Ceremonies to Celebrate the Birth of Spirits

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Ceremonies to Celebrate the Birth of Spirits
Assemblies to Entice Spirits
Pilgrimage Times and Temple Fairs

Celebrations of the Divine Birthdays of Deities ( 神誕慶典 Shendan Qingdian ) in Daoist temples often arouses neighbouring folk people's pilgrimage activities. They form a custom and religious festival common to local Daoist circles and local people. Daoism, as the Chinese aboriginal religion, had early absorbed the deities worshipped by the court and by the common people into its pantheon, and thus has natural relations with Chinese folklore. Daoism has many divine birthdays and correspondingly frequent religious and folk activities.

Birthdays of Lofty Deitie

According to the Dates of Divine Birthdays in the Collections of Jade Box Records of Divine Birthdays of Deities ( 《諸神聖誕日玉匣記等集》Zhushen Shengdanri Yuxia Ji Dengji ), there are many divine birthdays every month, and such "lofty festivals" total over fifty in a year. Except for the birthdays of Maitreya ( 彌勒Mile ), the Buddha, Avolokiteshvara ( 觀音Guanyin ) and Dizang Bodhisatva ( 地藏菩薩Dizang Pusa ), which were absorbed from Buddhism, all the others are birthdays of Daoist deities. The following are the divine birthdays of deities listed in the book:

1st month of the lunar calendar

2nd month of the lunar calendar

3rd month of the lunar calendar

4th month of the lunar calendar

  • 18th day: the divine birthdays of the Great Emperor of Purple Subtlety ( 紫微大帝Ziwei Dadi ) and of Grandma Dingshang ( 頂上娘娘Dingshang Niangniang )
  • 28th day: the divine birthday of the King of Medicine ( 藥王Yaowang )

5th month of the lunar calendar

  • 5th day: the divine birthday of Chief Commander Wen
  • 7th day: the divine birthday of Grand Defense Minister Zhu ( 朱太尉Zhu Taiwei )
  • 11th day: the divine birthday of the Chief City God ( 都城隍Duchenghuang )
  • 12th day: the divine birthday of the Duke of Fire ( 炳靈公Bingling Gong )
  • 13th day: the divine birthday of King Guan ( 關王Gaunwang )

6th month of the lunar calendar

7th month of the lunar calendar

  • 15th day: the divine birthdays of the Earthly Official of the Middle Origin ( 中元地官Zhongyaun Diguan ) and of the Perfect Sovereign of Numinous Salvation ( 靈濟真君Lingji Zhenjun )
  • 18th day: the divine birthday of Grandma Queen of the West ( 王母娘娘Wangmu Niangniang )
  • 19th day: the divine birthday of Grand Year God Yin

8th month of the lunar calendar

9th month of the lunar calendar

  • 3rd day: the divine birthday of the Five Plague Spirits
  • 9th day: the divine birthdays of Elder Immortal Ge ( 葛仙翁Ge Xianweng ) and of Haoli
  • 17th day: the divine birthdays of the Spirit of Wealth ( 財神Caishen ) and of the Perfect Sovereign of Great Benevolence
  • 23rd day: the divine birthday of Ancestral Patriarch Sa
  • 28th day: the divine birthdays of Chief Commander Ma and of the Numinous Official of the Five Manifestations ( 五顯靈官Wuxian Lingguan )

10th month of the lunar calendar

11th month of the lunar calendar

  • 11th day: the divine birthday of the Supreme Oneness Heavenly Lord Who Saves From Sufferings ( 太乙救苦天尊Taiyi Jiuku Tianzun )
  • 19th day: the divine birthday of the Deity of Sunlight ( 日光天子Riguang Tianzi )
  • 23rd day: the divine birthday of Immortal Zhang

The book records birthdays until the Ming Dynasty with some later additions. Some local deities aren't included in the book. Due to differences in time and area, the divine birthdays have different influences on local customs. Those whose influence has been enduring and widespread include the Venerable Sovereign, the Jade Emperor, the Great Emperor of the Eastern Mountain, the Earth Spirit, the Kitchen Sovereign, the Three Officials, the Thunder Spirit, the Fire Spirit, the Spirit of Wealth, the Original Sovereign of the Azure Cloud (Grandma Dingshang), the Heavenly Queen (Mazu or the Heavenly Princess, a title given in the Ming Dynasty), the Imperial Sovereign of Zitong (Deity of Wenchang), and Emperor Guan (King Guan, his title before the Wanli Era of the Ming).

