Pacing the Big Dipper

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In the process of conducting Daoist Magical Skills, the ritual master often recites incantations with his mouth, making Finger Gestures with his hands, and Pacing the Big Dipper with his feet. Making Finger Gestures and Pacing the Big Dipper are two kinds of major physical movements of the ritual master as he conducts Magical Skills.

Pacing the Big Dipper( 步罡踏斗 Bugang Tadou ) was passed down from ancient times.

The Chinese character "Gang" originally referred to the star at the end of the handle of the Dipper and the character "Dou" referred to the Dipper. Later its meaning was extended to the stars of the five directions (the East, the South, the West, the North, and the Center). The ritual master, wearing Cloud Shoes, puts the Diagram of the Big Dipper on ground covering about ten square feet, which symbolizes the nine layers of the heavens. Accompanied by melodious Daoist music, the ritual master visualizes the Nine Heavens, and Paces the Big Dipper according to the positions of the stars and the 28 constellations as well as the diagram of the Nine Palaces and the Eight Trigrams. It is thought in this way that the souls of the Daoists can ascend to the Nine Heavens to deliver petitions to the spirits, or control the spirits, destroy Hell and invoke Thunder ( 破地召雷 Podi Zhaolei ). Daoists, especially those of the Orthodox Oneness Tradition ( 正一派 Zhengyi Pai ), should have the basic ability to conduct Magical Skills, Cultivate and Refine themselves, and Pace the Big Dipper.


It is generally thought that Pacing the Dipper was developed from the Steps of Yu ( 禹步 Yubu ). But people have different ideas about the relationship between Pacing the Big Dipper and the Steps of Yu. In the Magical Utterances ( 法言 Fayan ) by Yang Xiong of the Han dynasty, the author said that Emperor Yu, when he harnessed the water and the land, suffered from foot disease and walked with a limp because he often scaled the mountains and forded the streams. Many witches imitated Yu and walked with limps as well. Based on this legend, the Steps of the Big Dipper ( 罡步 Gangbu ) are regarded as a result of the imitation of Yu's way of walking. On the other hand, according to the Inner Book of the Master Who Embraces Simplicity and the Book of Original Changes of the Pervasive Divine Eight Emperors ( 《洞靈八帝元變經》 Dongling Badi Yuanbian Jing ), there was another story about it. When Yu harnessed the water and the land, he saw on the seaside a big bird that was good at Breath Incantations. The bird walked in a strange way and its steps could turn the huge stone upside down. Yu made the strange way of walking an effective magical skill. That is why it came to be called the Steps of Yu. It can be seen that the Steps of Yu appeared quite early in history, and it had something to do with the Art of Breath Incantation ( 禁咒術 Jinzhou Shu ) of ancient times.


The basic Steps of Yu involved three steps and nine traces ( 三步九 Sanbu Jiuji ). Later they diversified into different types, called Twelve Traces and Three-Five Traces.

The three steps and nine traces of the Steps of Yu were thought to have the shape of the Big Dipper, so they were associated with Pacing the Big Dipper

The Book of the Flowing Drops of the Golden Lock ( 《金鎖流珠引》 Jinsuo Liuzhu Yin ) states that the Big Dipper was the Middle Dipper ( 中斗 Zhongdou ) which was a star. As it descended, it became the Nine Souls ( 九靈 Jiuling ). There were nine traces when Pacing the Dipper by following the diagram of the stars, which was called the Diagram of the Big Dipper ( 星綱 Xinggang ). The nine traces represented the seven stars of the Big Dipper, and the two stars Fu and Bi. The word "Gang" originally refers to the star at the end of the handle of the Big Dipper, and later it referred to the Big Dipper. It may have something to do with the understanding of the diagram of the stars, which was considered as the matrix and pattern of a certain area of the heavens. It is also said that Yu spent three years learning Breath Incantations, for as he harnessed the waters he saw that the bird was good at it. Later he paced the Nine Dippers, and matched his feet with the stars while reciting Breath Incantations. It is usually thought that the Steps of Yu and the pacing of the Big Dipper correspond to the Nine Palaces and Eight Trigrams. This is called "the three steps and the nine traces which constructed the Kan Trigram and the Li Trigram". Since there are so many kinds of diagrams of the Big Dippers, and more and more new Dipper steps were compiled based on ritual contents, so there are a lot of names for them. Pacing the Big Dipper is usually practised together with Finger Gestures. It is said that in the Tang and Song dynasties, there were over 700 kinds of Steps of the Big Dipper and Finger Gestures. That is really fantastic!

