The Four Numinous Animals and Twenty-Eight Constellations
Origin of the The Four Numinous Animals and Twenty-Eight Constellations
The Four Numinous Animals ( 四靈 Siling ) or Four Images ( 四象 Sixiang ) refer to the figures formed by the stars in the four cardinal directions, i.e. the Blue Dragon ( 青龍 Qinglong ) in the East, the White Tiger ( 白虎 Baihu ) in the West, the Red Phoenix ( 朱雀 Zhuque ) in the South and the Black Warrior ( 玄武 Xuanwu ) in the North. According to the Yellow Charts of the Three Regions ( 《三輔黃圖》 Sanfu Huangtu ), "the Blue Dragon, the White Tiger, the Red Phoenix and the Black Warrior are the Four Numinous Animals of Heaven which control the four directions". The Twenty-Eight Constellations ( 二十八宿 Ershiba Xiu ) are the ancient astronomers' distinctions and signs of the fixed star areas which the sun and moon pass by. According to the Book of Auguries Examination of the Numinous Animals in the Book of Documents ( 《尚書考靈曜》 Shangshu Kao Lingyao ), "The seven constellations of the East -- Jiao, Kang, Di, Fang, Xin, Wei, and Qi -- are like a dragon and are thus called the Blue Dragon of the Left. The seven constellations of the South -- Jing, Gui, Liu, Xing, Zhang, Yi, and Zhen -- are like a bird and are thus called the Red Phoenix of the Front. The seven constellations of the West -- Qui, Lou, Wei, Mao, Bi, Zi, and Shen -- are like a tiger, and are thus called the White Tiger of the Right. The seven constellations of the north -- Dou, Niu, Nu, Xu, Wei, Shi, and Bi, are like a tortoise-and-snake, and are thus called the Black Warrior of the Rear." Each of the 28 Stellar Officials has its own name, function, and colour of dress. For example, the Stellar Spirit of Jiao, whose surname is Bin and whose name is Yuansheng, wears a green and black shirt. The Stellar Spirit of Kang, whose surname is Fu and whose name is Sima, is horse-headed and red-bodied and wears a red silk shirt and a sword.
In the Daoist pantheon, the The Four Numinous Animals and Twenty-Eight Constellations always play the role of guardians of greater divinities. According to the Inner Book of the Master Who Embraces Simplicity ( 《抱朴子內篇》 Baopuzi Neipian ), "Among the guardians of Supreme Venerable Sovereign ( 太上老君 Taishang Laojun ), there are 12 Blue Dragons to the left, 26 White Tigers to the right, 24 Red Phoenixes in front and 72 Black Warriors in the rear. According to the Secret Formula for Prolonging Life from the Seven-Origin Purple Court of the Big Dipper ( 《北斗七元紫庭延生秘訣》 Beidou Qiyuan Ziting Yansheng Mijue ), for a Daoist performing magic skills, "To his left is the Blue Dragon named Mengzhang. To his right is the White Tiger named Jianbing. To his front is the Red Phoenix named Lingguang. To his rear is the Black Warrior named Zhiming. The Four Numinous Animals, holding pennants and symbols, bearing bells and drums, guard the surroundings." The Four Numinous Animals are the law-protecting guardian spirits. Among them, the Black Warrior was specially worshiped since the Ming and honored with other titles, such as "Highest Emperor of the Mysterious Northern Heaven" ( 玄天上帝 Xuantian Sangdi ) and "Perfect Warrior Emperor" ( 真武大帝 Zhenwu Dadi ).
Worship in Temples
Daoist temples often worship The Four Numinous Animals at the two sides of the Hall of Numinous Officials of the Mountain Gate ( 山門 Shanmen ). The Four Numinous Animals, dressed as heavenly generals, must guard the Daoist Gate. Daoist adepts, when burning incense, often start by worshiping Numinous Official Wang and the Four Numinous Animals at the Mountain Gate. In large-scale Daoist rituals, Divine Seats are often set for the the Four Numinous Animals and Twenty-Eight Constellations. Often, the Four Numinous Animals and Twenty-Eight Constellations are invoked to protect the law during rituals.