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Daoist temples usually prepare divinatory sticks ( 籤筒 Qiantong ), which are put in divinatory stick holders ( 籤條 Qiantiao ). Divinatory sticks are usually made of bamboo. Believers one randomly by shaking a container of sticks until one falls out. They then judge the implications and the god's intention by interpreting the sentences on the stick. For simple operations, divinatory sticks in modern Daoist temples are separated into two parts. After people get a divinatory stick, they get a corresponding divinatory paper with poems on it. To get a divinatory stick, people should hold the stick holder, pray in front of the deities, and then shake the holder until one divinatory stick falls out. This one is thought to be bestowed by god. People like to cast divinatory sticks to predict their fortune in Daoist temples. This is a very common activity.
The origin of the appearance of casting divinatory sticks in Daoist temples was at the end of the Tang Dynasty. It soon spread to all shrines, temples and monasteries. It is hard to ascertain the exact beginning of casting divinatory sticks, but their earliest appearance can be dated to the end of the Tang Dynasty. During the Five Dynasties, the child Lu Duoxun, was brought to Yunyang temple by his father to study with other kids. There were some divinatory sticks on a discarded altar. The kids got the sticks and played with them. At that time, Lu couldn't read many words, so he took a stick home and showed it to his father. The poem on it read: "One will get the position of prime minister, will ascend to immortality at fifty-two, and turn out to be a guest at Penglai." His father thought it was an auspicious sign and was very glad about it, so he kept that divinatory stick. Lu did become a prime minister. He once asked his subordinate to connect with Qin emperor Ting Mei. After this event was revealed, he was sent into exile in the South and died at Zhu Ya at the age of fifty-two. His life experience fit the poem exactly (Please refer to Shi Wenyin's the Pure Talk of the Jade Kettle, vol.3.) ( 玉壺清話 Yuhu Qinghua ) The Five Dynasties didn't last long, and Lu Duoxun lived at the end of the Tang Dynasty. He found the divinatory stick holder when he was a child, so we can conclude that divinatory sticks must have appeared before that time.
Daoist divinatory sticks were widely accepted. Later, Buddhist temples and folk shrines all had divinatory sticks.
Divinatory sticks are mainly named after the patron gods of each temple
Divinatory sticks' predictions are the patron god's revelations. Sentences on the divinatory sticks are thought to be the god's instructions, revelations and prophecy. Therefore, divinatory sticks are generally named after the name of a certain god names, and they are called the Efficacious Sticks ( 靈籤 Lingqian ) of the god. Chinese are polytheistic, so divinatory sticks have many names. Theoretically speaking, there are as many kinds of divinatory sticks as there are gods worshipped in temples. The actual situation is different, however. But it is easy to find out various kinds of divinatory sticks in one place at one time. Seventy years ago, Rong Zhaozu collected eighteen kinds of divinatory sticks in different temples seventy years ago, including sticks named after Emperor Guan, the City God, the Earth God, Hua Tuo, Duke Kang, the Highest Emperor, the Sagely Emperors of the Three Worlds, Patriarch Lü, the Great Numinous Emperor of Medicine ( 醫靈大帝 Yiling Dadi ), the Great Emperor of the Sacred Mountain of the East, the Heavenly Empress, the Stellar Sovereign of Wealth, Guanyin, etc. (Cf. Origin of Divination ( 占卜的源流 Zhanbu Di Yuanliu ) (70in the Gushi bian). As far as the temples which offer divinatory sticks are concerned, most of them are Daoist temples or folk temples which were later integrated into Daoism. What Rong collected were modern divinatory sticks. The Daoist Canon collected Ming or earlier divinatory sticks. The Efficacious Divinatory Sticks of the Four Sagely and Perfected Sovereigns ( 四聖真君靈籤 Sisheng Zhenjun Lingqian ) may belong to the Yuan Dynasty, for the four sagely generals Tian Peng, Tian You, Hei Sha and the Guardian Sage ( 佑聖 Yousheng ) were popular in the Northern and Southern dynasties and less influential in the Ming Dynasty. The Guardian Sage General's position got increasingly higher since the Yuan Dynasty and was promoted to the position of Emperor of the Mysterious Northern Heaven in the Ming Dynasty; therefore, the divinatory sticks named after the Four Sages probably appeared in the Song Dynasty. Scriptures about Emperor Guan sometimes mentioned the Efficacious Divinatory Sticks of the Mysterious Northern Heaven. The Efficacious Divinatory Sticks of the Perfect Sovereign of Numinous Aid ( 靈濟真君靈籤 Lingji Zhenjun Lingqian ) certainly appeared in the Ming Dynasty, the two Perfect Sovereigns became popular during the reign of Yongle. Other divinatory sticks such as the Efficacious Divinatory Sticks of the Sacred Midwife Mother ( 房聖母靈籤 Weifang Shengmu Lingqian ) are harder to date. Most modern temples also have divinatory sticks whose names are the same as the temples or the gods in whose shrines they are cast.
