poetguy

Taoist magical talismans

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I'm trying to learn about them. What can you tell me about talismanic magic? What are its uses? How does it work? What are some interesting talismans? What about talismanic water?

 

I'd love to hear about people's experiences, or theories, or knowledge.

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I'm trying to learn about them. What can you tell me about talismanic magic? What are its uses? How does it work? What are some interesting talismans? What about talismanic water?

 

I'd love to hear about people's experiences, or theories, or knowledge.

 

Read an intro in Eva Wong's "Shambala Guide to Taoism," then come back with more questions if they arise.:)

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Read an intro in Eva Wong's "Shambala Guide to Taoism," then come back with more questions if they arise.:)

 

I've actually typed up the entire chapter on Magical Taoism and the section, later in the book, where she discusses talismanic magic.

 

I was hoping to hear a broader spectrum of perspectives, maybe a range of personal experiences.

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I've actually typed up the entire chapter on Magical Taoism and the section, later in the book, where she discusses talismanic magic.

 

I was hoping to hear a broader spectrum of perspectives, maybe a range of personal experiences.

 

Oh, OK, I just didn't want to start from the very basics, these being available elsewhere, but since you're familiar with the subject... Well, what are you interested in -- obtaining talismans for certain purposes, or learning how to write them yourself? If the former, I don't know who to recommend, there was one participant on the forum who sells them, Mak Tin Si, but I have my reservations, although there's other people here who spoke highly of his "energy." He has a forum somewhere out there, you can look him up.

 

"Talismanic water" you asked about is obtained by burning an active talisman, mixing the ashes with water, and either sprinkling, spraying, adding to bath water, drinking, or otherwise using it externally or internally.

 

No one is ready to write a talisman who hasn't practiced calligraphy for a rather long period of time. It has to be practiced the taoist way, as a deep meditation, not as a mechanical endeavor. But the sheer technique is also something to work on for a long time before your qi can saturate your brush... Needless to say your qi has to be developed as you go too. It's a long haul.

 

The magical part, the applications, consecrations, fasts, prayers, intent manipulation, etc., is something you will discover either beforehand, in the process, or after you've mastered the techniques -- if it was meant to be. To be ready to write a talisman is far more difficult than to be ready to write a bestseller.:)

Do you have pretty good handwriting, steady and strong and graceful? A sure, unshaking hand? If you ever shot a gun, were you really really great at hitting the mark? These are some indirect indicators that you might succeed someday if you take up the practice.

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Thanks for the thoughtful reply, Taomeow!

 

I'm actually not looking to acquire talismans or to make them. I'm writing a story, and I wanted to be able to give accurate details of the talisman-making process, the theory behind talismans, the different kinds of talismans, their supposed effects, and so on. If there was someone who'd had a particularly striking experience with talismanic magic, it might help shape my thinking on the subject.

 

I've tried to join Mak Tin Si's site -- it's broken, the captcha doesn't work, no way to join it. Perhaps the yaogwei are interfering.

 

I've read Eva Wong's book, in which everything is described in very general terms, and I bought one of Jerry Alan Johnson's (extremely expensive) books. Johnson gave a lot of details, but the theoretical understanding seems sketchy to me; he explains everything in terms of human psychology, psychic vibrations and such, whereas anthropological texts like Michael Strickmann's (extremely expensive) Chinese Magical Medicine make it look like traditional magical Taoists actually believed these things emanated from gods, demons, lost spirits, and animal spirits like huli jing. I think Johnson doesn't believe in the gods, demons, and animal spirits, so he translated it all into modern pop psychology, which makes his book a frustrating resource for my purposes.

 

I've been considering Wilson Yong's (extremely expensive) Secret of Taoist Talismans, but I don't know if it contains anything worthwhile. I'd like to find informative websites, or knowledgeable people, or solid book recommendations, or hear about personal experience.

 

Thank you!

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Thanks for the thoughtful reply, Taomeow!

 

I'm actually not looking to acquire talismans or to make them. I'm writing a story, and I wanted to be able to give accurate details of the talisman-making process, the theory behind talismans, the different kinds of talismans, their supposed effects, and so on. If there was someone who'd had a particularly striking experience with talismanic magic, it might help shape my thinking on the subject.

