The Spirit of Wealth
Origin and Duties of the Martial Spirit of Wealth
The Spirits of Wealth refer to the Civil Spirit of Wealth and to the Martial Spirit of Wealth. In contemporary Daoist temples, the Spirit of Wealth is depicted riding on a black tiger, with a black and long-bearded face, a rod and treasure in both hands, and wearing an ancient military uniform. In fact, this is a depiction of Marshal Zhao, the Martial Spirit of Wealth, who is popularly known as Zhao Gongming or Zhao Xuantan. Stories about the Spirit of Wealth can be found in books such as Investigations into the Divine and Declarations of the Perfected, which were written during the Wei, Jin and Southern and Northern dynasties. In these stories, he is either a deity in charge of burials or the god of plagues. It wasn't until the Yuan and Ming dynasties that the stories about him evolved into their present form. Marshal Zhao's surname was Zhao, and his personal name Lang or Xuanlang. He styled himself Gongming. A native of Mt. Zhongnan, he was one of the Sun Spirits, in reference to the ancient myth of the Nine Suns. After they were shot down by Hou Yi with his arrows, the Nine Suns transformed themselves into nine birds which fell down onto Mt. Qingcheng and transformed themselves into nine ghosts. While the other eight ghosts spread diseases among the people, Zhao Xuanlang was transformed into a man who stayed as a hermit in the Shu state (the western area of Sichuan) and cultivated Dao there. When Celestial Master Zhang Lin practiced alchemy on Mt. Qingcheng, Zhao Xuanlang became his disciple, acting as the protector of the Elixir Chamber. After Zhang finished his elixir, he offered it to Zhao. After eating the drug, Zhao was able to change his form at will, and took the appearance of a Celestial Master. Zhang designated him as the protector of the Mystery Altar. Henceforth, he was called the Supreme Commader of the Mystery Altar. The Complete Investigation into the Divinities of the Three Doctrines claims that he controls thunder and lightning, dominates wind and rain, eliminates plague and disease, resists disasters and bad luck, and that he brings justice to the victims of wrong verdicts, brings wealth to fair business, and brings good results to pious prayer. In the Romance of the Gods, a fiction of the Ming dynasty, in which the heroes were designated as gods, Zhao Gongming was granted the title 'Perfect Sovereign of the Orthodox Oneness Dragon Tiger Mystery Altar of Wish-Fulfilment of the Golden Dragon'. He controls worldy wealth; under his command are the Heavenly Lord Who Invokes Treasure, the Heavenly Lord Who Collects Jewelry, the Envoy for Raising Wealth and the Immortal Official Who Benefits Commerce. Besides Marshal Zhao, Emperor Guan and general Wu Luna, who died in the defense of Wuxi city during the Ming dynasty, were also regarded as Martial Spirits of Wealth in folk culture.
Origin of the Civil Spirit of Wealth
There are many versions of the Civil Spirit of Wealth, including Bi Gan, Fan Li, Stellar Sovereign Caibo and the Star of Wealth which, along with the Star of Luck and the Star of Longevity, was one of the Three Stars of Luck, Wealth and Longevity. In the sculptures and New Year pictures which are popular in folk culture, the Civil Spirit of Wealth normally wears good clothing, a hat and shoes, with a white and smiling face which fits the happy atmosphere of the new year. At that time he can be seen in every family, on walls or doors. It is said that the Civil Spirit of Wealth was so rich throughout his life that, even after his ascension to heaven, he was designated to run worldly wealth as well as official posts and ranks. However, the Civil Spirit of Wealth was never incorporated into the pantheon of Daoist Immortals. That's the reason why there aren't many Daoist scriptures attributed to him.
Worship of the Spirit of Wealth
It was said that the fifteenth day of the third lunar month (in another version, the second day of the first lunar month) was Zhao Xuannang's birthday. On his birthday, Daoist adepts came to Daoist temples to attend memorial ceremonies. They prayed for good harvests and great wealth. But according to some popular tales, it was on the fifth day of the first lunar month that the Spirit of Wealth descended to inspect worldly society. So on the morning of that day, people let off firecrackers and played lion games, which was known as Enticing the Spirit of Wealth. Everyone one hopes he will have a good start and make a big fortune after spring festival.
