restricted access Immortals and Alchemists: Spirit-Writing and Self-Cultivation in Ming Daoism


What role do immortals play in the life and practice of a community of alchemists? In this paper, I examine the role of immortals in the cultivation practice of a small alchemical community formed around the famous Ming alchemist Lu Xixing. Lu and his companions had no connection to any religious institution, and instead of looking for a human master, they turned to the practice of spirit-writing. In séances, they met numerous immortals and discussed with them various aspects of self-cultivation and personal life. Lu collected detailed records of these conversations in his key treatise, which documents how immortals became members of their community and transformed alchemical cultivation into a journey in the twilight zone between the human and immortal worlds. They accompanied Lu and his companions on all stages of alchemical cultivation and helped them enter a state of mind necessary for achieving enlightenment. Participation in spirit-writing séances allowed the Daoists to practice internal alchemy without leaving their habitual literati life.