 

I've tried to join Mak Tin Si's site -- it's broken, the captcha doesn't work, no way to join it. Perhaps the yaogwei are interfering.

 

I've read Eva Wong's book, in which everything is described in very general terms, and I bought one of Jerry Alan Johnson's (extremely expensive) books. Johnson gave a lot of details, but the theoretical understanding seems sketchy to me; he explains everything in terms of human psychology, psychic vibrations and such, whereas anthropological texts like Michael Strickmann's (extremely expensive) Chinese Magical Medicine make it look like traditional magical Taoists actually believed these things emanated from gods, demons, lost spirits, and animal spirits like huli jing. I think Johnson doesn't believe in the gods, demons, and animal spirits, so he translated it all into modern pop psychology, which makes his book a frustrating resource for my purposes.

 

I've been considering Wilson Yong's (extremely expensive) Secret of Taoist Talismans, but I don't know if it contains anything worthwhile. I'd like to find informative websites, or knowledgeable people, or solid book recommendations, or hear about personal experience.

 

Thank you!

 

Oh, this sounds like a cool story to write!:)

 

Well, yes, what Johnson et al are doing with traditional Chinese modalities is something I call cultural imperialism... ugh.

 

You are likely to get nothing but this from any books available to the general public, I'm afraid. The perspective of Michael Strickmann ("they" actually believed, meaning "but I don't"?) will also remove all magic from the material under scrutiny and leave you with barren technicalities. It's like writings about sex by celibate monks and nuns...

 

The actual process of making a talisman -- well, there's a lot of preliminary work. You need to make special inks. The ingredients are arcane. You have to make them yourself, and consecrate them, which means you have to have access to a functional taoist altar, consecrated and protected. So you can start researching from there -- you may not find all the information in one place, but you may find bits and pieces here and there and put it all together like a jigsaw puzzle.

 

The strongest talismans are maoshan; research that. It's not going to be out in the open, you will, again, have to rely on bits and pieces and your power of integration. Also, if you're really committed to the task, take up one of the maoshan practices -- e.g., kunlun is available to the public, it's not about teaching how to write a talisman, but things a practitioner needs to know tend to get revealed to him/her down the road...

 

Personal experience? Um, a goddess grabs your hand, rainbow snakes flash out of your fingers, she zaps you with a lightning and pours a waterfall on your head, then tells you, now YOU do it, like that, and while she's holding your hand you know how, so you do it, like that. :)

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Poetguy, please share your findings as to how talismans work. I was told its making a kind of gate or connection between this world and the higher levels so that the higher level beings can intervene. This sounds quite plausible to me. I think you know already most of what there is to know, but you think there is something more. Its just thoughts. Our thought and intent are closer to the substrata, lets say, of what is making up our world, so a stronger form of thought and intent in the form of some lettering on paper can effect the cruder levels of reality, that which we live in. The ritual aspect of it all adds weight, but is also sometimes just for show, because people are impressed by very silly things like fine ink and not by the major thing, which is "intent." Even if you are not empowered to make the talismans, you can write them in your own way and they will have at least some effect because you are taking your intent and making it stronger.

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Poetguy, please share your findings as to how talismans work. I was told its making a kind of gate or connection between this world and the higher levels so that the higher level beings can intervene. This sounds quite plausible to me. I think you know already most of what there is to know, but you think there is something more. Its just thoughts. Our thought and intent are closer to the substrata, lets say, of what is making up our world, so a stronger form of thought and intent in the form of some lettering on paper can effect the cruder levels of reality, that which we live in. The ritual aspect of it all adds weight, but is also sometimes just for show, because people are impressed by very silly things like fine ink and not by the major thing, which is "intent." Even if you are not empowered to make the talismans, you can write them in your own way and they will have at least some effect because you are taking your intent and making it stronger.

 

Hmm... Intent is real, magic is not? Intent works, ritual is just for show? Intent is omnipotent, know-how passed down through generations empty banter? Intent is so obedient that one can make it "stronger" at will, keep cranking it up till it works -- but harmonizing the vibrations of the artist's blood with those of her ink is superfluous? Intent is enough, anyone can do it -- taoist sects promulgating cultivation as the only medium in which intent is focused, empowered, debugged so it works every time exactly the way you have specified are all sadly deluded? Um... these are all they've got by way of magical taoist sects. Talismanic being the foremost one. If we are going to talk talismanic magic, is it enough to just cross out everything its creators and practitioners say it is and substitute our own thing? -- whatever WE happen to believe at the moment?..

