The Three Great Emperor-Officials
Origin of the Three Great Emperor-Officials
The Three Great Emperor-Officials ( 三官大帝 Sanguan Dadi ) are the Heavenly Official ( 天官 Tianguan ), the Earthly Official ( 地官 Diguan ) and the Water Official ( 水官 Shuiguan ). In early ancient China, rituals of sacrifice to Heaven, Earth and Water were commonly performed. The Records of Rites ( 禮記 Liji ) says: "The sacrifice for Heaven is burned with wood; the sacrifice for the mountain is raised to the mountain peak; the sacrifice for the river is sunken in the water; and the sacrifice for earth is buried." However, it was the exclusive right of emperors to sacrifice to heaven, earth and rivers, while the common people only sacrificed to their ancestors. In the eastern Han dynasty, when Zhang Daoling founded the Celestial Masters Tradition ( 天師道 Tianshi Dao ), he instated a method for Daoists to pray for healing by sacrificing to Heaven, Earth and Water, and by presenting Handwritten Repentances to the Three Heavenly Officials ( 三官手書 Sanguan Shoushu ). "One is placed on the top of the mountain to offer to heaven; one is buried into the earth; and one is sunken into water." In the Southern and Northern dynasties, the Three Officials were combined with the Spirits of the Three Origins (higher, middle and lower) ( 三元神Sanyuan Shen ).
The Heavenly Official Who Confers Blessings
The Heavenly Official, also known as 'Higher Origin First-Class Heavenly Official Who Confers Blessings' ( 上元一品賜福天官 Shangyuan Yipin Cifu Tianguan ) or 'Great Emperor of Purple Subtlety' ( 紫微大帝 Ziwei Dadi ), belongs to the Jade Clarity Realm ( 玉清境 Yuqing Jing ). The Heavenly Official, a condensation of green, yellow, and white Vital Breaths ( 氣 Qi ) of the Original Chaos, is in charge of the emperors of all the heavens. Every 15th day of the first month of the lunar calendar, he descends to the human world and inspects and decides the sins and blessings of men, and thus is called the Heavenly Official Who Confers Blessings ( 天官賜福 Tianguan Cifu ).
The Earthly Official Who Absolves Sins
The Earthly Official, also known as the 'Earthly Official of Middle Origin and Second-Rank Absolver of Sins' ( 二品中元解厄地宮Erpin Zhongyuan Jie E Diguan ) or 'Great Emperor of Pristine Emptiness" ( 清虛大帝 Qingzu Dadi ), belongs to the Highest Clarity Realm ( 上清境 Shangqing Jing ). The Earthly Official, a condensation of Numinous Vital Breath of the Original Grotto of Chaos ( 元洞混靈之氣 Yuandong Hunling Zhi Qi ) and of Essence of Extreme Yellow, is in charge of the Five Emperors of the Five Sacred Mountains and of the Earthly Immortals of all places. Every 15th of the seven month of the lunar calendar, he comes to the human world, inspects the sins of men and absolves them.
The Water Official Who Eliminates Misfortunes
The Water Official, also known as the 'Water Official of Lower Origin and Third-Rank Eliminator of Misfortunes' ( 下元三品解厄水官 Xianyuan Sanpin Jie E Shuiguan ) or 'Great Emperor of Pervasive Yin" ( 洞陰大帝 Dongyin Dadi ), belongs to the Jade Clarity Realm ( 玉清境 Yuqing Jing ). The Water Official, a condensation of Vital Breath of Winds and Lakes and of Essence of the Dawn of Greatness, is in charge of the immortals residing in water. Every 15th of the tenth month of the lunar calendar, he comes to the human world to inspect sins and good fortune, and eliminates the misfortunes of men.
Worship in Temples
On 15th of the first month, the 15th of the seventh month and the 15th of the tenth month, the birthdays of the Three Officials of Heaven, Earth and Water, Daoists go to temples and burn incense to offer sacrifices. Also, Golden Register Rituals ( 金籙齋 Jinlu Zhai ) and Yellow Register Rituals ( 黃籙道場 Huanglu Daochang ) are held to pray for fortune and eliminate misfortune.