Streamers

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Origin of Using Streamers in the Rituals of Fasts and Offerings ( 齋醮 Zhaijiao ) in Daoist Temples

The Streamer is one of the Magical Instruments ( 法器 Faqi ) frequently used in the rituals of Fasts and Offerings in Daoist temples. According to the Great Law of the Numinous Treasure of the Highest Clarity ( 上清靈寶大法 Shangqing Lingbao Dafa ) of the Southern Song dynasty, there were only two kinds of streamers in early Daoism, namely the Streamer for Removing Spirits ( 遷神幡 Qianshen Fan ) and the Streamer for the Return of Light ( 回耀幡 Huiyao Fan ). In the Sui and Tang dynasties, Daoist steamers were already of grand scale. According to On Conducting the Pervasive Mystery Numinous Treasure Three Grotto Rituals and Commandments for Worshiping Dao ( 洞玄靈寶三洞奉道科戒營始 Dongxuan Lingbao Sandong Fengdao Kejie Yingshi ), "there are altogether 21 kinds of streamers. The first kind is made with gold, the second with jade, the third with pearls, the forth with silver, the fifth with silk, the sixth is woven, the seventh is made with motley brocade, the eighth with various kinds of gauze, the ninth with coloured silk, the tenth with filament, the eleventh is woven with silk, the twelfth is made of miscellaneous filaments, the thirteenth is like rosy clouds, the fourteenth has writings on it, the fifteenth is made of threads, the sixteenth is made of silk of uniform colour, the seventeenth is variegated, the eighteenth is made of figured fabrics, the nineteenth is drawn with characters, the twentieth is in five colours, and the twenty-first is in nine colours. The streamers are either long or short, broad or narrow. They are either three chi, five chi, seven chi, nine chi, one zhang, or two zhang long, or measure one shou, two shou, ten shou, one hundred shou, one thousand shou, or ten thousand shou. Different streamers are made for different occasions. For dead people, there are streamers for moving spirits, for transforming souls, for saving souls, of the Nine Heavens, of the Three Ways, etc. For the diseased, there are streamers for saving people from misfortune, for eliminating catastrophes, for getting rid of misfortune, for prolonging life, for longevity, for protection, etc. For the security of families, there are streamers for leading to good fortune, for prolonging auspiciousness, for attaining longevity, for protecting long life, for hoping to achieve old age, for increasing life spans, etc. They are made skillfully, hung to long rods in the court beside sculptures of deities, and beside corridors and temples where offerings are placed". In the Ming dynasty, the different types of streamers became more complex. In the Highest Clarity Numinous Treasure Golden Book of the Great Achievement of Aid and Salvation ( 上清靈寶濟度大成金書 Shangqing Lingbao Jidu Dacheng Jinshu ), there appeared not only the streamer for removing spirits and the streamer for the return of light, but also streamers for vowing, controlling souls, salvation, of the Black Mystery ( 青玄 Qingxuan ), of the Supreme Oneness ( 太乙 Taiyi ) of heaven, and for summoning Perfect Men and Spirits. According to the commentary of the Supreme Clarity Jade Book of the Heavenly Emperor's Highest Dao ( 天皇至道太清玉冊 Tianhuang Zhidao Taiqing Yuce ) by Zhu Quan of the Ming dynasty, streamers at that time mostly had lotus leaves as their tops and lotus flowers as their seats. Today streamers are still ornamented in this way in the Ritual Space ( 壇場 Tanchang ).


Functions

It is said in the Great Law of the Numinous Treasure of the Highest Clarity that in Daoism, "at the beginning of fasts, in the spare space near the altar, a long rod is set up and the streamer flies before reporting to the deep heaven and all the spirits", in order that "the world and the netherworld see it together, and ghosts and spirits watch far away". As for the streamer for removing spirits in early Daoism, "one shou is made of red silk fabrics that are seven chi or forty-nine chi long. A dipper is drawn clearly at the top of the streamer and the name of the streamer is written on the body of the streamer with cinnabar and ointment. The Inner Secret Names ( 內諱 Neihui ) of the Three Heavens are written with the left hand, and the Secret Names ( 隱諱 Yinhui ) of the Three Heavens are written with the right hand. When the souls of the dead see the streamer, they can get rid of their sins and their spirit moves to the Southern Palace". As for the streamer for the return of light, "it is made of white and yellow silk fabric, twenty-four or forty-nine chi long, and with the complete name of the Black Mystery written on it. With the left foot, one writes down "Supreme Subtlety Banner for the Return of Yellow, Wuying's Streamer for Controlling Spirits", and with the right foot, one writes down "summoning ghosts in the mansion of the long night, saving souls which attain life again". With the left hand, one writes down "the boundless and infinite Fengdu", etc.; with the right hand, one writes down "the golden light of merits", etc. Hung to the long rod below the altar, the streamer flies with the wind. When the souls of the dead of the Ten Directions see it and think of converging to it, their past sins are eliminated in time, and even their sufferings and misfortunes in the human world may be gotten rid of. Their names are registered in the Southern Palace, hells are open, and the souls of the dead are reborn".