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.