 

There was a recent thread where people were sharing their expertise as to how to make a tasty stew, per Mal's request. Lots of good input there. Technicalities and ingredients all the way... so why didn't anyone suggest to Mal, "just intend it?" Because it's harder to make a stew with sheer intent than an active magical talisman?..

 

Nope. It isn't. Intent is where you START making a stew. Not the end product. Ditto a magical talisman...

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I'm not sure if you are answering my post or creating your own interpretation to make sound a little more adversarial. I said "sometimes" ritual is just for show, that is so poetguy doesnt get too taken in by each detail, as many people do, and they really miss out on what is more important, that is, what is happening in the mind. And I said making his own talismen is possible, but did not comment that it was to the standard of a cultivator who has been empowered by a lineage--of course it isnt the same, silly goose.

 

 

Hmm... Intent is real, magic is not? Intent works, ritual is just for show? Intent is omnipotent, know-how passed down through generations empty banter? Intent is so obedient that one can make it "stronger" at will, keep cranking it up till it works -- but harmonizing the vibrations of the artist's blood with those of her ink is superfluous? Intent is enough, anyone can do it -- taoist sects promulgating cultivation as the only medium in which intent is focused, empowered, debugged so it works every time exactly the way you have specified are all sadly deluded? Um... these are all they've got by way of magical taoist sects. Talismanic being the foremost one. If we are going to talk talismanic magic, is it enough to just cross out everything its creators and practitioners say it is and substitute our own thing? -- whatever WE happen to believe at the moment?..

 

There was a recent thread where people were sharing their expertise as to how to make a tasty stew, per Mal's request. Lots of good input there. Technicalities and ingredients all the way... so why didn't anyone suggest to Mal, "just intend it?" Because it's harder to make a stew with sheer intent than an active magical talisman?..

 

Nope. It isn't. Intent is where you START making a stew. Not the end product. Ditto a magical talisman...

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Here are a book you might what to have a look at.

Maybe you seen it already,its out there and easy to find.

 

Chinese Taoist Sorcery : The Art of Getting Even.

http://www.amazon.com/Chinese-Taoist-Sorcery-Getting-Even/dp/1929549008

 

You might whant to look at, sigil magic, its a western form of making writen talismans.

there are alot of info on this around.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sigil_(magic)

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"Intent is real, magic is not? Intent works, ritual is just for show? Intent is omnipotent, know-how passed down through generations empty banter? Intent is so obedient that one can make it "stronger" at will, keep cranking it up till it works -- but harmonizing the vibrations of the artist's blood with those of her ink is superfluous? Intent is enough, anyone can do it"

 

 

Good post. For all kinds of reasons I can't begin to specify.

 

I appreciate the idea of "cultural imperialism" and I am guilty of using such "translations" of the ingredients by folks like Jerry Alan Johnson. The reason I do so is because I am truly terrified of things I do not master.

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I'm not sure if you are answering my post or creating your own interpretation to make sound a little more adversarial. I said "sometimes" ritual is just for show, that is so poetguy doesnt get too taken in by each detail, as many people do, and they really miss out on what is more important, that is, what is happening in the mind. And I said making his own talismen is possible, but did not comment that it was to the standard of a cultivator who has been empowered by a lineage--of course it isnt the same, silly goose.

OK, you've got a point. :)

 

I didn't expect YOU to be one of THEM anyway.:lol:

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"Intent is real, magic is not? Intent works, ritual is just for show? Intent is omnipotent, know-how passed down through generations empty banter? Intent is so obedient that one can make it "stronger" at will, keep cranking it up till it works -- but harmonizing the vibrations of the artist's blood with those of her ink is superfluous? Intent is enough, anyone can do it"

 

 

Good post. For all kinds of reasons I can't begin to specify.

 

I appreciate the idea of "cultural imperialism" and I am guilty of using such "translations" of the ingredients by folks like Jerry Alan Johnson. The reason I do so is because I am truly terrified of things I do not master.

