Divination

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Divination ( 占卜 Zhanbu ) is very common in China. Divination is a form of folk divinatory calculation ( 術數 Shushu ). When we talk about Divination, we mean that conducted by specialists, to whom common people go for help, and to request their interpretation. In folk society, there are many occasions in which people and their relatives will directly engage in divination. This is true for Miscellaneous Divination ( 雜占 Zazhan ) and for divination on visible phenomena. The most common practise is taking the crow's squawk as a bad omen and the magpie's song as a good sign. People at Wu will cut the Evergreen plant in spring and judge if it will be a good year or a bad year according to its growth. The Evergreen is called the "thousand-year- yun " ("yun " shares the same sound with luck in Chinese). Other popular types of divination in Daoist temples are dream divination and bamboo root divination.

Begging for dreams

Begging for dreams ( 乞夢 Qimeng ) is also called praying for dreams. People go to sleep in a temple and take their dreams there as a god's revelation.


They will judge whether they will have good or ill luck and fortune or misfortune by it. Dream divination is a time-honored custom, its origin going back to primitive society. There are many records of it in ancient scriptures. Both the Chuci and the Book of Mountains and Seas mention that Empress Qi in the Xia Dynasty dreamed of flying to the Celestial Emperor and was bestowed the Nine Songs, and then returned to this world. This shows that ancient people took dreams very seriously and regarded them as omens and revelations of gods or as hints to certain changes. People also believed that the soul left the body in dreams, and could contact with gods and go to where gods dwelled. When ancient people had a dream, they would prognosticate ( 圓夢 Yuanmeng ) by inviting shamans or generally acknowledged persons to interpret their dreams. Oneiromancy was the duty of shamans. The position of dream interpreter was mentioned in the Rites of the Zhou Dynasty. This position belonged to the Great Administration of Spring Officials. The Book of Dream Interpretation ( 解夢書 Jiemeng Shu ) circulated in society. The Daoist Canon also collected some materials related to dream divination. The Extensive Records of the Taping Era has seven volumes of stories about dreams. These materials mainly mention the efficaciousness of dreams and prognostications, with few references to begging for dreams. As an interpretation given after the dream, prognostication is passive. Begging for dreams, however, is an active process. By praying piously, people hope that the gods appearing in one's dreams will foretell good or ill luck and guide one's actions. This depends on one's belief in dreams. The worship of immortals, Buddhas and folk gods are prerequisites. In Taiwan and even in Mainland China, the biggest place for begging dreams is the Temple of Guidance (Zhinan Gong). It once enshrined Lu Dongbin, and contained more than eight hundred guest rooms for people to beg for dreams and get Patriarch Lu's "guidance' in dreams.


Daoism and Buddhism's influence in folk beliefs is evident in begging for dreams. Most of those who go to temples are troubled by something and don't know what to do; they wish that the god will point out the way for them. They are not religious believers in a strict sense.


For the concerned people, what they get from dreams is decisive. Generally speaking, those who go to beg for dreams will never doubt the revelations of dreams, will take its interpretation seriously, and try hard to do what the gods tell them to do. Lu You, the Southern Song poet, wrote a story in the Notes of the Laoxue Studio ( 老學庵筆記 Laoxue An Biji ), vol.1, which reads: "when Li Zhiji was a child, he begged for a dream in front of the god Zitong. He dreamed of going to Tianning Temple in Chengdu that evening. A Daoist priest pointed at the stone of the Weaving Maiden and said: 'if you name yourself after it, you will pass the civil exams.' So Li changed his name to ' stone', and styled himself Zhiji. He did pass the provincial exam that year." Mr.Li changed his name according to the revelation in his dream and made his wish come true. The Imperial Heaven didn't fail to live up his wish.


People would beg for dreams when they encountered trouble. The dreams recorded in books are stories about dreams which have come true. From the stories we can judge that this way of divination must be efficacious. Gong Wei, who lived in the Qing Dynasty, wrote in his Writings in the Wood that: "He Zhuan was the king of Dongchuan. Before he succeeded in his civil exam, he begged for a dream in Patriarch Lü's temple in the capital. In the dream, he was led to one place and there was no door to get out. A god said: 'I will open a door for you.' When a door opened, he saw a god with a blue face who was very much like the worldly drawing of the fourth stellar god in the bowl of the Big Dipper. He was quite surprised when he woke up.' In the civil examination of the year of Kuisi, he actually got the first place in the imperial examination ( 大魁 Dakui )."According to legend, the fourth stellar god in the bowl of the Big Dipper is in charge of scholarly ranks. Whoever circles by him will surely pass the civil exam. He Zhuan dreamed of this god, so it was natural for him to be successful in the exam. Other dreams are very complicated, and it is hard to see their connections superficially.


Even if the connections with actual events may seem far-fetched, the dream will be considered to be efficacious. Once a person went to beg for a dream in famous Ming official Yu Qian's temple, and dreamed that the god's subordinate Xu Di touched his backside. He blamed the just god for being not just at all, allowing his subordinate to engage in homosexuality. Later, this person got a petty official position at Longyang. He suddenly realized that his dream had come true. It turned out that people called homosexuals "Long-yang-xu". His dream had indicated the place where he would get a position. Anyway, such dreams are hard to predict in advance.

Bamboo root divination

In Bamboo root divination, people throw two pieces of bamboo root on the ground and judge their good or bad fortune by the side on which the pieces land. People cut a piece of bamboo root into two. People choose a bamboo root, for it is durable and beautiful. It looks like an open bamboo shoot.


This form of divination has a very early origin; we have not found any historical records of its beginning. It may be inspired by the open or closed hexagrammatic lines of the Book of Changes. Bamboo root divination is mainly practised in temples under a certain god's direction, similar to begging for dreams and casting divinatory sticks. Though it is difficult to date its beginning, the Great Collection of Daoist Skills in the Daoist Canon mentioned using bamboo roots for divination in Zhao Gongming's Ruyi Great Magic of the Golden Wheel.


The operation of bamboo root divination is very simple. First, pray in front of the god and tell him your problem and ask for his guidance, then cast the two pieces of bamboo root on the ground and make a judgment according to whether the pieces land on the obverse or reverse side. There are three possibilities: two obverse, two reverse, and one obverse and one reverse. Two obverse sides are called positive bamboo roots: this result implies neither good nor bad luck. Two reverse sides are called negative bamboo roots, and are a sign of ill luck. The third possibility is called holy bamboo roots or successive bamboo roots, and indicates good luck, meaning that the god has accepted your request.


Bamboo root divination has undergone some changes in its forms of practise. One is to increase the number of throws to two or three times. Casting three times can lead to combinations similar to the Eight Trigrams. Attached explanations make it more systematic. There are twenty-seven appendices to the Records and Pictures of the Stories of the Sacred Heavenly Empress ( 天后聖母志圖 Tianhou Shengmu Jizhi Tu ). The "Negative, holy and holy" means getting to obverse side first, and holy and holy in the second and third throws. The explanation says: " Good. Travel across five lakes with a boat, you wanted to go but hesitated. You can make a living at a certain time, why choose to be a hermit Confucian." There are explanations for bamboo root divination at the back of the efficacious divinatory sticks of the Heavenly Empress and Guanyin. If interested, you may refer to them.

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