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Morality becomes the precondition and basis of transcendence, and the union of deity and medium is thus seen as occurring between two entities that are essentially alike. How does a person become a spirit-medium? Often they struggle against the god, refusing to lend their body to the divine spirit. Many, but by no means all, candidates ultimately succumb and restructure their lives to accommodate the possession experiences. Thereby they become important communication channels with the realm of the gods for their local community.

It is generally asserted, that the capacity to be an animated medium for gods and spirits is no acquisition, but a gift which manifests itself spontaneously. It happens indeed, especially at religious festivals, celebrated in temples with great concourse of people, that a young man suddenly begins to hop, dance and waddle with wild or drowzy looks, and nervous gestures of arms and hands. Bystanders grasp his arms and sustain him, knowing that, while in this condition, his fall to the ground may cause sudden death. The job is not one that people enjoy, or so it is claimed.

Jordan goes on to relate the story of the village medium Guo Tian-huah who resisted the advances of the Third Prince for several years before finally becoming his medium This pattern of resistance is indeed a common element in the life stories of many mediums. Most of these dancing dervishes come from the lower classes.


People of good standing seldom debase themselves to things which [ Here the consensus of the more recent ethnographic literature seems to be that the medium may play an enormously important and prestigious role in community affairs, but can wield his or her power only while in trance. In other words, respect is accorded to the possessing deity, not to the possessed individual, who out of trance typically occupies no particularly exalted position see, for example, Jordan 73, ; Sutton This pattern of involuntary mediumship dominates the image of Chinese spirit-mediumship among the Western academic community.

In the present article I shall explore beliefs and practices connected with spirit-writing, focussing in particular on the interpretations of the nature of mediumship maintained in Taiwanese spirit-writing cults. The presence of such an alternative model of mediumship should alert us to the fact that Chinese spirit-mediumship is not a single construct, but is instead characterized by diverse cultural constructions or, to use another term, folk theories. All of the book publications were first serialized in Luanyou. These publications combined with interviews of cult members are my main sources for the following overview of mediumship in the context of a spirit-writing cult.

The Mingzheng Tang is a modern manifestation of a Taiwanese tradition of planchette cults, the first of which was founded in in Magong, the capital of the Penghu Islands, which are located between the mainland province of Fujian and Taiwan proper.

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The divine admonitions and moral lessons thus obtained were relayed to the general public through public lectures and morality books [ shanshu ]. These outward-directed activities are the most easily noticed ones, but planchette cults then and now also had internal functions, i. However, there are a number of common denominators: first, cultivation first and foremost means cultivation of everyday morality. Cultivating the Way is conceptualized as a path of learning. A phoenix hall is like a school, with the gods as teachers and the cult members as students. Cult members are to study diligently the messages received by the gods.

Ascension to Heaven requires a significant surplus of merit points.

The amount of accumulated merit determines the rank of deity one attains: lower, middle, or upper. Even when one has attained divine status, however, one has to continue cultivating the Way in order to further perfect oneself. Spirit-writing journals are filled with accounts of virtuous people who after death became the earth god of some village.

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By continuing to diligently cultivate themselves and to fulfill their duties as earth gods in an unexceptionable manner, they manage after several years to rise to the position of city god. From there further cultivation leads them to the position of, say, Guan Gong in an important Guan Gong temple.

Finally, if they do not stray from the correct path, they will eventually obtain a celestial office. By continuing to further cultivate themselves, they will then gradually rise up through the various layers of the heavens. Thus, cultivation introduces a dynamic element into the celestial hierarchy of the popular Chinese pantheon, in that almost all the names of deities become simply names of divine offices, which may be held by a succession of different meritorious spirits.

Therefore spirit-writing halls tend to continually create new celestial offices to make space for them. Thus one is likely to find many deities in spirit-written texts that are not mentioned anywhere else. As the easiest and most straightforward way of creating merit for this purpose is to donate money to the spirit-writing temple, this is an important source of income for a phoenix hall.


The planchette is the principal instrument for the transmission of divine messages to humans. The most common term used in the Mingzheng Tang for spirit-writing is fuluan [supporting the phoenix]. In this phoenix hall two forms of spirit-writing are being practised: writing on a sand-covered surface with a wooden stylus, and writing on yellow paper with a red marker.

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Both methods are operated by a single medium and are considered more convenient and faster than the more traditional method of having two mediums operate a large and heavy wooden stylus. In the case of the Mingzheng Tang the transition to employing a single medium brought with it a change in the physical appearance of the stylus. Styli handled by two mediums tend to be long, heavy, and richly ornamented instruments whose manipulation by the principal medium is facilitated when an assistant provides some balance. By contrast, the styli used in the Mingzheng Tang tend to be shorter, thinner, lighter, unornamented, and thus better suited for rapid manipulation by a single person.

A heavy, traditional stylus is still being employed in the Mingzheng Tang, but not for writing purposes. A number of different terms are used in the Mingzheng Tang for the styli utilized in spirit-writing. It is this piece that touches the sand surface during writing.


All these facts show that the stylus is seen to be in need of protection from demonic forces intent on disrupting the divine revelations. This protection is further strengthened by restricting the styli to closely circumscribed safe areas within the temple. Use of the stylus for spirit-writing or healing is confined to the inner sanctuary [ neitang ], a square area in front of the central deity image that is fenced off with a low aluminium railing. When not in use, the stylus rests on top of the sand tray in the neitang , covered with a red cloth.

