Fun with anachronisms

And the roar of Moses’ Triumph is heard in the hills

Without even knowing how I feel about the White Cloud Temple in Beijing, my adorable cat Kali (R.I.P.) threw up over my copy of the Jade Pivot Scripture, which I had bought in an edition printed at the temple.

One ritual title that features only fleetingly in the ritual manuals of the Li family Daoists in north Shanxi is Thunder Lord of Three-Five Chariot of Fire (Sanwu huoche leigong). This is among the attributes of the deity Wang Lingguan, and a trace of the thunder rituals of Divine Empyrean Daoism. [1] In the Li family manuals it appears only in the Mantra to Lingguan and in the Xijing zayi manual, no longer performed and thus no longer familiar to them: [2]


From Xijing zayi manual (Sanwu huoche Lingguan on line 3), copied by Li Qing

So my excuse to discuss it here is flimsy as ever, but we all need a bit of light relief every so often. This also relates tenuously to my comments on hearing Bach with modern ears.

Huoche “chariot of fire” (glossed as “fireball”) may prompt titters at the back, since in common modern parlance it means “train”. Whereas “And the roar of Moses’ Triumph is heard in the hills” is a translation that has been inadvertently amusing only since the spread of the automobile [mental note: must get that exhaust fixed], [3] huoche is an ancient original which could have been affording chuckles to Daoist scholars since the term became common usage for “train” in the late 19th century. When you’re immersing yourself in the abstruse mysteries of the Daoist Canon, you have to take such diversion where you can find it.

What’s more, we may giggle impertinently at another of Lingguan’s attributes, Sanwu (Three-Five)—erstwhile a brand of cigarette that Chinese people associate with Englishness (much to my perplexity, since I’ve never heard of them outside China) just as much as London fog. (For “the smoking substances of non-nationals”, see More from Myles).

So here we appear to find Lingguan smoking a posh foreign cigarette on a train journey through his spiritual domain—being a high-ranking Daoist cadre, he would get to travel soft-sleeper (cf. Fieldwork and textual exegesis).

[1] The appellation may commonly be found in the Daoist Canon, but, more relevant to “texts in general circulation” (my book pp.218–24) and the practices of the Li family may be its appearances in Xuanmen risong: Xuanmen risong zaowan gongke jingzhu 玄門日誦早晚功課經注, chief editor Min Zhiting (Beijing: Zongjiao wenhua chubanshe, 2000), pp. 166–7, 244–5. See also Rethinking Zhengyi and Quanzhen.

[2] My Daoist priests of the Li family, p.376, cf. p.381; for the Divine Empyrean, see also pp.219–20.

[3] A substantial irreverent online industry in such Biblical quotes has arisen.

6 thoughts on “Fun with anachronisms

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