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Supernatural Beings in the Witchcraft Culture of Chu

2013-11-05 13:24:57



Witchcraft, with an origin dating back to the ancient times, refers to a kind of religious ritual where a witch entertains supernatural beings and prays to them by singing and dancing. The practice of witchcraft reflects primitive people’s inability to distinguish human beings from supernatural ones.

During the Yin and Shang Dynasties, witchcraft was very popular in the Central Plains area of China. However, it was gradually abandoned and even disappeared in the North after the Western Zhou Dynasty was established, especially during the Spring and Autumn Period (722-481 B.C.). And it was only in the Jingchu area, especially Xiang and Yuan (nowadays Hunan Province) that rituals were still performed and remained popular among people.

The practice of witchcraft instilled piety towards the deities into the people of the Chu area along with a romantic imagination. While people in the Central Plains area relied on reason and adhered to Confucius’ doctrine that “the subjects on which the Master did not talk, were: extraordinary things, feats of strength, disorder, and spiritual beings,” people of the Chu area prayed faithfully to their natural gods and thus developed a primitive witchcraft culture of their own. It is described by Wang Yi in Chuci Zhangju that “people in the Yuan, Xiang areas had a firm belief in ghosts and loved to offer sacrifices to the gods. And every time they held a sacrificial ceremony, they would entertain the gods by singing, drumming and dancing.”

Since it is best preserved in the South Chu area than any other place, the culture of witchcraft has had a profound influence on everyday life and may thus serve as a perfect clue to understanding the culture of the Chu area. Below are a few pieces of antiques for us to get a glimpse of the witchcraft culture of the Chu area.

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