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The twelve Earthly Branches are a sequence of time markers, used for both the monthly and the diurnal double-hour cycles. Why does this illustration take the human figure as its foundation? According to the notes on the illustration, different connotations were ascribed to different parts of the human body.

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For example, the head represents"wealth, "while the bottom of the feet represents"low status,"the arm-pits correspond to"love"and the hands represent"cleverness. The male and female vital vapors qi were considered to corresponded to the different elements of the Earthly Branches as used in the calender. Emblematic of the four seasons, the Earthly Branches in the"Human Figure Illustration"represent changes in energy through the year.

Readers of the illustration need to begin from the head and end at the genitalia, a procedure symbolizing the transitions of the four seasons.

by Paul Carus

Finally, this illustration sets seven as a unit number. Here shu is regarded as an independent entity that exists before and after heaven and earth. The regularity of shu further represents the notion of a fixed "number" or fate which affects people and events.

Chinese occultism | Warburg Digital Library

In sum, the inner logic of the occult arts as expressed in the"Renzi"illustration is shown by the relations between the four seasons, yinyang, and numbers. The metaphorical meanings of different body parts in the illustration predict the possible personalities of a baby.

People in ancient China used this chart to select the proper time, place, and direction to bury the afterbirth, in order influence the fate, intelligence and life-span of a new-born baby. This chart consists of three parts: 1 The whole chart is a large square made of twelve small squares representing the twelve months. The twelve squares are arranged in a clockwise order starting from the bottom left square, which is labeled "First Month. The"death"positions and numbers differ for each month. The person who buries the afterbirth has to strictly observe several rules concerning time, direction, and numbers.

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The"ersheng sigou tu" chart of two cords and four hooks is particularly interesting. The two cords intersect each other perpendicularly through the center of heaven. The four corners of heaven are tied and supported by the four hooks. When read in conjunction with the Twelve Earthly Branches, the "Chart of two cords and four hooks" becomes a model of the universe. The two cords and four hooks can be interpreted as representing "temporal spaces," an important concept for understanding the occult arts.

The twelve-month chart of"Burying the Afterbirth Secreted by Yu"is just such a chart. The"Chart of Burying the Afterbirth Secreted by Yu" incorporates all the elements used in the practice of occult arts in later generations.

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The chart as a whole is a map with the north at the bottom and the south at the top, west at the right and east at the left. The internal charts twelve-month charts are all based on the universal layout of the two cords and four hooks. Numbers in the small charts symbolize the length of one's life.

Therefore, in this chart heaven, earth directions , and man life-span form a set of corresponding referents. A baby's future is connected with the action of burying the afterbirth. The intermediary between the interactions is the "vital vapor" qi that effects the correspondence between similar or related matters. This method of correlative thinking relies on symbolic and formulaic language to derive endless inferences from any given reference point.

The documents demonstrate that the occult arts were of pragmatic value, and were, and continue to be, integrated and into the daily lives of ordinary people. For example, in ancient times, manuals on occult arts were published for the general public and communities in modern China still use almanacs incorporating the occult arts. On the other hand, because occult arts were often used to predict the future of state affairs, and because their mysterious character was considered a threat to the established order, the practice of occult arts has been inseparable from the manipulation of political power.

Therefore, knowledge of the occult arts, especially astronomy and astrology, was usually controlled by the government which often forbade private study in these fields.


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The importance of the study of the occult arts is not limited to understanding the occult arts themselves. The occult arts had an important influence on many aspects of traditional Chinese culture, and were a major force throughout Chinese history.

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Selected Bibliography Sources Li, Ling,ed. Zhongguo fangshu gaiguan [A general view of Chinese occult arts]. Beijing:Renmin zhoungguo chubanshe, This work covers astrology, divination, the selection of auspicious days, fortune-telling, physiognomy and other techniques. Liu, Daochao, trans. Nakamura, Shohachi. Learn More in these related Britannica articles:.

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Preview — Chinese Occultism by Paul Carus. Chinese Occultism by Paul Carus. This is an extended excerpt from a collection of essays by Paul Carus on Chinese topics. Carus discusses the I Ching and other methods of divination, the five Chinese elements water, fire, wood, metal and earth ; the Chinese Zodiac, Fung-shui, the Lo-pan, the Chinese invention of the magnetic compass, and the personification of constellations.

He gives ancient near easter This is an extended excerpt from a collection of essays by Paul Carus on Chinese topics.

He gives ancient near eastern parallels, and proposes a speculative diffusionist thesis for some aspects, particularly the calendrical system. This essay serves as a good introduction to these topics, with numerous illustrations and tables to fill in the details. About Author: Paul Carus, Ph. Get A Copy.