The Common Steps of the Big Dipper

In spite of the huge number of different types of steps, there are only a few types of magical skills of Pacing the Big Dipper commonly used. In the Eastern Han dynasty, the Tradition of the Mighty Commonwealth of Orthodox Oneness ( 正一盟威道 Zhengyi Mengwei Dao ) taught the Three-Five Big Dipper Register ( 三五星綱籙 Sanwu Xinggang Lu ), in which were described the skills of the Pacing of the Dippers of the East, the South, the West, the North and the Center. Later appeared the Skills of pacing the Dippers of the Twenty-Eight Constellations ( 二十八宿罡 Ershibaxiu Gang ) and the Five Big Dippers of the Sun and the Moon ( 日月五星綱 Riyue Wuxing Gang ). They are commonly used.


The most common form of Pacing the Big Dippers is the Big Dipper of the Mysterious Pivot ( 北斗玄樞罡 Beidou Xuanshu Gang ). On the diagram of the Dippers, there are only seven Dipper stars. The names of the stars are used as the names of the steps to be made by the ritual master during his pacing forward, and the names of the star sovereigns are used as the names of his steps during his pacing back. The pacing of the Twenty-Eight constellations represents the 28 constellations in the heavens. In ancient China, the heavens were divided into 28 areas matched with 28 corresponding signs, which are called the constellations as the symbols of heaven. Pacing it symbolizes turning the Dippers around and crossing the Ji Constellation as well as moving around the heavens. Below are drawings of the two types of Pacing the Big Dippers.

The basic function of Pacing the Dippers is to symbolize flying over the Nine Heavens, prohibiting evil things, and controlling spirits

