The Yin-Yang Sword: Weapon of Immortals
by Christina Barea-Young
The Chinese have long had a fascination for exquisite weaponry, including swords of the finest craftsmanship. So it’s no surprise that Daoists would develop a metaphorical equivalent for use in ritual ceremony. Similar to battlefield swords, or those used in martial arts, the ritual sword provides the bearer with protection, and an ability to attack and defend against the unseen. Swords wielded by spiritual adepts are also a symbolic representation of the cutting off of ties to the material world, as well as the determination to break through the veil of illusions that cloud the mind.
Daoist ritual swords are traditionally made of peach wood, which in turn is a representation of longevity. Just as the Immortals feast on the elixirs of life and peaches on Mount Kun Lun in Heaven, swords made of the peach wood bring the Daoist closer to the energies of Heaven, infusing the sword and the person who wields it with Heaven Qi.
The blade of the ritual sword is usually engraved with the 7 stars of the Big Dipper on one side and the 6 stars of Cassiopeia on the other. These constellations represent the energies of Yin and Yang. According to the type of energy the fashi (head priest of a ceremony) would want to evoke, the corresponding side of the blade would be exposed.
The hilt of the sword is usually engraved with a bagua symbol to invoke the energies of the 8 directions and the combined energies of the trigrams. Representation of the wisdom of Yi Jing qualities would be contained within the bagua. In addition, a yin-yang taiji symbol can usually be found in the center of the bagua trigrams, again, invoking the energies of yin and yang.
The scabbard commonly has additional engravings that serve as talismans of protection or sources of additional power for its bearer. Common engravings are a tiger, dragon, phoenix, turtle or the 8 Immortals.
During ceremonies the fashi uses the ritual sword to command deities and banish evil. In many ways the sword is equivalent to the “wand” in western magical practices, yet the sword is more than just a vehicle to channel the emitted energy from the fashi. The sword serves both as an extension of his or her directed intention towards something and as an amulet carrying its own power. By holding the sword in special positions the fashi can access the stored energies carried in the sword itself. Facing the blade in one direction invokes the energy of Yin or the power of Cassiopeia. Facing the opposite side of the blade invokes the energy of Yang or the power of the Big Dipper.
The actual functions of the sword vary throughout the ceremony and at times the bearer will use the sword to make cutting motions, at other times the sword may be used to “write” on the air, or when necessary the sword can be used to command the spiritual realm . Overall, a Daoist ceremony using a ritual sword can be very beautiful to watch and intensely powerful to feel.
Any Daoist who carries a sword will spend plenty of time training with it. During this time a type of “fusion” occurs between sword and master. An exchange of energy flows between each allowing a deep experience of “one-ness”. This integration of sword into adept is fundamental for ensuring integrity and safety at times when the sword is drawn from the scabbard. In essence, for the adept to remain rooted in the center of wuji when working with the sword, the sword must not be perceived as an outside instrument, but rather as an additional appendage of the person themselves. Given this rational, the sword on its own would retain magical powers and a connection to its “owner” despite distance.
Outside of the realm of ceremonies, the sword serves to remind the Daoist that they are committed to a path of spiritual purification. Just as a metal sword serves to cut physical things, the ritual sword serves to cut attachments to people, places and things. It is both a teacher and a companion, providing both lessons and support as the Daoist journeys through the complex maze of life and its many challenges. In times of need, the bearer can meditate on the energies of the stars carved into the blade or on the bagua trigrams on the hilt. These symbols will remind him or her of the lessons each symbol holds and of the power of ancestry that is inherited in thousands of years of working with these energies.
Naturally, a Daoist would also practice sword forms which would enhance the development of their martial skills as well as further reinforcing the connection between the sword and master. Sword forms may be practiced exclusively with the intention of defense or, with the intention of becoming stronger with energetic emission.
A Daoist with a sword is a powerful symbol of personal strength, protection, and support from the energies of Heaven; and a visual reminder of a commitment to the path of constant personal improvement.
Christina Barea-Youngis a Daoist Priest of the Zheng Yi Pai (China) and a Medical Qigong Therapist. She dedicates her time to helping people find balance through Medical Qigong Therapy, Qigong & Tai Chi instruction and TCM related talks, workshops and courses. She is a member of the National Qigong Association and currently serves on the Board of Directors. Christina has just completed 2 books, the first a translation of Daoist Scripture and the second on qigong exercises. For more information about her please visit:http://www.therisinglotus.com/