In the Daoist rituals for conducting Magical Skills, there are incantations, Finger Gestures, and Big Dipper pacing. Together with the writing of talismans, they have become the basic forms of Daoist skills. Daoists conduct Magical Skills by writing talismans, reciting incantations, making Finger Gestures, and pacing the Big Dipper so as to increase man's confidence to triumph over the evil spirits. These Magical Skills have a cultural function as they help man to keep a balance of mind, and give him the confidence to live in a world dominated by uncontrollable and alien forces.
Incantations are considered to be a mysterious language that can interact with the spirits and natural things
Incantations are often joined with breath sorcery, which can restrict spirits and natural beings by using the Vital Breath in the human body. This joint work is called Breath Incantations. Sometimes they appear together with talismans, and the combination is called "Talismans and Incantations". The Daoists usually rely on some medium such as Talismanic Water and talismanic dates when conducting Breath Incantations. Daoists think highly of the effects of the incantations. The Supreme Orthodox Oneness Book of Incantations for Dispelling Ghosts ( 《太上正一咒鬼經》 Taishang Zhengyi Zhougui Jing ) says¡G"I have the vital breath of Heaven and Earth. As I recite the incantations, the ghosts will be killed, the wood will be broken, and the divine gods will fasten themselves. Moreover, the gold will melt, the water will dry out, the fire will put itself out, the ghosts will kill themselves, the ulcer will cure itself, and the poison will disappear. And praying will be stopped, and the curse will be of no use." Daoists think that deities with strong magical powers will impart the incantations secretly hidden in Heaven, one after another. When they recite the incantations, thousands of millions of heavenly warriors and generals will come to serve them under their calls. As a result, more and more incantations were added to the repertoire of Daoist skills, which became more and more widely applied.
The Popular Practise of Incantations in Daoism
Among Daoist skills, there are incantations for purifying and protecting the altar when setting it up, incantations for protecting the souls when approaching the altar, and specific incantations for the writing of talismans and pacing the Big Dipper. Daoists will recite the Esoteric Incantation for Opening the Scriptures ( 開經玄蘊咒 Kaijing Xuan Yun Zhou ) when reading scriptures. As for incantations for invoking the divine generals, they are as many as the heavenly generals and the divine officers recorded in the Daoist sciptures. There are also incantations for killing ghosts, controlling devils, and arresting demons. In this sense, there could be no Daoist Magical Skills without incantations.
At the same time, incantations have permeated into the daily life of Daoists, even into their personalities. Daoists will recite incantations when washing their hands, having meals, taking a bath, having their hair cut, and so on. Not only are the Daoists of the Orthodox Oneness Tradition good at reciting incantations, but the Complete Perfection Tradition also has incantations for imparting commandments.
The Characteristics of Daoist Incantations
Incantations are not exceptional in Daoism. Some other religions also use incantations, especially Tantric Buddhism which is famous for its incantations. The incantations originated from ancient peoples' worship for the magic power of language, influenced by primitive religions. Later, incantations became an essential part of sorcery. Daoism inherited and developed the incantations of sorcery, and took in some Buddhist incantations. Nevertheless, Daoist incantations, on the whole, have characteristics of their own. In Daoist incantations there are often such terms as "in accordance with the statutes and ordinances", "promptly, promptly, in accordance with the statutes and ordinances", or "the Supreme Sovereign, promptly, promptly, in accordance with the statutes and ordinances". This is because Daoist incantations arose in the Han Dynasty, and the phrase "in accordance with the statutes and ordinances" was found in the imperial decrees and declarations of war of that era. The phrase "in accordance with the statutes and ordinances" means to execute the orders like an imperial decree, which implies that if anyone disobeys them, he will be seriously punished. Such official cliches, used in state decrees, statutes and ordinances, were adopted by the folk witches and wizards. In the Eastern Han Dynasty, when witches and wizards held rituals to separate humans and ghosts and to protect them from being hurt by ghosts at funerals, they often applied writs for dispelling evil. Such writs usually ended with the fixed expression "in accordance with the statutes and ordinances". The simple pattern is "Dispel all the spells in accordance with the statutes and ordinances! ". Daoism absorbed such incantations, and some changed forms appeared. The usual way was to insert the names of spirits into them. For example: "the Supreme Venerable Sovereign, promptly, promptly, in accordance with the statutes and ordinances! ", "Promptly, promptly, in accordance with the statutes and ordinances from the Supreme Venerable Sovereign!" At the end of some of the incantations, there are such words as "act as regent", "imperial order", or "promptly" to show that you must act following to the incantation without any delay. Here are some examples.
When invoking the divine generals and warriors to destroy evil, there was the Incantation for Opening the Flag: "The Valiant General of the Five Thunders and the generals of the Fire Chariot ( 火車將軍 Huoche Jiangjun ). Soar up to the sky and down to the earth. Drive thunder and clouds. Open the flags to invoke promptly the thousands of divine warriors and command them without delay. Promptly, promptly, in accordance with the statutes and ordinances!" This incantation addresses the divine generals of the Thunder Agency first, and describes the epithet of these great conquering generals. At the same time, it also explains their duty and opens the flag to invoke them to come. It orders them to descend without delay. Finally it ends with the fixed expression 'Promptly, promptly, in accordance with the statutes and ordinances!"