 

Thank you! :)

 

As for "translations" of taoist concepts into Western cognitive paradigm, I think it's legit and useful and I do it too, all the time, and get a kick out of finding the "right expression." It's far more challenging than looking things up in a dictionary... it often means letting a rather holographic idea that might need volumes to be expressed in "our" terms crystallize out of a complex taoist thought succinctly expressed sometimes in one word. We don't have this one word in many, many, many cases, we must do the leg work to "get it," not just substitute the word that's close to our western-molded understanding. Trouble begins when things are not merely lost but purposefully eliminated in such endeavors. If we're dealing with a mere lack of introspection on a different (vastly different) cognitive paradigm's terms, which is of course a pretty darn difficult kind of introspection, we start getting into circulation handy shortcuts like "qi is electricity," "qi is magnetism," "qi is energy," "qi is prana," "jing is sperm," "gui are psychological," all that annoying jazz. But when we write volumes to PROVE that every taoist discourse over thousands of years simply missed out on what we the bigger-better kind were told in seventh grade... or in college for that matter... and apply everything we derived from OUR education to re-educate them... to explain away all their ideas and practices by the fact that they didn't get OUR schooling, or they would know better... This is cultural imperialism.

 

That's not what you and I are doing though.:) I remember, years ago, "getting" just one TCM concept in Western terms -- just because I happened to know the Western area well enough so suddenly I had a precise match... the concept of "yin fluids" -- that happens to correspond to "hypothalamo-pituitary-pineal axis interacting with reproductive and urinary systems and all their organs and functions in a complex pattern of hormonal cascades and feedback loops." I was pretty excited when I saw the whole Western system that would require a dynamic dialog between such Western disciplines as neuroscience, endocrinology, urology, gynecology and whatever the term for male-ology that eludes me at the moment, to come together in a clear picture of what "yin fluids" stands for in TCM. It was just a first instance, and therefore memorable... More came later, but these "perfect matches" don't come by virtue of "direct translations" by any means, much less by explaining things away with the first idea that happens to be handy to a western-schooled mind. So that's why I am ticked off when taoist concepts are westernized mindlessly and spayed/neutered in the process...

 

But that's not what you and me are up to!:D

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Thank you TaoMeow for another spot on post. :)

 

I was busying myself this evening with the drawing of a post-heaven Bagua (for various reasons - the first one I drew, I got seriously wrong, but in ways I will have to look at later for other reasons :lol: ) and as I looked at the broken and the full lines it occurred to me that what maybe happened in the culture I grew up with was this very thing, the dropping (cutting?) out of parts of the lines where they should have been full and vice-versa.

 

BTW, I highly recommend drawing some IChing symbols by hand for pure "energetic" sensation. I wasn't expecting it (of course I wasn't :lol: )

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Well, yes, what Johnson et al are doing with traditional Chinese modalities is something I call cultural imperialism... ugh.

 

I can't bring myself to blame the cultural imperialists. The ones like Johnson have found something they believe in, something that changed their lives. Perhaps it came in a blazing moment, and they dedicated their lives to this, this way, this Tao. But as they study and come across elements that just sound absurd to them -- "wait, this scripture says at the age of fifty, a fox will grow a second tail and begin to change shape into a human female and suck men's yang out of them?" -- they're forced either to reject the silly-sounding elements or find a way to interpret them as metaphors.

 

For me, though, writing about Taoist priests in premodern China, the culturally imperialistic, it's-just-a-metaphor crowd fail to give me the insight I need into my characters and their world.

 

You are likely to get nothing but this from any books available to the general public, I'm afraid. The perspective of Michael Strickmann ("they" actually believed, meaning "but I don't"?) will also remove all magic from the material under scrutiny and leave you with barren technicalities. It's like writings about sex by celibate monks and nuns...

 

My big issue with Strickmann isn't that he's a scholar, keeping the spirituality at a studious distance; it's that he's a synthesist. He argues that Tantric Buddhism had more of an influence on magical Taoism than had been previously thought, so he uses their texts interchangeably; he also uses Japanese Taoist texts interchangeably with Chinese Taoists, and so on.