Besides, there are many ancestors of different sects, such as patriarch Lu Dongbing, patriarch Qiu Chuji, patriarch Perfect Sovereign Xu of Pure Brightness Sect, etc., whose birthdays are also celebrated.

The dates of divine birthdays come mostly from legend, except for several divined historic people. Wang Qui cites Zhuding Yuwen in his Lihai Ji : "Divine birthdays come from symbolic meanings." "The Jade Emperor was born on the 9th of the 1st month, for Yang numbers begin with 1 and end with 9. The Black Emperor was born on the 3rd of the 3rd month, for 1 bears 2 and 2 bears 3. The Vital Breath of water begins with 1 and grows with 3."

Birthdays of Daoist deities have various origins. Some come from the scripture author and some legends. Daoist circles follow them as rules and in folk people they grow into customs. All are careful for fear of missing the dates. Some moralistic storybooks as the Yuli Zhibao Chao mention divine birthdays and spread widely in the folk people.

Daoists think that merits double if offerings and scripture recitations are conducted on divine birthdays. Folk people often center around some temples and hold some activities as offering fairs and deity processions.

The celebrations differ in influence according to the status of the deities in Daoism and in people's lives. For some high-ranked deities such as the Venerable Sovereign, the Jade Emperor, the Nine Emperors, the Great Emperor of the Eastern Mountain, Patriarch Lu, the celebration custom covers all the country. For some deities closely connected with people's lives, such as the City God, the Earth Spirit, or the Kitchen Sovereign, the celebrations last long. Some deities influence a certain local area, such as the Five Sages south of the Yangtze River, and General Yang Si in the middle and lower reaches of the Yangtze River. Some deities spread to all the country or even overseas. The Motherly Matriarch of Putian, Fujian is a good example. Azure Cloud in the north and the Heavenly Princess in the south are two of the most popular Daoist goddesses.

Among the divine birthdays, that of the Three Officials has the greatest influence. The Three Origin days refer to the Upper Origin on the 15th of the 1st month, the Middle Origin on the 15th of the 7th month, and the Lower Origin on the 15th of the 10th month. These dates, originally the days when the Three Officials examined the merits and sins of people, became their birthdays in legend and thus important festivals. The Three Origin days actually evolved from the three meeting days of early Daoism, inheriting the belief in the Three Officials. The Supreme Pervasive Mystery Numinous Treasure Book on the Merits of the Triple Origins' Commandments says, "The Three Officials of Heaven, Earth and Water govern nine palaces, nine mansions and 120 agencies. They examine the sins and merits of the Three Classes daily and yearly without any mistake. Merits accumulated in the pursuit of Immortality and sins of malicious deeds are examined and written down by concerned officials." The Three Officials originally examined merits and sins on the Three Meeting Days. Except for the Lower Meeting day of the 15th of the 10th month, the Upper Origin day of the 7th of the 1st month and the Middle Origin Day of the 7th of the 7th month aren't full moon dates. Until the Southern and Northern Dynasties, the 15th of the 1st, 7th and 10th months became the days to set up Triple Origin Offerings. Later, the dates became the birthdays of Three Officials. The Three Origin days and the Three Meeting days thus separated. The Three Officials and other subordinate deities were said to "first examine sins and merits on the Three Meeting days and then ascend to the Golden Palace to give people blessings or punishments on the Three Origin days." After examining sins and merits, they ascend to Heaven and report to the Supreme Venerable Sovereign and then give corresponding blessings or punishment. The "Golden Palace" here usually refers to the palace of the Supreme Venerable Sovereign. On the Three Origin Days, Daoist temples often conduct offerings and repentance. These, combined with the folk new year celebration and sacrifices to ancestors and orphans, have become important festivals among the common people.