Praying for Happiness and Offering Sacrifice

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Praying for happiness and offering sacrifice are the most typical of Daoist magical skills.

Praying means telling the spirits one's requests for happiness and longevity, or begging the spirits to get rid of one's misfortune.


It covers almost all the aspects of the social life. Daoists may pray for sunshine or rain as well as for wiping out grasshoppers, curing illness, and dispelling the evil spirits. Such prayers involve getting rid of misfortunes or disasters. Sometimes Daoists also pray for their offspring, for longevity, for happiness, and for the stability of the state as well.


Offering sacrifice means conducting magical skills at rituals to dispel the misfortune or disasters that people are suffering from.

The Chinese character"Rang" was the original term for offering sacrifices in ancient times. The Rites of the Zhou ( 《周禮》 Zhouli ) advises to "Offer sacrifice at the proper times in order to dispel misfortune". It also explains that "rang" means offering sacrifice to dispel misfortune. From the very beginning, Daoism absorbed it as one of its Magical Skills. Later it was developed into a diverse system. Most of the misfortune or disasters encountered in life can be remedied by sacrificial offerings. As far as natural disasters are concerned, the Daoists offer sacrifices for unwanted fires, stars that represent evil, unlucky years, violent gales, serious droughts, solar eclipses, earthquakes, etc. As for social life, Daoists offer sacrifices for lawsuits, the plague, and the loss of wealth as well. Even such omens as nightmares, encounters with a dead body, animals creeping into a house, crows crying over one's head, can be palliated with special offerings.

There are two types of sacrificial rituals.

If the offering is for a less severe misfortune, the Daoist is invited to control it by putting up a talisman or by Pacing the Dipper and recite incantations while spraying Talismanic Water. If people encounter a series of misfortunes or sudden disasters, a Daoist is invited to hold the fasting ritual of sacrificial offerings. Sacricifial Offerings are one of the major elements of Daoist fasting rituals.

After the Song dynasty, Daoism stressed " the inner Dao and the outer skills" and the outer application of Inner Alchemy.

When offering sacrifice, the Daoist needs to be filled with Spirit and Vital Breath. It is just as Wang Wenqing, the Patriarch of Thunder Skills ( 雷法宗師 Leifa Zongshi ), depicted in the Eight Section Brocade Prayers of Imperial Attendant Wang ( 王侍晨祈禱八段錦 Wangshichen Qidao Baduanjin ). Wang felt that he was happy and relaxed, without any desire for anything. He was in accordance with Heaven and Earth, both inside and outside, so that the functioning of the universe was under his control. He could do whatever he liked, working the heavens and the earth, interacting with spirits and ghosts, driving the wind and thunder, and controlling the ten thousand beings. Thus he was able to command the divine generals when conducting rituals to pray for happiness and offering sacrifice.


Among the rituals to pray for happiness and offering sacrifice, generally speaking, offerings for the peace and good luck of the family are called Offerings for Security ( 平安醮 Ping’An Jiao ), and the rituals of the offering for long life are called Offerings for Longevity ( 延生醮 Yansheng Jiao ). Besides, there are offerings for having babies or for succeeding in the imperial examinations or promotions. The various Ritual Offerings supported by the imperial court or local authorities are usually for the prosperity of the state and the peace of the people.


Most of the rituals are to pray for sunshine, rain, and snow, to offer sacrifices for stopping gales and tidal waves, or for getting rid of grasshoppers. They are the religious reflection of Chinese agricultural society, because in traditional agricultural society, the prosperity of the state and the peace of the people are closely connected with favorable weather for the crops. When floods or drought take place, Daoists are invited to hold Ritual Offerings, which are organized by the folks or supported by the local authorities or the imperial court.


Among the rituals to offer sacrifice for dispelling natural disasters, offerings to pray for rain were most popular. The Daoists would usually hold grand rituals to pray for the rain. After the Song dynasty, Thunder Skills were very popular, and praying was conducted by invoking and controlling the divine generals of the Thunder Agency. The divine general was actually the Original Spirit ( 元神 Yuanshen ) of the Daoist himself, so that Vital Breath Skills ( 氣法 Qifa ) were particularly significant in praying as well as in the use of Talismans, Incantations, Finger Gestures, and Pacing the Big Dipper. But Talismans played the essential role. For example, the Stone Box Skills of Deliverance from the Wind and Rain from the Water Mansion ( 石匣水府起風雲致雨法 Shixia Shuifu Qifengyun Zhiyu Fa ) quoted the following words of Perfect Sovereign Wang, the Fire Master ( 火師汪真君 Huoshi Wangzhenjun ):


