Magical Staffs

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Origin of the Magical Staff

The Magical Staff, which is also called " Staff" or " Nine-Segment Staff" ( 九節杖 Jiujie Zhang ), is a kind of Magical Instrument ( 法器 Faqi ) frequently used in Daoist rituals of Fasts and Offerings ( 齋醮 Zhaijiao ). The staff is a tool for helping old people to stand up and walk. In ancient China, the staff was also taken to be the symbol of royal or military power, and was also an instrument of torture used for punishing prisoners. In the biographies of spirits published after the Eastern Han dynasty, the staff was taken to be a substitute for the human body after his Deliverance from the Corpse ( 屍解 Shijie ). In the Southern and Northern Dynasties, the staff was also a symbol of power. The Essential Secrets of the Most High ( 無上秘要 Wushang Miyao ) by Yuwen Yong, emperor Wu of the Northern Zhou dynasty, contains a "Chapter on Staffs", which says that the Primeval Lord of Heaven ( 元始天尊 Yuanhi Tianzun ) has a divine Staff. "It is made of seven-segment supreme Yang bamboo from the Numinous Mountain. The highest and the lowest segments of the bamboo are hollow, which corresponds to Heaven and Earth. However, most Daoist scriptures published afterwards say that the magical staff has nine segments. The Imperial Encyclopedia of the Taiping Era ( 太平御覽 Taiping Yulan ) cites the Original Register of Tortoise Mountain ( 龜山元錄 Guishan Yuanlu ), saying, "in the third month in winter, the Jade Lads of the Three Heavens ( 三天玉童 Santian Yutong ) transform into an old man holding a nine-segment gold staff". The use of the Magical Staff in Daoist rituals of Fasts and Offerings probably started after the Liu Song regime of the Southern Song dynasty.


The Daoist Rituals of the Pervasive Mystery and Numinous Treasure ( 洞玄靈寶道學科儀 Dongxuan Lingbao Daoxue Keyi ) states: "all those who learn Daoism should master the Nine-Segment Staff. It assists old people and saves people in emergencies, and has different names. It is necessary to know it." The nine segments of the staff are named after the constellations, namely the Taihuang Constellation, the Yinghuo Constellation, the Jiao Constellation, the Heng Constellation, the Zhang Constellation, the Yingshi Constellation, the Zhen Constellation, the Dongjing Constellation and the Ju Constellation. When Daoist priests make Magical Staffs, "they must select famous mountains and Blissful Realms ( 福地 Fudi ), clean the region and any ruins, take clean bamboo facing south on an auspicious day, measuring five chi and five fen long and containing nine segments, and put it in a quiet and clean place. On the days of Jiawu, Bingwu and Dingmao, or the third day of the third lunar month, the fifth day of the fifth month, the seventh day of of the seventh month, and the ninth day of the ninth month, the priests slightly bend the first segment of bamboo to the left and to the right slightly. Then they open four holes below the the first segment to insert the secret names of the Four Sacred Mountains, and open one hole in the center at the top of the bamboo to insert the secret name of the Sacred Mountain of the Centre. Later, they fill the middle part of the bamboo with Numinous Scriptures and seal the whole with wax. Those who specially take the staff with them for cultivation fill it with the Talisman of the Five Emperors ( 五帝符 Wudi Fu ). Silk fabrics with yellow figures are used as pouches that are just large enough to hold a staff". In the rituals of Fasts and Offerings, Daoist priests can summon spirits or heavenly generals and destroy hells according to rules with Magical Staffs made in this way. "Point to Heaven with the staff and the heavenly spirits will pay homage; point to Earth with the staff and the Earth Spirits will welcome the Daoist; point to the northeast with the staff and the bodies of all the ghosts will be controlled". When the Ritual Master ( 法師 Fashi ) performs rituals, he often hangs a small yellow seven-cun long streamer under the second segment of the staff, on which are written the title of the Heavenly Lord of Salvation from Misery in the Ten Direction ( 十方救苦天尊 Shifang Jiuku Tianzun )s and the Talisman of Mysterious Transformations of the Ten Directions ( 十方玄化符 Shifang Xuanhua Fu ). The Great Law of the Numinous Treasure of the Highest Clarity by Wang Qizhen says that when the ritual master destroys hells, he gazes at the staff and "transforms it into a pillar in the form of the dragon's head and the tiger's tail. The dragon is brilliant and holds a splendid streamer in its mouth. Numinous wind and auspicious clouds coil around the dragon, shining limitlessly".