The Big Dipper is also called the Celestial Matrix and the Earthly Pattern. So the first function of the Pacing is to pace the Dipper according to the Diagram of the Stars. It is thought that by pacing it the ritual master, crossing the Nine Quarters and patrolling the universe, has been to the Nine Heavens, flying over the realm of Immortals. A common diagram is the Great River Chart Dipper of the Open Valley ( 大豁落斗 Da Huoluo Dou ), which was originally the Big Dipper. The seven stars of the Dippers and the two stars Fu and Bi compose the Big Dipper Diagram regulated by the post-existent positions of the trigrams ( 後天卦位 Huotian Guawei ) listed on the River Chart. There are two types of them; one is used after the Winter Solstice and the other after the Summer Solstice. In the former, the ritual master starts from the Kan Trigram and moves to the Li Trigram ( 坎卦,離卦 Kangua, Ligua ), and in the latter he moves from the Li Trigram to the Kan Trigram. The nine numbers on the River Chart represent the nine areas of the heavens or the nine constellations: Tianying, Tianren, Tianzhu, Tianxin, Tianqin, Tianfu, Tianchong, Tianrui, and Tianfeng. The ritual master recites the incantations while pacing any one of them, pointing out the directions he is moving to, the symbolic meaning of the specific Dipper, and the power of his magic skill. For example, the incantation used when pacing the Dipper after the Winter Solstice says: "The Dipper is sublime at the 12 two-hour periods, and I take the Big Dipper flying over to exhibit mighty power with Vital Breath like the clouds. The seven stars move to interact with the heavens, so that we know the changes of good or ill luck. Pacing the Dipper by the rhythms, it seems I move into the Dipper, and the constellations through the Heaven Pass with the change of the time. Moving from Tianying up to Tianren, I feel cold as if the land has sunk down into a deep valley. Leaning by Tianzhu and bracing Tianxin, I ascend to Tianqin from Tianxin. In addition, I pass by Tianfu and look at Tianchong, going into Tianrui and out of Tianfeng. The passage of the Dippers is open, and the strong and weak mutually assist each other. Happiness and good fortune are increased and passed on to the descendants. I have stayed in the darkness for hundreds of years. I follow your steps after the Yang. The Dipper of the Open Valley is divine, so that it can dispel the devils. As a result, one can avoid the evils at the mouth of the Dipper. Promptly, promptly, in accordance with the statues and ordinances! Act as regent!" Through this incantation we may see that Pacing the Big Dipper mainly symbolizes flying in the sky, with the supernatural function of dispelling disasters and avoiding evils. The Dipper of the Twenty-Eight Constellations and the Five Big Dippers of the Sun and the Moon represent certain areas of heaven, fairyland, or paradise. The ritual master will visualize these scenes while pacing the Dipper. The Dipper of Bright Stars and Pearls ( 星珠熠耀罡 Xingzhu Yiyao Gang ) can be paced in two ways: the eight steps and the three steps. The Daoist paces it each time he offers incense. And he recites the following incantation while pacing: " The imperial order of Jade Clarity is simple, with the separate scenes of the great Brahma. The original Dippers are flowing and changing with the stars and pearls over and around them. Promptly, promptly, in accordance with the statues and ordinances as the imperial order." While reciting the incantation, the ritual master will visualize the three realms of Jade Clarity, Supreme Clarity, and Highest Clarity ( 玉清,上清,太清 Yuqing,Shangqing,Taiqing ), where the Lordly Spirits of the Three Pristine Ones ( 三清尊神 Sanqing Zunshen ) reside. The incantation of Pacing the Big Dipper mentions that by burning incense, the Daoist seems to have transferred starlight into the mortal world. A Daoist can succeed in doing so with the aid of such an incantation. This sort of Dipper pacing can also represent the Nine Quarters, which refer to the nine regions: Yong, Liang, Yan, Yang, Qing, Xu, Yu, and Ji. The ancient people symbolized the whole territory of China with them, so pacing the Nine Quarters implies the patrolling of all the land on the earth.


Pacing the Dipper has the additional function of prohibiting and controlling the spirits and superhuman powers. Originally the Steps of Yu and the Pacing of the Big Dippers not only indicated flying over the Nine Heavens, but also prohibiting and controlling the spirits and superhuman powers. In the course of their development, their functions became specialized. Some of them were chiefly practised to fly over the Nine Heavens, while others were used to control the spirits. For example, pacing the Dipper for Destroying Hell and Invoking Thunder ( 破地召雷罡 Podi Zhaolei Gang ), used as a Thunder Skill, can get rid of the Vital Breath of Yin and give off that of Yang, so that frightening thunder can be heard. When pacing the Dipper of Spirit Possession ( 附體罡 Futi Gang ) as a Skill for Summoning and Interrogating Spirits ( 考召法 Kaozhao Fa ), the spirits will adhere to specific children or other designated persons. Pacing The Numinous Dipper of the Divine Tiger of the Life-invoking Roar ( 召命神虎嘯命靈罡 Zhaoming Shenhu Xiaoming Linggang ) can invoke the Divine Tiger General ( 神虎將軍 Shenhu Jiangjun ), who can pursue and control souls in the darkness, when holding the ritual of Refinement and Salvation for Destroying the Darkness ( 煉度破幽 Liandu Poyou ).


The major functions of Daoist magical skills lie in transforming superhuman forces and controlling their changes with the aid of supernatural forces. And the immortals worshipped by Daoists live in heaven or in the grotto residences of the immortal mountains. In addition, one must have supernatural abilities if one wants to penetrate their world. Pacing the Dipper is thought to be effective in helping man to enter the immortal world. Therefore it is widely used as a basic type of Daoist skill.