Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Tales Of Genbu - The Black Warrior Of The North

Genbu or the Black Tortoise is one of the Four Symbols of the Chinese Constellation. He is also known as the Black Warrior of the North and represents winter and the north regions. Although Genbu’s English translation is Black Tortoise, it is usually depicted as a snake coiled around a tortoise, although in recent times he is depicted in human form as well. Genbu is said to be the god of the north.
If Genbu is the north, we have Suzaku in the south, Shiryu in the east and Byakku in the west. Just like the other Four Symbols of the Chinese Constellation, Genbu has seven mansions that represent the position of the moon. The seven mansions are Dipper, Ox, Girl, Emptiness, Rooftop, Encampment, and Wall.

Ancient Chinese believe that Genbu represents long life, wisdom and strength. The tortoise and the snake are seen as spiritual creatures that symbolize longevity. It is common knowledge that tortoises in general have long life therefore they are associated with immortality. It was during the Han Dynasty that citizens of China started wearing jade pendants in form of tortoises. It is also through the influence of ancient China on Japan that honor titles in Japan usually refer to the image of tortoises or tortoises themselves. It is said that the monster Gamera is a representation of Genbu.

Genbu was referred to in the classic novel Journey to the West. Genbu, the king of the North, had two generals serving him. They are Tortoise General and Snake General. The king had a temple or shrine at the Wudang Mountains in Hubei. That’s the reason why there is a Snake Mountain and a Tortoise Mountain on both sides of a river in Wuhan, which is the capital of Hubei.

According to Taoist legend, Genbu was a prince of a Chinese Emperor. He was not interested in replacing his father and decided to become a Tao monk. At the age of 15, he left home and when on a path of enlightenment. Legend has it that he became a god and was worshipped as the god of the northern skies.

It was during Genbu’s search for enlightenment that he unintentionally created the Tortoise General and the Snake General. To achieve god status, he was told to purge all humanly flesh from his body. Since birth he was eating worldly food, that’s why his intestines and stomach is still made of humanly flesh. So Genbu had his stomach and intenstines taken out. His stomach took the shape of a turtle while his intestines became a snake. The turtle and the snake were then possessed by demons and started terrorizing people. Genbu heard of this and went to hunt them. However the turtle and the snake begged for mercy and showed remorse over their actions. He then took them in and trained them to be his loyal servants and that’s how the Tortoise General and the Snake General came about. They went on to assist Genbu with his quests.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Chinese Guichai - Ox Head and Horse Face

According to Chinese mythology, Hades is full of creatures and beings that have specific tasks. There are the judges and those who are waiting to be judged. Then there are various demons and other ghoulish beings that would lead those who are judged to their respective places or carry out the punishments.

Two of those are Ox-Head and Horse-Face. Ox-Head and Horse-Face are believed to be soldiers of King Yama. Their job is to bring the spirits of the dead for judgment in Hades. Chinese call them Guichai while the Thais call them Yama-toot. Although their task is similar to the Black and White Wuchang, Ox-Head and Horse-Face are lower in rank than the Wuchang pair.

The story of the origin of the Ox-Head and Horse-Face begins when there used to be a horse and a buffalo that were worked to death by their masters. When these two creatures reached Hades, King Yama took pity on them and made them into his soldiers. They retained their animal heads and have been King Yama’s loyal servants since then. It goes to show that when you give out kindness, you’ll be given your just rewards.

Some say that Ox-Head and Horse-Face are just figments of imagination. Yet there are those who would attest to their existence. There’s a story about a certain 70 year old guy named Huang who didn’t believe that such creatures existed until the day he had a chance to meet them.

The story goes that Huang and his wife were waiting for the elevator to go down. Then Huang was conscious of two sets of eyes looking at him. He turned his head and saw two large guys standing at a corner. They looked fierce and have pale faces. Then the elevator came. Just as Huang and his wife are going in it, the two large figures went in ahead of them, along with 5 more persons. As the elevator is already full, Huang and his wife didn’t enter in it.

As fate had it, three seconds after the elevator doors closed, there came a loud crashing sound. The elevator cables snapped and none of the people in it survived. What’s strange about the accident is that investigators found only 5 bodies in the crash. Huang is certain that there are 7 people in it when the doors closed. Huang now believes that the two large figures are Ox-Head and Horse-Face.

Scholars say that Ox-Head and Horse-Face represents Aging and Sickness. A stubborn ox best represents sickness. No matter how well one takes care of his body, sickness would pull someone towards death, one way or another.

A one track minded racehorse represents aging. It would carry its jockey to the finish line as fast as the horse could. Just like aging, no one can stop the horse until it reaches the finish line, which is death. Since birth, we are already on that horse.

No matter how hard we might try, we can’t get out of the grasps of the Ox-Head and the Horse-Face.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Tools Of Fortune Tellers - Mandrakes

There are two supernatural beings that share the name mandrake. Both are very much different from each other. There’s the Mandrake or mandragora that is a familiar demon that appears to look like little man without beards. Mandrakes are said to be dolls or figurines given by the devil to sorcerers and could be consulted upon when in time of need.

Mandrakes existed throughout history. 16th century Hispanic writer wrote about an incident that happened during a trial. The accused sorcerer summoned a mandrake during the trial and the judge, who doesn’t believe that such entity existed, caught it and threw it into the flames. Yet the mandrake escaped unharmed.

Historically, Mandrakes have been used by self proclaimed prophets and fortune tellers as part of their act to convince their customers of their powers. Just like any familiar spirits, mandrakes are said to serve their masters and at the same time bewitch their enemies.

Then there’s the medieval mandrake plant that has human-shaped roots that would shriek whenever it is pulled from the earth. It has great medicinal value although caution must be used when extracting it from the ground. When a person hears its shriek, that person might go mad or worse, die instantly. One way to pull it from the ground is to tie a hungry dog to the plant and place a piece of meat out of its reach. The dog’s master must be safely out of the hearing range.

Mandrakes shine at night which makes it easy to spot in a distance. It is said to be the cure for six ailments. First it can be used to cure headaches that make sleeping difficult. For this ailment, a salve must be made out of the mandrake juice and then applied it to the forehead as plaster.

You can use the mandrake if you feel pain in the ears. For this, the mandrake’s juice must be mixed with oil of nard and poured into the ears. It is also a cure for severe gout attack. You must get the right arm and leg of the mandrake root and grind it into powder. The powder would then be place into wine and be given to the patient for seven days. It would be seen that the swellness and contractions of muscles will be lessen after the said period.

Mandrake can also be a cure for epilepsy. The body of the root would be boiled in water and given to a person suffering from spasms. Lastly, it is also a cure for viral colds that can affect the whole household. Although it is murky as to how the plant can be a cure for this type of ailment.

Experts say that there are two varieties of the mandrake plant, the white mandrake, which is the male and the black mandrake, which is the female. Its leaves would be narrower than the lettuce. The leaves of the female variant is much broader the male. It also has a hairy stem.