Belief in the Zhenwu Emperor was very popular in the Ming Dynasty, and so was his credibility. Gu Qiyuan lived in the Ming Dynasty. His book Records of the Guests Chatting ( 客座贅語 Kezuo Zhuiyu ), vol.7: Efficacious Divinatory Sticks of the Mystery Emperor ( 玄帝靈籤 Xuandi Lingqian ) reads: " There is a Temple of the Mystery Emperor. Legend said that his sacred image was enshrined in the tower over the Northern city gate and moved to this temple later. This temple offers divinatory sticks; they are too efficacious to record. People pray wholeheartedly, the god always knows the believer's secret and predicts their good or bad fortune. It is as efficacious as speaking to the person face to face. He has never failed me whenever I have something to pray. In the year of yiyou, my four-year-daughter was sick. I prayed, and it replied: a small child is always troubled by illness; she will surely return her bones to the barren hill. She truly did die soon. I was sick in the year of gengzi and prayed in March. The stick replied: it is better not to waste time on medicine. When I prayed in April, the stick said: the disease gets worse, the people are as lean as a rake. This turned to be true later. I prayed in May, the stick reported: today you will get good news. I got a little better that day. When I prayed in June, the report went: Spring comes to the withered tree. My muscles began to grow that month, and I gradually returned to my former health. I once said that the god rewarded me as the sound follows the noise. I cannot forget his secret blessing even today. It also has unbelievable efficaciousness when other friends pray to him."
We will not attempt to explain such efficacy here. But we want to point out that the god's prestige deepens people's belief in the divinatory sticks, which themselves further deepen people's belief in the god. Hence belief in divinatory stick became ingrained in society, and its spread has never come to an end. From the Qing Dynasty to modern times, Guanyin, Lu Dongbin and Emperor Guan have been very popular in folk belief. People also believe more deeply in divinatory sticks named after them. These sticks have been improved and revised over hundreds of years, allowing their forms to gradually become complete. Take Emperor Guan's divinatory sticks as an example. There are one hundred poems ( 籤詩 Qianshi ) with an extra king divinatory stick. Each of the divinatory stick has a title, which comes from history, myth and legends, novels and operas. The end of each poem is followed by a" holy intention", ""Dong Po's interpretation", "Bixian's Commentary", etc. Interpretations are attached to illustrate the poems. They were not composed by one person at one time. There was once a Hall for the Old Man of the Moon beside the West Lake at Hangzhou. It enshrined a god who was thought to be responsible for marriages in the world. Those who went there were mainly the unmarried individuals. So someone collected poems for the Old Man of the Moon from related poems, ci, and songs in history and from scriptures like the Four Books. Here is the first poem: "Singing is a waterfowl, dwelling at the riverside; Lovely is the good lady, a fit bride for our lord", from the Book of Poems. Number fifty-five is the last one, which says that " We wish all the lovers in the world will become family dependents in the end", from the Stories of the Western Chamber. These words express peoples' good wishes for marriage. Besides, they are very interesting, too. To cast divinatory sticks is a Daoist activity among the masses and has developed into a custom in some places. The Temple of Immortal Huang is very typical in this aspect. The Temple of Immortal Huang is a Daoist temple as well as an attractive scenic spot. What is special at this temple is that there are lots of divinatory stick-seekers, and people come there together in crowds. People even make a living by interpreting divinatory sticks. Divinatory sticks in other temples attract numerous followers, too. For common people, whether the divinatory sticks are efficacious or not is less important, but those who interpret the divinatory sticks ( 解籤 Jieqian ) should be efficacious. As the content of the divinatory sticks mainly appears in the form of poems, their implications are not clear. So the people demand interpretation. The interpreters in the Daoist temples are Daoist priests. When they interpret the meaning of the divinatory sticks, they also suggest some insightful understandings of life, so that the interpretation is somewhat didactical.
- Burning Joss Sticks and Worshipping Spirits
- Decorating Lanterns at the Lantern Festival
- The Festival of the Spirits of the Dead
- Hanging Up Zhongkui's Pictures and the Realgar Wine
- Divination by Drawing Lots
- Planchette Writing
- Pure Offerings for the Supreme Peace
- Offerings for Prolong Life
- Daoist Funeral Rites