This essay searches for the theoretical underpinnings of oath-making between deities and human masters found in Daoist practice in today’s Hunan province. It shows that the practice of deities concluding oaths with masters was grounded in the cosmological and theological vision of Divine Empyrean (Shenxiao 神霄) theorists Wang Wenqing 王文卿 (1093–1153) and Bai Yuchan 白玉蟾 (fl. 1194–1229?). They developed an elegant view of the Divine Empyrean cosmos as founded on oaths made by high celestial gods to one another, which included humiliating maledictions for failure to comply with their sworn commitments. Based on this paradigm, human masters and thunder deities concluded oaths in which they entered into collaborative relationships that accounted for the ritual efficacy of thunder rites. The harsh curses masters and thunder deities voiced to one another in their mutual oaths became conspicuous in rites designed to summon and direct thunder deities to protect or heal. Wang and Bai theorized these curses in inner alchemical terms, developing a theory of ritual collaboration based on deep resonance between the ferocious (nu 怒) nature of thunder deities and the ferocious nature of the master’s primordial spirit cultivated via visualization. Running through these Divine Empyrean theories and practices was the idea that oaths and curses bound different kinds of subjects into collaborative partnerships within the Divine Empyrean cosmic hierarchy.




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pp. 31-58
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