A god in transition
A Daoist priest (daoshi) named Zhao Zujian 趙祖堅, the Record of the Listener tells us, practiced therapeutic exorcism by the ritual program called Five Thunders. During the exorcist procedure, he summoned spirits for an interrogation in which he would make the spirit possess his assistant in order to facilitate communication. One day during the ritual, his young assistant unexpectedly jumped up and, in a roaring voice, announced himself to be the late tenth-century Daoist master Tan Zixiao譚紫霄 coming to help Zhao to advance in the Five Thunders ritual. But ﬁrst he needed to know what knowledge Zhao had already acquired. Zhao replied, “Only the four talismans that were transmitted to this world by Zhenwu” (Yijianzhi yi 5.831-832; Davis 2001: 80-82). Zhao’s answer marks Zhenwu as an essential source of the Thunder Rites, one of the most important ritual movements in post-Tang Daoism. This chapter examines the new Daoist rituals that gave Zhenwu a pivotal role. As
an anthropomorphic god, Zhenwu entered the Daoist pantheon late but reached a high position relatively quickly. A new style of liturgical meditation, “transformation into the deity through inner reﬁnement” (bianshen neilian變神内煉), promoted by the new ritual lineages surfacing in the early twelfth century, held the key to Zhenwu’s story of success. In the course of time, he grew into a meditation partner, a lineage master, and a patron in the heavenly court for Daoist ritual specialists. By the fourteenth century, in some ritual programs he has even become the ultimate source of authority and was given the title of emperor (di). From an attendant general to a supreme monarch, Zhenwu had come a long way in the Daoist pantheon.