Empowered Writing: Exorcistic and Apotropaic Rituals in Medieval China
Empowered Writing explores the inherent powers of Chinese talismans, petitions, registers, and holy scriptures, presenting a systematic study of their exorcistic and apotropaic properties. The book divides into three parts: tallies, petitions, and scriptures—all inherently empowered since they originate from the very same primordial energy as Dao, the heavens, and highest gods. Tallies emerge as certificates of legitimation, used both in the imperial government and in religion. Petitions and registers, on the other hand, are writings addressed to higher ranking spirits to control demons, disease, and misfortunes. Scriptures, third, contain power even in their physical presence: entrained with superior spiritual beings, they can exorcize evil spirits and negative energies. This feature holds also true in Buddhism, where the readers of sutras can count on the support of unseen guardian buddhas and bodhisattvas. Using a vast arsenal of original sources, the book traces the unfolding and transformation of empowered writing from the Warring States period through the Six Dynasties, closely examining the different kinds of writing, their uses, and interpretation as well as relating uniquely Daoist features to imperial and Buddhist usages. The book is path-breaking in its endeavor and stunning in its depth of analyis. It is a must for all China historians and scholars of religion.