including sacrificial affairs such as sweeping graves, visiting the ancestoral temple, sacrifices to Heaven and ancestors; military affairs such as strategies, circumstances, geographical features and tactics; mathematics such as astronomy, the calendar and the five elements; and medical books, medical prescriptions, the art of the chamber and the way to immortality.
The ancients believed that occult wizardry could dispel man's puzzles and predict one's good or ill luck, while wizards could carry on communion with supernatural beings. So, they resorted to wizardry in praying for happiness and averting misfortune. That explains why there are so many discussions ahout occult science in the Confucian classics such as the Book of Songs, the Book of History, the Book of Changes, the Book of Rites as well as in many other classics, histories, philosophies and belles-lettres. All this testifies that occult science occupied an extremely important place in ancient Chinese culture.
Wizards were professional practitioners of the occult arts, were supposed to be able to invite deities to descend onto this earthly world by performing singing and dancing, and what they sang, mostly, was enchanting incantations which were believed to be put through with the spiritual beings. Wizards were believed to be very capable, as they were supposed to be able to exchange messages between the divine and human worlds, move spiritual beings to eliminate disasters and bring happiness, interpret dreams, pray for a timely rain, predict the future, divine by astrology and cure diseases. Therefore, wizardry used to be an indispensible occupation to social life and was believed and practiced for long in the ancient times.
The communicant was a man who was supposed to carry on conversations with ghosts and spirits, and at the same time, was in charge of the ceremonial services and played the part of the master of ceremonies. The divinator was a career man specialized in dispelling others' perplexities and predicting their good or ill luck. Divination was practiced by means of hones or tortoise shells during the Shang Dynasty, while it was practiced with the stalks of milfoil during the Zhou Dynasty. And, there were divinatory officials at the Zhou court who were specially charged with the task of divination.
The Book of Changes was at the time a book used for divination. According to the work, the 8 trigrams, each of which consists of three " (standing for the yang) or (standing for the yin) or both " and "- -" lines, double themselves alternately and thus make 64 hexagrams as divinatory symbols. Based upon such a system, the divinator tried to deduce by inference the good or ill luck in the future. The historian was a special post of the officialdom of the Zhou Dynasty. As history was supposed to record most of the human affairs, all those who served as historians were usually hotter educated. They not only knew well about astronomy, geography, laws and regulations, but were well versed in sacrificial services. Since sacrifice and defence were the most important national affairs, the greatest number of the records made by the historians were concerned with such matters. Besides, the royal historian was also in charge of the calendar. During the period of the Qin and Han Dynasties, although the functions of the imperial historian and the wizard, the communicant and the divinator began to be separated, they still shared something in some way.
It can beseen from what has been discussed above that totem cult, nature cult, the worship of spiritual beings and the worship of ancestry and sages began to exist during the time of the country's primitive society and were the most primal, initial and radical ideological sources, while wizards, communicants, divinators and historians served as the medium of such practices.