 

Other anthropologists have been much more respectful to their sources, like John McCreery, but my liddle poet-brain can only read so much of "Taoist exorcistic manuals from the 13th century comprise both those that do or do not ascribe powers to divinity, except of course for the Tiae-Zhong, which does both and neither, according to Margaret Sussissus' excellent paper, 'The Both of Neither: Discourse, Discrepancy, and Discord amongst the Tiae-Zhongian Subsects of 13th-Century China,' but as we all know, Pierre Derriere refutes her methodologies (without disputing her conclusions) in his 1984 book...." and so on, ad vomititum.

 

The actual process of making a talisman -- well, there's a lot of preliminary work. You need to make special inks. The ingredients are arcane. You have to make them yourself, and consecrate them, which means you have to have access to a functional taoist altar, consecrated and protected. So you can start researching from there -- you may not find all the information in one place, but you may find bits and pieces here and there and put it all together like a jigsaw puzzle.

 

Thank you. I've been doing this. I'm still seeking many of the pieces that make it all fit. Actually, one of them is "power" -- this is a word Eva Wong uses several times in her Shambhala guide, saying that the efficacy of a talisman is proportionate to the "power" of the talisman's maker. She says that more than once, but she doesn't define "power" or give the Chinese word she might mean by "power." She says something, I forget what, but she says something that made me think her notion of a Taoist's "power" was connected with lineage and ordination.

 

Any thoughts?

 

Mak Ching Yuen, aka Mak Tin Si, seems to think that a talisman's effectiveness derives from its creator's lineage. (His lineage, predictably, is the best. Judging from his blog, his lineage also has the best guns and hairstyles.)

 

Taoist Master Chuang, according to Michael Saso's book (perhaps the only one so far that was a joy to read), seems to think that the effectiveness of spells in general derives from the "perfection" of the spellcasting performance.

 

Personal experience? Um, a goddess grabs your hand, rainbow snakes flash out of your fingers, she zaps you with a lightning and pours a waterfall on your head, then tells you, now YOU do it, like that, and while she's holding your hand you know how, so you do it, like that. :)

 

So, in other words, how I felt upon reading that superb paragraph.

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Poetguy, thanks for your thoughts and for your kind words. :)

 

As a general policy, I stay away from any and all scholars of taoism who are not lineage taoists. Some who are piss me off too.:lol:

 

Thank you. I've been doing this. I'm still seeking many of the pieces that make it all fit. Actually, one of them is "power" -- this is a word Eva Wong uses several times in her Shambhala guide, saying that the efficacy of a talisman is proportionate to the "power" of the talisman's maker. She says that more than once, but she doesn't define "power" or give the Chinese word she might mean by "power." She says something, I forget what, but she says something that made me think her notion of a Taoist's "power" was connected with lineage and ordination.

 

Any thoughts?

 

Mak Ching Yuen, aka Mak Tin Si, seems to think that a talisman's effectiveness derives from its creator's lineage. (His lineage, predictably, is the best. Judging from his blog, his lineage also has the best guns and hairstyles.)

 

Taoist Master Chuang, according to Michael Saso's book (perhaps the only one so far that was a joy to read), seems to think that the effectiveness of spells in general derives from the "perfection" of the spellcasting performance.

 

So, in other words, how I felt upon reading that superb paragraph.

 

"Power" is absolutely correct, THAT's the cat's meow of talismanic magic. Well... if you are going to get into that... brace yourself. Power is the single most complex issue in existence. No, strike that. Power is what existence is derived from, hinged on, shaped by... TTC translated correctly, as "The Way and its Power" or "The Way of Power," is accepted as one of the foremost taoist classics by all taoist sects and schools precisely because it concerns itself primarily with that, with Power. (Funny how many western translators and readers spectacularly succeed in not even noticing!:lol:) So we're pretty much back to the basics, to square one... Taoism is the study and practice of Power, its natural manifestations, its applications in the human world, and the dire consequences of its abuse. That, in a nutshell, is all it is. That, in a nutshell, is all there is...:)

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"a scholar, keeping the spirituality at a studious distance;"

 

I reckon that getting one's feet wet with whatever one is studying is a faster trip into insight.

 

Of course it might be "harder" to begin with and you might end up not wanting to write anything on the subject at all :lol:

 

I guess if I wanted to write a book on such things I would just refer to other books. Or do a lot of research and then write the book. Maybe your book is a Talisman :)

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What is the significance of burning the talismans?

