The Wushang huanglu dazhai licheng yi synthesizes both old and new rituals dedicated to saving souls from purgatory at the time that the Yellow Register Purgation has increasingly become a popular form of death ritual. The ritual presented in the text is designed to assure supplicants that the ritual performance is successful in bringing about the salvation of the deceased.

The text adopts the “old method” of constructing the basic structure of the Ritual Enclosure, one that represents it as a micro-cosmos. As each space and item within the Ritual Enclosure functions as an index to the cosmos, they are expected to have a direct influence on that for which they stand. The ritual also employs a heavy use of official documents addressing deities and other spiritual beings in the highly bureaucratized World-beyond. Their official confirmation of the success of each rite is meant to assure the participants of the desired outcome of the liturgy.

The text also incorporates new highly theatrical liturgical programs such as the Rite of Smashing of Purgatory and burning talismans in the Rite of Refinement. Despite such a high level of dramatic performance, the ritual keeps the Ritual Master’s visualization as the very ground by which all ritual acts are made possible because they are performed with the assumption that the content visualized has been activated. As such, the ritual at once manifests the world of the imaginary that has taken place in the world of the Ritual Master’s visualization, but also acts upon that world. The ritual program offers a visual message under-scoring the immediacy of the ritual efficacy of salvation that has taken place in the here-and-now of the altar.


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pp. 29-57
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