The fixed pattern of Daoist incantations is a feature obviously different from Buddhist incantations in which the names of Buddha are recited.
The pattern of Daoist incantations first indicates that their content was imparted by the divine gods so that they were very effective. They address the Supreme Venerable Sovereign, the Jade Pristine Perfect King of the Divine Heaven ( 神霄玉清真王 Shenxiao Yuqing Zhenwang ), and the Celestial Master. In this way the titles of the revered spirits were addressed directly to invoke and work the divine generals for controlling the devils. As for those spirits comparatively lower in rank and worked by the ritual masters, they were also directly addressed by their names to show that the ritual masters had the ability to control them. Therefore, the reciting of the Daoist incantations is closely related to the Daoist Pantheon ( 神仙譜系 Shenxian Puxi ), and it also implies their religious belief and forms of religious practice. Nevertheless, addressing the names of the gods is not an unusual phenomenon in Daoist incantations. Christians often say "in the name of Jesus Christ" after their prayers, which is an expression of their belief and reverence. Thus addressing the names of the gods when reciting Daoist incantations suggests the common belief and reliance on the divine ones found in many religions, except that the different gods have different appearances. The more expressive is the following feature of Daoist incantations: the incantations are orders to work the spirits, and in them the phrase "in accordance with the statutes and ordinances" is to stress that the orders must be executed immediately, otherwise, the spirits will be punished. In the content of the incantations, the practical purpose of the order is clearly stated. This is a characteristic of Chinese traditional culture expressed by Daoist incantations. Generally speaking, the attitude of the Chinese people towards religion is mainly to seek solutions to the problems they encounter in the present moment, and for praying for peace, which is considered as happiness. It is quite different from the pietistic conversion to the divine ones of the western people and Indians. It is said that the Incantation of the Night Spirit from India "posiyanbodi" ( 主夜神咒 Zhuye Shenzhou ) can help you to dispel evils if you recite it as you walk at night. In fact, it is only the sounds of the Night Spirit that Indians recite. The important incantation "The Incantation of the Most Compassionate and Illumined Boddhisattva Guanshiyin with Thousands of Hands and Eyes" ( 千手千眼觀世音菩薩圓滿無礙大悲心陀羅尼 Qianshou Qianyan Guanshiyin Pusa Yuanman Wuai Dabeixin Tuoluoni ) is The Most Compassionate Incantation ( 大悲咒 Dabei Zhou ) that was familiar to the common people. It has 84 sentences altogether, each of them expresses the pietistic conversion to Guanshiyin, 83 of them address the name of Buddha, including different versions of her name. Buddhists think this incantation is very powerful and widely used. The Most Compassionate Incantation records in detail the ways of curing illness, expediting child delivery, dispelling poisonous insects, and avoiding snakes and scorpions. There is much in common between Daoist and Buddhist incantations. The Most Compassionate Incantation requires the person to convert to Buddha. If he does and recites the incantation, Guanyin will help him get rid of his misery and lead him to the Buddhist Paradise of the West. And the reciting itself is the conversion. On the other hand, the Daoist incantations can directly work the spirits, requiring them to flee away or do something unimaginable or unattainable. The prerequisite is practical utility, and the people's reverence to the gods depends on the direct benefit they can deliver. Such features of Daoist incantations determine the range of their application. So each Daoist incantation is aimed at some specific situations, and the number of Daoist incantations is great.
=Reciting the Incantations and Breath Incantations ( 氣禁，禁咒，禁 Qijin, Jinzhou, Jin )
The reciting of incantations must be in phase with the dirigation of the Vital Breath in the human body and with the visualization of the related spirits in one's mind. It is thought that by so doing, the Vital Breath in the human body can affect the objects so that they are controlled or transformed. This way of reciting incantations is called Breath Incantation. It was already practised in the ancient sorcery of China. Ge Hong of the Jin dynasty said in the Inner Book of the Master Who Embraces Simplicity ( 《抱朴子內篇》 Baopuzi Neipian ) that in some parts of Wu and Yue Breath Incantation was used, and it was quite effective, for the ritual master had plenty of Vital Breath. According to archaeological discoveries in recent years, the popularity of Breath Incantations was not confined to the kingdoms of Wu and Yue at that time. In areas such as Chu and Shu, Breath Incantation was also prevalent. Based on Ge's records, Breath Incantation was widely practised in his time, for the purpose of becoming immune to contagious illness, dispelling devils, curing diseases, and stopping tigers, leopards, snakes, and poisonous bees, and to reverse the flow of water. Daoism integrated Breath Incantation into its repertoire of skills. In the 24 rank registers of the Tradition of the Mighty Commonwealth of Orthodox Oneness ( 正一盟威道 Zhengyi Mengwei Dao ), one finds the "Ritual of the Breath Incantation" ( 《禁氣籙》 Jinqi Lu ). It can be apparently seen that it was an important part of its system of Magical Skills. Daoists would exercise their inner Vital Breath as they recited the incantations, and the breath would have effects on objects as well. Thus, Daoists were required to refine the Vital Breath regularly.