Finger Gestures

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Finger Gestures, which are designated by quite a number of different names, are another one of the basic forms of Daoist Skills. Finger Gestures involve pinching certain parts of the hand or palm with the thumb, or constructing certain fixed gestures with a couple of fingers. It is thought that by so doing, the Daoist can inspire the spirits and destroy the ghosts. Together with Pacing the Dipper, it has become one of the basic Daoist skills and Daoist religious practices.


Daoists make appropriate Finger Gestures when they hold the following rituals: reading Daoist scriptures; reciting incantations; Pacing the Big Dipper; setting up altars; invoking the divine generals; practising Vital Breath Incantations; arresting evil spirits at large; curing illnesses; praying for happiness; and offering sacrifices to avoid disasters or dispel spirits. The Supreme Essential Secret of General Perfection to Help the Empire and Save the People ( 《太上助國救民總真秘要》 Taishang Zhuguo Jiumin Zongzhen Miyao ) says that Daoists must make Finger Gestures when they walk, inquire about illnesses, harness devils, enter temples, cross rivers, go into mountains, and write talismans.


Finger gesture making has been passed down together with the art of Vital Breath Incantations since ancient times. In the course of the development of Daoism, Daoists changed and corrected the original Finger Gestures, basing themselves on the Daoist Pantheon ( 神譜 Shenpu ) and theories of Daoist skills, so that finger gesture making became a comprehensive system.

The content of Finger Gestures is the essential element for making them

This refers to certain points on the palm or on the joint of the finger that represent the Dipper, the 12 - hour periods, the Nine Palaces and the Eight Trigrams, and the 28 constellations. Among the nine joints of the three fingers ( the index finger, the middle finger, and the ring finger), the middle joint of the third finger represents the center of the Nine Palaces, and the rest of them refer to the Eight Trigrams. The corresponding joint implies the content of the specific trigram. According to the positions of the post-existent Eight Trigrams, the root of the fourth finger implies the Qian Trigram, which is the first of the Eight Trigrams. From the second to the fifth finger, each of the joints indicates one of the 12 - hour periods. When a Daoist pinches a certain position, it symbolizes that he controls the Eight Trigrams, the 12-hour periods, and the 28 constellations. The ancient people often used Finger Gestures to represent the functioning of the universe, the mystery of nature, the positions of space, and the changes of time. Therefore, as the Book of Secret Correspondence states, by making Finger Gestures, the Daoist feels that the universe and the transformations of things are under his control, and a contracted scene of the universe is visible on his hand. Usually the practise of a simple type of Finger Gesture involves pinching one finger joint, but complicated ones involve pinching different finger joints simultaneously. For instance, when flying over the Dipper, the ritual master must pinch promptly the seven finger joints that symbolize the seven stars. Sometimes he has to use several fingers together with his palms, even with his two hands.


Below are listed the Finger Gestures of the 12 - hour periods:

  • Zi: pinch the joint between the fourth finger and the palm with the thumb.
  • Chou: pinch the joint between the middle finger and the palm with the thumb.
  • Yin: pinch the joint between the index finger and the palm with the thumb.
  • Mao: pinch the first joint of the index finger with the thumb.
  • Chen: pinch the second joint of the index finger with the thumb.
  • Si: pinch the end of the index finger with the thumb.
  • Wu: pinch the end of the middle finger with the thumb.
  • Wei: pinch the end of the ring finger with the thumb.
  • Shen: pinch the end of the little finger with the thumb.
  • You: pinch the second joint of the little finger with the thumb.
  • Xu: pinch the first joint of the little finger with the thumb.
  • Hai: pinch the joint between the fifth finger and the palm with the thumb.

And below are the Finger Gestures of the Eight Trigrams and Nine Palaces:

  • Qian: pinch the joint between the fourth finger and the palm with the thumb.
  • Kun: pinch the second joint of the ring finger with the thumb.
  • Kan: pinch the joint between the middle finger and the palm with the thumb.
  • Li: pinch the second joint of the middle finger with the thumb.
  • Gen: pinch the joint between the index finger and the palm with the thumb.
  • Zhen: pinch the first joint of the index finger with the thumb.
  • Xun: pinch the second joint of the index finger with the thumb.
  • Dui: pinch the first joint of the ring finger with the thumb.


The various types of Finger Gestures ( 訣目Juemu ) are based on the Daoist Pantheon. Since there are so many different types of Finger Gestures, the different Daoist sects often drew diagrams or charts of them in order to impart and practise them.


