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Reviewed by:
  • Exorcism in Daoism: A Berlin Symposium
  • Vincent Goossaert (bio)
Florian C. Reiter, editor. Exorcism in Daoism: A Berlin Symposium. Asien- und Afrika-Studien der Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin, 36. Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz, 2011. vii, 300 pp. Paperback £37.00, ISBN 978-3-447-06434-7.

This volume is one in a series of conference volumes devoted to Daoism convened by Florian Reiter at Humbold University, Berlin, and published by Harrassowitz. This conference was held in December 2009, and the volume came out soon afterwards, which is commendable, but comes at the price of light and, at places, very insufficient editorial work. The volume features fifteen articles, eleven in English and four in Chinese, and with a good number of black-and-white illustrations. This reviewer finds that such an approach, that is, authors writing in their own language without translations, is most appropriate, and the press should be commended for publishing such bilingual volumes.

The volume is devoted to the theme of exorcism. This important concept is nowhere clearly defined: there is no introduction, even though John Lagerwey’s short but dense chapter serves as a historical survey of the place of demonology and exorcism in early Daoism. Many authors actually deal with demonology rather than exorcism in the narrow sense, and explore how Daoists at various points of history defined and ritually contained evil (or potentially dangerous) spirits. As often is the case in Daoist studies, most contributions deal with either early history or the contemporary period; a third cluster of chapters (David Mozina, Florian Reiter) deals with the Song-Yuan emergence of thunder rituals that has shaped a considerable part of modern Daoist ritual.

The group of chapters discussing early Daoist demonology (Stephen Bokenkamp, Liu Yi, Lü Pengzhi, Chang Chaojan) shows in detail how ideas of evil versus good spirits evolved and clarified over time, thus shifting the very parameters of demon-expelling and exorcistic ritual. Terry Kleeman’s chapter (“Exorcising the Six Heavens,” pp. 89–104) brings out very clearly how early Daoists saw almost all deities as more or less demonic, and fundamentally ambiguous, including those they communicated with in the course of rituals (earth gods, the stove god, even the three officers 三官), standing in contrast with the neater distinction between upright 正神 versus evil deities 邪神 underlining modern ritual. Some of the ambiguity of early Daoist deities remains with certain martial deities, however, including the ghostly generals and soldiers of the five camps 五營, who play a key role in expelling evil forces from any inhabited place (see notably chapters by Lee Fongmao and Lin Wei-ping).

Authors who write about their fieldwork (David Mozina, Tam Wai-lun, Hsieh Tsung-Hui) discuss, albeit briefly, the range of exorcistic rituals now performed and the different types of priests who perform them. Many of the rituals [End Page 235] discussed in this volume, based on either a discussion of liturgical manuals or actual fieldwork observation, actually aim to purify a place from all evil qi, considered in very generic terms (notably, chapters by Lin Wei-ping on village ritual cleansing and Lin Zhenyuan on the altar purification in the jiao 醮 offering). The volume offers very few discussions of actual ritual expulsion of a specific spirit causing harm to an individual human. Cases of haunting spirits causing illnesses, which are the most common context for exorcism in Chinese narrative sources, are not represented here — the chapter coming closest is Hsieh Shuwei’s discussion of manuals describing controlled possession of children by spirits under investigation by Daoist priests. That said, the open-ended character of the volume’s theme made room for articles that, even though not narrowly focused on exorcism, are very valuable contributions to the history of Daoism and ritual in Chinese society. Among them, Volker Olles’s chapter (“The Division of Labor between the Way and Ritual,” pp. 105–136) is a remarkable analysis of a modern Confucian-cum-Daoist religious movement, Liumen 劉門, founded in Chengdu, Sichuan, during the nineteenth century. He both describes one ritual performed by Liumen priests and discusses the history of their liturgy.

In short, Exorcism in Daoism is a very valuable contribution to the robust field of Daoist ritual and will certainly...