Monday, March 7, 2011

Imperial Lord Wenchang

Imperial Lord Wenchang holding a ruyi scepter

According to Taoist tradition, the Birthday of Imperial Lord Wenchang (文昌帝君聖誕 Wenchang Dijun Shengdan) is observed on the 3rd day of the 2nd Chinese lunar month. Imperial Lord Wenchang (文昌帝君 Wenchang Dijun), also known as Imperial Lord Zitong (梓童帝君 Zitong Dijun), is the Taoist god of literature and academic success.

Wenchang was originally the collective name for a group of stars located in the Great Bear (Ursa Major) constellation. According to the ancient Chinese constellation system, the six Wenchang stars are included in the Purple Forbidden Enclosure (紫微垣 Ziwei Yuan) group of stars that are located in the sky near the north celestial pole. In this system, Wenchang means administrative center and stands for six governmental departments or officials. The six stars are named as follows: Highest General (上將 Shangjiang), Assistant General (次將 Cijiang), Noble Premier (貴相 Guixiang), Controller of Destinies (司命 Siming), Controller of the Middle (司中 Sizhong), and Controller of Fortune (司祿 Silu).

There has always been a tradition in Taoism of venerating stellar deities (star gods) that were divine personifications of the stars, planets, and celestial bodies because the ancient Taoists envisioned the presence of a spirit in all things in nature. Later, the Wenchang stars were somehow associated and unified with the identity of a syncretic god that was originally a serpentine mountain spirit called the God of Zitong (梓潼神 Zitong Shen). This snake spirit lived atop a mountain called Seven Bends Mountain (曲山 Qiqu Shan) located near the town of Zitong (梓童) in Sichuan province. The inhabitants of the town worshipped the snake spirit because it controlled thunder and rain that affected the local area. Later, it is said that the snake spirit went through many successive human and divine incarnations in its spiritual evolution. These incarnations and their stories were recorded in a 12th century revelatory text called the Book of Transformations of Imperial Lord Zitong (梓潼帝君化書 Zitong Dijun Huashu) which was revealed through spirit-writing (扶乩 Fuji). Among his incarnations, many of them were human figures surnamed Zhang. They included a filial son who sliced off his own flesh to make medicine to cure his ailing mother; a benevolent and enlightened government administrator; a minister who became a fallen war hero; and other lives where he performed good deeds to bring benefit to people. Among his many divine incarnations as a god, they included those where he intervened into human affairs to bring aid to the needy; to stop natural catastrophes and disasters; and to punish wrong-doing and evil. His long succession of human and divine incarnations culminated in his final post as the heavenly supervisor of academic success and promotions. He became in charge of the Orange Osmanthus Record (丹桂籍 Dangui Ji), a heavenly register that records the merits and demerits of all those in the academic and scholarly fields. The register is ever-changing, and is based on the continuing actions and conduct of those involved. 

Image of Imperial Lord Wenchang holding
a writing pen in his right hand and a book in his left hand
(Image: Source unknown)

In ancient China, students, scholars, and those that planned to take the imperial civil service examinations always prayed to Imperial Lord Wenchang without exception. There are many tales from pre-modern China telling about how praying to Imperial Lord Wenchang brought examination success either through signs and revelations in dreams or through some other indicating factors. Even today, many Chinese students in Asia still flock to temples to venerate Imperial Lord Wenchang right before exams and other academic undertakings.

A writing brush and book are the symbols of
Imperial Lord Wenchang that stand for academic success

It should also be noted that Imperial Lord Wenchang is not only a god that is strictly concerned with matters related to academic and examination success, although that is his special area of jurisdiction. He is also very much a deity that encourages good moral conduct and the performing of virtuous deeds. In the morality tract called Text of the Hidden Good Deeds of Imperial Lord Wenchang (文昌帝君陰騭文 Wenchang Dijun Yinzhi Wen), there are many examples of different meritorious deeds and the karmic rewards that they bring. Therefore, Imperial Lord Wenchang is actually a deity that embodies benevolence and moral virtue in general, and academic and scholarly success in particular.

Text © 2011 Harry Leong

No comments:

Post a Comment