The Earth Spirit
Origins of the Earth Spirit
In ancient China, there existed ceremonial rites of worshiping the earth and village. The village was the smallest local administrative unit. The section "Sacrificial Rites" of the Book of Rites has a commentary which says, "people from superior officials down, including scholar-officials and commoners, lived in groups. A village was established where there were 100 families". The section "Records of the Five Agents" of the History of the Han Dynasty says, "25 families composed a village in the old system". The ancients revered Heaven and loved Earth. The "Records of the Five Agents" says, "the Earth is so wide that it is impossible to worship all over it, so the soil was piled up into an altar in order to repay its contribution". So the Earth was worshiped in order to repay for its charity. The Village Spirit was already called the Village Grandpa Spirit or the Earth Spirit, especially the latter. The Village Spirit was nameless at first. After the Eastern Jin dynasty, charitable and upright officials were taken to be the Earth Spirit among the people, therefore the spirit was personalized and named. The section "On Village Spirits" of the Book of Major Daoist Numinous Spirits and Ghosts quoted Laozi's Catalogue of Ghosts and Spirits of Heaven and Earth, saying, "the Village Spirit of the capital was an upright subject of Heaven. It was feminine on the left side and masculine on the right side, and named Huang Chong. It was a native of Liyang, Jiujiang of Yangzhou. Ranked as Wandan, he governs the great divinities of famous mountains on Earth under Heaven, and all the other Village Spirits serve him as his subject". After the Ming and Qing dynasties, celebrities were often taken to be the local Earth Spirit among the people. For example, it is said that the Earth Spirit worshiped by the Imperial Academy and by the Ministry of Civil Personnel in the Qing dynasty was Han Yu, a great literati of the Tang dynasty. The area around the Imperial College in Hangzhou was the hometown of Yue Fei, so the Imperial College venerated Yue Fei as the Earth Spirit. Today the Earth Granny is often worshiped as a supplement in the temples of the Earth Spirit. This custom originated around the Southern Song dynasty.
Giving Birth to All Things on Earth
The reason for the Chinese peoples' love and worship of the Earth is that the Earth carries and gives birth to everything on Earth, on which the five cereals grow to rear the people. Volume 532 of the Imperial Encyclopaedia of the Taiping Era quoted the Unofficial Commentaries on the Book of Rites, saying, "a country takes the people to be its foundation, and the masses regard food as their heaven. So when the emperor founds the country and governs the people, he commands to first set up the altar of the soil. Due to the wide earth and rich cereal crops and the impossibility to worship every inch of the earth, altars are set up to worship the Earth in countries and cities".
Governing the Home Village
With the gradual perfection of the bureaucratic system from the central authorities to the basic level in feudal countries, the Earth Spirit, which is only able to govern the native soil, gradually evolved into a minor spirit of the lowest rank among Daoist Spirits starting in the Eastern Jin dynasty. Volume Five of Investigations into the Divine says that Jiang Ziwen, a native of Guangling, died for pursuing thieves. After Sun Quan of the Eastern Wu wielded power, Jiang Ziwen presented his spirit on a road and said, "I should be the Earth Spirit of this place to benefit you people". Here to "benefit you people" means to bless the safety of houses, the birth of babies into families, and the thriving of the domestic animals on the native land and to being just. Often there is an antithetical couplet in the temples of the Earth Spirit in the south of China, which says, "the grandpa handles affairs fairly, while the grandma gives advice earnestly".
Most of the temples housing the Earth Spirit are rather simple and crude. Some of the big temples enshrine the spirit tablet of the Earth Spirit in the halls. The divine birthday of the Earth Spirit is the 2nd day of the 2nd lunar month. In old days, both officials and the people went to the temples of the Earth Spirit to burn incense and offer sacrifices. Today it is still quite popular to burn incense in the temples of the Earth Spirit on the first and the fifth day of each month.