Styli that are not used regularly are stored inside the glass cases containing the images of the main deities. Thus protected, a stylus does not need to be purified before every use; the only time I have witnessed a precautionary purification by means of incense was in the case of a stylus that had not been used for a long time. The only safeguards here are that the pens always use red ink and that for each session a new pen is used.

In fact, the pen is laid out in its plastic wrapping, which is only removed by the medium shortly before entering into trance. Xu Dishan proposed that, as the luan-bird serves as a conveyance for deities, it came to be viewed as a mediator between the sacred and the profane realms 7. This, however, is only an educated guess and there seems to exist no direct documentary evidence for the etymology of such terms as fuluan and feiluan. Considering the great significance of the luan-bird for Taiwanese phoenix halls, the lack of knowledge concerning its connection with spirit-writing must have irked them.

This gap was filled by an explanatory myth, which seems to be of recent origin, but is now generally accepted among phoenix disciples. Its earliest incidence to my present knowledge is found in a morality book published by a southern Taiwanese phoenix hall in here Zisi Fuzi, a disciple of Confucius, reveals that in the beginning of the Han dynasty a luan-bird wrote with its beak in snow and sand to transmit the divine will, to give warning to rebellious elements and rectify the customs of the time.

In imitation, the deities and sages thereafter used a stick made from peach and willow wood to write on a sand tray and proclaim their teachings. This practice continues until today and from it the phoenix halls derive their name Ruzong Shenjiao de kaozheng : This explanatory story was affirmed by its retelling in volume 78 of the Phoenix Friend Luanyou 78, 35 and given further divine sanction in by a revelation from Taiyi Zhenren Luanyou , The latter revelation also answers a question raised by the original story, namely, why the gods stopped using the luan-bird and instead developed the stylus as a substitute.

Taiyi Zhenren explains that the luan-bird vanished and upon praying to Heaven, the Divine Lord Guan provided them the stylus, whose shape resembles that of the luan-bird, as a substitute. This was not the last word on this matter, however. Thereupon Confucius tired and returned home. Despondent and discouraged he accidentally saw a numinous luan-bird land on a patch of sand and write characters in it with its beak.

Realizing that the spiritual luan-bird transmitted the will of Heaven, [Confucius] recorded its poems and prose. Word for word they were [like] gold and jade, sentence for sentence [like] pearls; all were texts to admonish the world and save the people. Thereupon the master ordered his disciples to assemble at fixed times to earnestly pray to Heaven-on-High and piously ask for the luan-bird to descend.

Every time the luan-bird responded to the request and descended to compose essays by pecking in the sand, thus expounding the marvellous principles of the Way of Heaven and opening the gate of the Great Way. This was the beginning of spirit-writing in the Confucian school. Later, Confucius felt that it was very inconvenient to request the numinous luan-bird to compose characters by pecking in the sand, because sometimes it would not come even though requested. The medium selected by Confucius was his disciple Zilu; Confucius and his followers thus were the first spirit-writing cult.

The story seems to be widely accepted in central Taiwanese phoenix halls, as it was recounted to me with slight variations in three different temples. Folk theory is somewhat ambiguous as to whether the stylus is moved directly by the gods or whether it is moved by the medium as an agent of the gods. Elliott, working from data gathered in colonial Singapore in the s, gives expression to this ambiguity by writing that. Of the two, it is the one in the left-hand position, holding the stick with his right hand, who is considered to have the necessary mediumistic powers.

His partner on the right is only meant to hold the stick as a passive agent, following all its motions without any interference. Lefevere is primarily concerned with the untranslatability of ideology and poetics, the main components of what he refers to as literary systems, and how an untranslatable status may change over time.

Foreignizing translations often involve different levels of linguistic experimentation, though innovative techniques may also call upon other arts to more effectively convey elements of the source text. In particular, when form and meaning are interconnected, the specific features of individual languages may thwart easy the pun as the untranslatable phenomenon par excellence, since its very definition is a play on language, and that play is specific to the language in which it originates. What about a neologism, such as betraynslation, treasonlation, or translating, treasoning?

These offhand examples serve to illustrate the dynamics that Suzanne Jill Levine identifies within the process of the translation of paronomasia: the process may underscore the differences between languages, but resolving the translation problem can bring them back together. The example translating, treasoning? Lefevere noted that ideologies and poetics change, and so do these relationships among languages.

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While the choices of individual translators will provide countless interpretations of the same text, so too will readers respond differently to the same text depending upon their time, their place, their politics. For this reason, translation is an ongoing process, and simultaneously a model for, and accessory to, critical inquiry. Rather than fetishizing difference, the recognition of the untranslatable as such acknowledges that the task of the un translator is never done.

This first edition bound in quarter morocco over marbled boards is rare. Poe, Edgar Allan, Le Corbeau , tr. Paris, L. Pichon, After five days of floating on the remains of the ship and avoiding a threatening whirlpool, the narrator observes a nearby vessel, whose presence creates waves strong enough to throw him onboard.

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Shortly after he learns that the ship is heading directly for the South Pole, a giant sheet of ice cracks and exposes a whirlpool that devours the ship and its passengers, including the narrator. The story itself is a reproduction of the found manuscript. Silk moire end papers with matching satin place-holder ribbon. No dust jacket, as issued. While the choices of individual translators will provide countless interpretations of the same text, so too will readers respond differently to the same text depending upon their time, their place, their politics. For this reason, translation is an ongoing process, and simultaneously a model for, and accessory to, critical inquiry.

Rather than fetishizing difference, the recognition of the untranslatable as such acknowledges that the task of the un translator is never done. This first edition bound in quarter morocco over marbled boards is rare.