Enticing the Spirit of Wealth
When the Chinese people spend Spring Festival, they have a custom of Welcoming the Spirit of Wealth ( 迎財神 Ying Caishen 接財神 Jie Caishen ). They usually set off firecrackers on the morning of the second or fifth day of the first lunar month to welcome the Spirit of Wealth.
The Spirit of Wealth is a spirit which appeared late in China. The Chinese people have long lived in an agricultural society and have been somewhat indifferent to the pursuit of wealth. As a result, there was originally no clear concept of the Spirit of Wealth, and his duties were assumed by many spirits or even all the spirits. Around the Song dynasty or sometime earlier, the custom of inviting the Magic Horse of Wealth ( 財馬 Caima ) appeared in the Spring Festival. The Horse, or Magic Horse ( 神馬 Shenma ), refers to a piece of paper on which the icon of some spirit is drawn. In ancient China, people regarded emoluments as important. Because merits, honour and ranks could result in fixed salaries, wealth was included in one's emolument. Now wealth and emoluments both appear in folk customs. This implies that the Chinese had begun to attach more and more importance to wealth. The Magic Horse of Wealth is the symbol of the Spirit of Wealth. In the Ming dynasty, the duties of the Spirit of Wealth were assigned to certain souls, among whom the most important ones were Zhao Gongming, Lord Guan ( 關公 Guangong ), and Bigan. Zhao Gongming, who is also called Supreme Commander Zhao ( 趙公元帥 Zhaogong Yuanshuai ), was originally one of the Daoist spirits guarding laws. He is said to have cultivated Dao on Mt. Zhongnan, following the Celestial Master ( 天師 Tianshi ) Zhang Daoling, who ordered him to look after the alchemical cauldron. Having succeeded, he was entitled the Supreme Commander of the Mysterious Altar of the Orthodox Oneness ( 正一玄壇元帥 Zhengyi Xuantan Yuanshuai ), one of the Supreme Commanders of the Thunder Agency ( 雷部 Leibu ), and is therefore usually called Mysterious Altar Zhao or Supreme Commander Zhao. Riding on a black tiger, he is also called the Mysterious Altar of the Black Tiger ( 黑虎玄壇 Heihu Xuantan ). His main duty is to control and capture demons and ghosts, with a gold wheel in one hand and an iron chain in the other. According to Daoist books, as the incarnation of the Golden Vital Breath of the west and holding a golden wheel in his hand, he is in charge of successful and profitable trade. The ritual for him as a major general is called the Great Satisfactory Ritual of the Golden Wheel. Hence he is taken to be the Spirit of Wealth among the people. His birthday is on the second day of the first lunar month. On that day, as early as before dawn, every family sets off firecrackers to welcome him home early. The merchants of the Ming dynasty used to worship Lord Guan in order that his righteousness would unite people of the same trade or from the same village. As he was able to protect the businessmen, he was also regarded as the Spirit of Wealth. Both Lord Guan and Lord Zhao are military commanders, so they are called the Military Spirits of Wealth. Corresponding to them is another Spirit of Wealth, Bigan (the Prime Minister of the Shang dynasty), who is called the Civil Spirit of Wealth. There exists in the south of the Yangtze River a custom of receiving road spirits on the fifth day of the lunar New Year. They are also called Spirits of Wealth, but it is uneasy to investigate their origin. They probably stem from folk beliefs and are difficult to be researched. However, the custom of receiving road spirits on the fifth day of the lunar New Year has a great influence on the way and time of worshiping the Spirits of Wealth. Ordinary shops are closed during the New Year holidays after doing business on New Year's Eve, and do not open until the fifth day of the lunar New Year when they have welcomed the Spirits of Wealth. This is called the first transaction of a year's business. Hence the Spirits of Wealth can be welcomed either on the second or the fifth day of the first lunar month, and different places have their own local customs as to the fixed time of this activity.
In the Ming dynasty, wealthy merchants from Western Asia used to trade in China, and possibly Western Asian countries even sent emissaries to China to pay tribute to the imperial court. People from those places were habitually called "the Hui people", for most of them believed in the Hui Religion, namely Islam. After entering China, the Muslims were well known for being good at doing business. Consequently, according to some legends, Supreme Commander Zhao is of the Hui nationality. Pork cannot be given as an offering to him, and only beef can take its place.