" If there are too many sunny days without rain and the crops in the fields are drying out, the Daoist should report it to the Highest Emperor of the Mysterious Heaven ( 玄天上帝 Xuantian Shangdi ). He may send Commander Zhang of the Water Agency ( 水部張元帥 Shuibu Zhang Yuanshuai ) to drive the divine dragon to pour out rain for the people. The Daoist may cast an iron board or a new tile with two talismans into the source of the river, the deep pool, and the dragon well where there are goblins and spirits. If the people want wind, he needs to put two small sheets of talismans into the gills of a living carp, which should be put where there are dragons. At the same time, he should invoke silently the Generals of the Ding and Ren Days ( 丁將軍和壬將軍 Ding Jiangjun He Ren Jiangjun ) with a black flag, commanding them by reciting incantations and waving the flag in the air. Thus the wind will begin blowing. If people want rain, he needs to set up an altar and burn the talisman for invoking the Divine Generals of the Ding and Ren Days from the Water Agency ( 水部丁將軍和壬將軍 Shuibu Ding Jiangjun He Ren Jiangjun ). In addition, the Daoist must visualize the descent of the Red Essence Vital Breath ( 赤精之氣 Chijingzhiqi ) and the ascent of the Black Essence Vital Breath ( 黑精之氣 Heijingzhiqi ) from the kidney. The two kinds of Vital Breath are mixed in the center of the spleen, and then move up the Twelve-Story Mansion ( 十二重樓 Shi’Erchong Lou ) along the vertebra to the head and out of it, and then stay in the air. Moreover, he must visualize the combination of the Divine Generals of the Ding and Ren Days and the mixed Vital Breath in the air. Thus Great Judge Zhang ( 張大判官 Zhang Dapanguan ) in the middle, the Divine Generals, and the Divine Officers of the Five Lakes and the Four Rivers from the Water Agency ( 水司 Shuisi ), all meet harmoniously in the air above the head. The Daoist must visualize himself as the Highest Emperor of the Mysterious Heaven facing the Gate of the Heaven and report why he is praying for rain. Then he can recite the following incantations seven times: the Divine Incantation of the Water Mansion ( 《水府神咒》 Shuifu Shenzhou ), the Tian Peng Incantation ( 《天蓬咒》 Tianpeng Zhou ), the Book of the Heavenly Lad ( 《天童經》 Tiantong Jing ), and the Middle Section of the Numinous Book. ( 《靈書中篇》 Lingshu Zhongpian ) Finally he may visualize spirits to drive the Divine Generals of the Dragon Agency to control the lightning, blow the wind, and pour the rain.


What was described above is only one of the skills of praying for rain, which differs from sect to sect. Setting up an altar and invoking the divine generals is quite commonly done with talismans and official documents for invoking generals sent to the Residence of the Spirits concerned, or with petitions offered to the heavenly court of the Highest Emperor. How can we explain the efficacy of Daoist prayers for rain and sunshine by sending talismans, offering petitions, and invoking the Dragon King and the divine generals of the Thunder Agency? There are different analyses and comments on this question. But we can know for sure that it is because the Daoists have studied the Daoist scriptures with much knowledge of meteorology. For example, the Book of Weather Forecasting ( 《盤天經》 Pantian Jing ) and the book Forecasting the Rain and Sunshine ( 《雨陽氣候親機》 Yuyang Qihou Qinji ), are both works of meteorology with Daoist colouring. Forecasting the Rain and Sunshine says:


" Before the sun rises, observe it early in the morning in the east where it rises. If the black clouds look like eggs, flags, mountains, birds, snakes, dragon heads, the glossy ganoderma, or peony flowers, there will be a thunderstorm during the wei and shen periods of that day. If purple black clouds go through the sun or above the sun, there will be rain that day. If the black clouds look like fish scales, there will be wind, and there will be rain three days later."


It is thus quite natural for the Daoists to be successful in conducting magical skills since they have so much knowledge of meteorology. Only after they made observations on winds, clouds, the fog and the sun, could they conduct skills at the moment when there should be rain. Otherwise, they could only judge that it was the will of Heaven that there would be no rain.