 

Is it related to the "hell money" and burnt offerings in Chinese ritual, where the burned items find their way into the hands of the spirits?

 

Strickmann says, "Through the action of fire, the priest's writing is transmuted into a gigantic, otherworldly script bearing a command that can move gods." Do you agree with his assessment? Is there some form of address field on the talisman, so that it arrives at the correct office?

 

Is the maker's chop a signature identifying the sender, or is it a magical seal imbuing the paper with the "power" of the maker and her or his lineage?

Edited by poetguy

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Talismans, ku's, fu's, anything external is not the true Way of the Tao.

My teacher regularly reads these forums as a guest, more for amusement than anything else I believe, and he, in a very uncharacteristic fashion however, one day grunted in response to a personal inquiry of the man's extravagant claims, that mak sin ti is the biggest hocus pocus mossad disinformation machine snake oil shennenagins salesman to ever have disgraced the "tao pseudo-scholar theorist bums".

Edited by fizix

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Talismans, ku's, fu's, anything external is not the true Way of the Tao.

 

I may or may not agree with that statement, and with the rest of your post (though I do posit that Mak Tin Si has awesome hair). But I'm not asking here for knowledge of the true Way of the Tao, I'm asking for information that will help me bring authenticity to a work of fiction set in premodern China. I'm asking for help in understanding the theoretical underpinnings of belief that a premodern Chinese Taoist may have held, and I'm looking for details that will help me write rich descriptions of rituals.

 

What do you mean by "ku's"? The poison magic?

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What is the significance of burning the talismans?

 

Only some are burned, not all of them. It all depends on the task. Some are worn on the body, of these, there's the ones that are concealed and the ones that are revealed. Some are displayed in the house. Some go into the car! Talismans are often rather specialized. It's a technology, you can't use the same tool for all tasks.

The ones that are burned are usually cleansing and medicinal. They are used post factum, when the disease or possession is already present in the body or in the home. They aren't used for prevention, to my knowledge. But of course I don't know "all" about them.

 

Is it related to the "hell money" and burnt offerings in Chinese ritual, where the burned items find their way into the hands of the spirits?

 

No, it's a different technology. Messages to gods and spirits are burned so as to de-materialize (spirits are not material in this dimension, so means of communication with them need to be brought to their own dimension.) But when you burn a talisman, you want to create a fractal of action (ganying) to cover different scales -- from gross to molecular to subatomic and beyond. And you dissolve the ashes in water for action much like that of a homeopathic remedy. Even a respected TCM doctor's prescription written in his own hand was used much the same way -- it went into the pot together with the herbs it prescribed! A good TCM practitioner trained in an authentic lineage would learn to write prescriptions in a talismanic fashion, not mechanically.

 

Strickmann says, "Through the action of fire, the priest's writing is transmuted into a gigantic, otherworldly script bearing a command that can move gods." Do you agree with his assessment? Is there some form of address field on the talisman, so that it arrives at the correct office?

 

The above describes a generic method of taoist magic. It may or may not have anything to do with talismans. When you do a taoist magical ritual, you communicate with gods and spirits in writing, among other things. Such a ritual may have any purpose whatsoever, e.g. it can precede the actual writing of a talisman and constitute a request to facilitate the task.

 

The script moves gods if gods are moved by what you're doing -- no god of any consequence is any magician's busboy (or girl). To my knowledge, you don't command gods in taoist magic until very, very late in the game (a thousand years is a minimum investment of schooling time) -- you establish communication. Of course one can always command lesser spirits, demons, etc., especially the servile/self-serving ones (a servile attitude is always full of ulterior motives). These are fond of dropping in on a ritual to see if there's anything in it for them. This is one reason I would advise against dabbling in taoist magic. You need to know the rules of engagement and engage only what/who you intend to engage. Mistakes are common, repercussions are dire.

Is the maker's chop a signature identifying the sender, or is it a magical seal imbuing the paper with the "power" of the maker and her or his lineage?

It's both.

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Dear Poetguy, good day.

Before sharing personal comments, would like to know if you can read well Spanish, otherwise it may not make any comment. The precision on these issues is needed.

Saludos,G.

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