Inverted Bells

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Origin of Using Inverted Bells in Daoist Rituals of Fasts and Offerings ( 齋醮 Zhaijiao )

The Inverted Bell is a kind of Magical Instrument ( 法器 Faqi ) often used in Daoist temples and rituals. It was already used as a musical instrument in ancient China. Inverted bells are made of stone, jade, or metals, and are rectangular in shape. Hung from shelves and struck with wood or stones, they give out clear and melodious sounds. Explanations of the Chinese Characters ( 說文 Shuowen ) says, "inverted bells are stones for playing music". Striking inverted bells was practised in all the rituals of ancient China. Records of the Initial Knowledge ( 初學記 Chuxue Ji ) quotes from the Essential Meaning of the Five Classics ( 五經要義 Wujing Yaoyi ), saying, "inverted bells are used for playing music on the day of the Beginning of Autumn". The chapter Spring Official ( 春官 Chunguan ) in the Rites of the Zhou ( 周禮 Zhouli ) says, "the inverted bell master teaches how to strike inverted bells". Golden Sound and Jade Music by Mencius explains that bells are used to initiate music and inverted bells are used to complete it. The early Daoist rituals were fairly simple, and there is no record of striking inverted bells in early rituals. After the Wei, Jin and Southern and Northern dynasties, inverted bells began to be used in Daoist temples and rituals as a complement to bells, and thus the sublime scene of bells and inverted bells' sounding together was formed. The scripture On Conducting the Pervasive Mystery Numinous Treasure Three Grotto Rituals and Commandments for Worshiping Dao ( 洞玄靈寶三洞奉道科儀營始 Dongxuan Lingbao Sandong Fengdao Kejie Yingshi ) says that inverted bells are made of six kinds of things, "namely jade, gold, silver, copper, iron and stone. Some of them have two or four corners and some have nine corners or no corner. They look like compasses and have inscriptions. They are worshipped forever. All the bells and inverted bells must be hung with tassels". Nowadays in Daoist temples and at Ceremonial Altars ( 儀壇 Yitan ), bowl-shaped copper inverted bells have replaced the hanging rectangular stone or jade inverted bells. There are also small bowl-shaped copper inverted bells that are called Bowl Inverted bells and Hand bells, or leading bells that are attached to the top of wood handles and can be held while walking.


There are two purposes of using inverted bells in Daoist temples and rituals. One is to move spirits and link up human beings and deities, the other is to warn men that "what is important in behaviour is proper demeanor and dignified manner". The Daoist Rituals of the Pervasive Mystery and Numinous Treasure ( 洞玄靈寶道學科儀 Dongxuan Lingbao Daoxue Keyi ) says, "bells and inverted bells are hung from the terrace to the left in front of the house in the diocese. They are sounded not only to warn human beings, but also to move spirits". The Great Law of the Numinous Treasure of the Highest Clarity ( 上清靈寶大法 Shangqing Lingbao Dafa ) written by Jin Yunzhong of the Southern Song dynasty says, "when the ritual space is solemn, bells and inverted bells are sounded together. The Juntian melody is played as if deities are wandering around the emperor's realm, and Sanskrit is sung loudly as if in the Mystery Metropolis". The Great Law of the Numinous Treasure of the Highest Clarity written by Wang Qizhen also says, "bells are round in the higher part and depressed at the bottom. Their sounds are clear and spread far. At the top of the bells are coiling dragons. One secondary type is the golden bell, signifying Yang. Inverted bells are round in the lower part and face upward. Their sounds are intensive and slow. At the seat of inverted bells are crouching tigers. Another secondary type is the Inverted Jade Bell, signifying Yin". Hence bells and inverted bells play in harmony as Yin and Yang blend. They can summon the souls of the Yang virtues of the Ten Directions and assemble the controllers of the darkness of the Nine Realms to be present at the rituals and attain the merits of fasts. After the Song and Yuan dynasties, Daoism had many regulations about the time and procedures for using inverted bells in temples and rituals.