S-shaped Ornamental Objects

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Origin of Using S-shaped Ornamental Objects in Daoist Rituals of Fasts and Offerings ( 齋醮 Zhaijiao )

The S-shaped Ornamental Object is one of the Magical Instruments ( 法器 Faqi ) often used in the Ritual Space ( 壇場 Tanchang ) in Daoist temples and rituals of Fasts and Offerings. It is said that the S-shaped Ornamental Object is a ritual instrument in Buddhism, but neither it nor things like it appear in the records or art of Indian Buddhism. The Chinese left records about S-shaped Ornamental Objects around the Southern and Northern dynasties. According to historical records, when Wen Jiao of the Jin dynasty read a poem by Cao Mengde, which says, "an old steed in the stable still aspires to gallop a thousand li; a noble-hearted man retains his high aspirations even in old age", he hit the spittoon with an iron S-shaped Ornamental Object and completely broke it. Besides, Casual Records of the Nenggai Studio ( 能改齋漫錄 Nenggaizhai Manlu ) by Wu Zeng of the Song dynasty says, "the first emperor of the Qi dynasty bestowed to Ming Sengshao an S-shaped Ornamental Object made of bamboo root, Emperor Wu of the Liang dynasty bestowed to crown prince Zhaoming an S-shaped Ornamental Object made of sweet-scented osmanthus, and Shi Jilun and Wangdun hold iron S-shaped Ornamental Objects. These three S-shaped Ornamental Objects, which are made of bamboo, wood and iron, are called paw sticks. So the Glossary ( 音義指歸 Yinyi Zhigui ) says that the S-shaped Ornamental Object refers to the paw stick of ancient times. Bones, horns, bamboo or wood are cut into the shape of the fingers and palm of human hand, and the handle can be as long as about three chi. Sometimes when the back itches and the hand cannot scratch the sore spot, an S-shaped Ornamental Object is used to scratch as one wishes". Generally, S-shaped Ornamental Objects were held by people during their Pure Talk as an object to help their discussion during the Wei and Jin dynasties, and it was used as a pointing instrument at that time and in later ages. So it was not a specific Daoist invention. The S-shaped Ornamental Object signifies satisfying one's wishes, and it was originally an article for daily use in ancient China. It began to be used in Daoist temples and rituals of fasts and offerings in the Southern and Northern dynasties.


There were records about the S-shaped Ornamental Object in the Daoist canon in the Southern and Northern dynasties. 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 ) says, "though the S-shaped Ornamental Object is not something badly needed by the Heavenly Lords ( 天尊 Tianzun ), it is necessary for male and female Daoist priests to give offerings. It must be ready at all times and cannot be replaced by other objects". 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 Qing dynasty says that the "S-shaped Ornamental Object" was "made by the Yellow Emperor ( 黃帝 Huangdi ) and was his weapon to fight Chiyou. It was changed into a stick-shaped weapon by later generations and held by heavenly perfect men to fight against demons". Some Daoist believers compare the shape of the S-shaped Ornamental Object to the Chinese character "heart", saying, "the S-shaped Ornamental Object signifies heart". The S-shaped Ornamental Object has three points. The two points at the beginning and the end are cloud-shaped or ganoderma-shaped, and the central point is round. This implies a trinity, which means that one heart respects three treasures. Hence in the sculptures of spirits in Daoist temples, there is the sculpture of the heavenly lords holding the S-shaped Ornamental Object in their hand. In the rituals of Fasts and rituals of Offerings, when the High Priests ( 高功 Gaogong ) or the Ritual Masters ( 法師 Fashi ) preach in place of the heavenly lords, they also hold an S-shaped Ornamental Object in their hand.