Monday, October 31, 2016

Magical Uses Of Rice Grains (茅山祭米术)

Raw rice grains are indispensable ingredients in Taoist rituals. Rice grains are normally being used to expel evil, to open spiritual portals, as food offerings, to conjure spirits and also to summon dead souls. So said, different Taoist schools have different requirements for the selection of rice grains. While majority of the schools are quite indifferent on the conditions of the rice grains used; the Mao’shan School is quite careful when coming to rice grains.

Normally only rice grains with perfect ends are considered qualified to be used in spirit conjuration matters. Symbolically speaking, two pointed ends of a rice grain means that the spirits can travel both ways without hindrances. So, good rice grains are the equivalent of human superhighways. Broken rice grains on the other hand refer to small muddy paths. When wandering spirits need to be summoned, Mao’shan Taoists will first select 36 perfect rice grains for the ritual. After a short summoning passage is recited, 6 rice grains are thrown towards all 6 directions: front, back, left, right, up and down. The gesture of throwing those rice grains are also of importance. Usually rice grains are thrown softly towards the 6 directions. Of course, rice grains are used in conjunction with incense, candles and joss papers.

Good rice grains can also be used to hasten the arrival of dead souls in the ‘rice asking’ (问米) ritual. Rice asking is a folk ritual used to summon the recently deceased soul up for conversations. This is similar to the spirit mediumship in the West. Although this type of ritual is normally monopolised by elderly women, Mao’shan Taoists too have learnt this capability though not many are willing to put it into practice.

When rice grains are used to exorcise evil spirits or in opening a spiritual portal, it is not necessary to select perfect ones. Rice grains are normally mixed with coarse sea salts, talisman ashes and the mixture is thrown forward forcefully accompanied by shouting and storming of left foot. This type of exorcism ritual is normally done as part of space cleaning ceremony for haunted locations.

If rice grains are to be used as food offerings to the spirits, they should be accompanied with Taoist food offering mantra and mudra. It is believed that after those rice grains are blessed by mantra and mudra, they will transform into delicacies for hungry ghosts. Taoist food offering rituals can be traced to Buddhist origins just a note.

Of course, when rice is cooked; it is also being offered to spirits and gods alike. However, when a household is tormented by strange happenings; cold rice mixes with cold water are served as food offerings to the spiritual world. The combination of cold rice and water was the last food for beheading prisoners in ancient China. So, by serving cold rice and water mixture; the spirits are asked to eat the cold rice and leave the place so to speak.

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