The different types of Finger Gestures based on the immortal Pantheon embody the typical features of Daoism and show the differences between Daoist skills and the sorcery scattered among the folks. The Daoist Pantheon is a very great system, and it varies from sect to sect. As far as conducting rituals is concerned, there are three major types of Immortals: the Lordly Spirits, the Patriarchs, and the Divine Generals, for which there are corresponding Finger Gestures. The Finger Gestures related to the Lordly Spirits are the Jade Clarity Finger Gestures ( 玉清訣 Yuqing Jue ), the Supreme Clarity Finger Gestures ( 上清訣 Shangqing Jue ), the Highest Clarity Finger Gestures ( 太清訣 Taiqing Jue ), and the Northern Emperor Finger Gestures ( 北帝訣 Beidi Jue ). The Jade Clarity Finger Gestures are also called Highest Emperor Finger Gestures ( 上帝訣 Shangdi Jue ) or Jade Emperor Finger Gestures ( 玉帝訣 Yudi Jue ). Such Finger Gestures are made when offering petitions, and when commanding the heavenly immortal warriors and horses as well as the Messenger of Spreading Illness ( 行瘟使者 Xingwen Shizhe ). Highest Clarity Finger Gestures are applied at the second joint of the middle finger in order to invoke Highest Clarity warriors and horses, by pinching the nail of the middle finger when inquiring illness. Supreme Clarity Finger Gestures are applied at the first joint of the middle finger.


Sometimes Finger Gestures related to the Lordly Spirits are not directly called by their names, but represented by their horses or their magical instruments. For instance, during the Refinement and Salvation Ritual, the Supreme Oneness Lord of Heaven is invited to descend to the altar. The ritual master makes the Finger Gestures of the Lion ( 獅子訣 Shizi Jue ): the two palms are crossed, the thumb of the left hand folded and the other nine fingers straight, for there are nine horses for the Supreme Oneness Lord of Heaven to ride. Similar to those Finger Gestures are the Finger Gestures of the Lotus ( 蓮花訣 Lianhau Jue ), of the Treasure Lotus ( 寶相蓮 Baoxiang Lian ), and of the Pig Head ( 豬頭訣 Zhutou Jue ) as well. Making these Finger Gestures symbolizes the descending of the Big Dipper ( 斗姆 Doumu ). Because the Big Dipper often sits on a lotus, and because the divine animal that draws her carriage is named Horned Pig ( 獬 Xie ), therefore images of the lotus and of the pig are used to welcome the Big Dipper to descend. The most important of the Patriarch Finger Gestures ( 祖師訣 Zushi Jue ) are the Celestial Master Finger Gestures ( 天師訣 Tianshi Jue ) and the Native Master Finger Gestures ( 本師訣 Benshi Jue ) which represent the descending of the Celestial Master or the founder of a specific sect. Sometimes they are practised when the ritual master visualizes himself as the Celestial Master commanding the divine warriors to dispel the spirits. The method of making that Finger Gesture is to pinch the first joint of the index finger on the left hand. There are so many Divine Generals in Daoism that the Finger Gestures representing the Divine Generals are the most numerous of the various types of Finger Gestures. Besides, the different sects prefer to use different Divine Generals while practising Magical Skills.


The Finger Gestures which are comparatively important are as follows. The Finger Gestures of the Supreme Commander ( 元帥訣 Yuanshuai Jue ) stand for the commanders of the Thunder Agency. The Finger Gestures of the Inspector ( 都監訣 Dujian Jue ) represent the Inspectors of the Warriors and Horses ( 兵馬都監 Bingma Dujian ) which control the divine warriors. The Finger Gestures of the Heavenly Warrior ( 天丁訣 Tianding Jue ) stand for the Strong Warriors of Heaven ( 天丁力士 Tianding Lishi ). The Finger Gestures of the Office ( 功曹訣 Gongcao Jue ) symbolize the officers who invoke the divine ones to manage the files. There are some other Finger Gestures which symbolize the Sun Sovereign, the Moon Sovereign, and the Dippers of the Five Directions.


The number of Finger Gestures designed for different objectives and for different rituals is hard to calculate, because there are so many kinds of magical skills for refinement and salvation as well as for curing illness, dispelling evil, and praying for avoiding disasters. For example, the Tiger Finger Gestures ( 虎目 Humu ) and the Ghost Finger Gestures ( 鬼目 Guimu ) are named after evil spirits. Some other types of Finger Gestures such as the Finger Gestures for Dispelling Ghosts ( 煞鬼訣 Shagui Jue ), for Controlling Ghosts ( 禁鬼訣 Jingui Jue ), and for Controlling Thunder ( 握雷局 Woleiju ) are named after the purpose of the ritual. And the Finger Gesture of the Fork ( 三叉訣 Sancha Jue ), the Finger Gesture of the Sword ( 劍訣 Jianjue ), and the Finger Gesture of the Golden Bridge ( 金橋訣 Jinqiao Jue ), are named after the divine instruments held by the ritual master or the methods that he uses at the rituals. In the corresponding skill system, all the Finger Gestures are drawn in diagrams or charts. The ritual master must follow them when conducting rituals. The contents of the Finger Gestures are so many that only some major types are mentioned here. According to the symbols of the Finger Gestures, the purpose of making Finger Gestures is mainly to invite or invoke spirits, to control ghosts, or to spread the divine Vital Breath.


Talismans, incantations, and Finger Gestures using swords, seals, numinous streamers, numinous charts, mirrors for observing the evil spirits, and other magical instruments consist of the major means of conducting Magical Skills.