Monday, August 9, 2010
The Eight Immortals in Chinese Myth
Originally published at BellaOnline Mythology
The Eight Immortals are a group of legendary men who transcended earthly life and gained other-worldly powers, including immortality. They have both life giving and destroying force that Taoists believe can be channelled by devotees. They play an important role in both Taoism and in secular Chinese Culture and function in ways similar to Catholic Saints.
CAO-GUOJIU This patron of actors and performance was the brother of a Song Dynasty Empress. Disgusted with rampant corruption in court, he left for the mountains and became a hermit. There he met Lu-Dongbin, who taught him Taoism and made him one of the immortals.
HAN-XIANGZI This philospher and patron of the middle class is said to have fallen upwards out of the sacred peach tree of immortality, aquiring the gift as he grabbed a branch.
HE-XIANGU This patron of virgins, cooking and housekeeping found a piece of the tree of immortality and mixed it into a powder, then drank it. She soon discovered she could fly and ultimately joined other immortals.
LAN-CAIHE Patron of the poor, this effeminate, often drunk beggar and herb seller was rewarded with immortality after nursing a crippled beggar back to health.
LI-TIEGUAI This patron of the sick, known as "Li with the Iron Crutch", learned the secrets of immortality when his spirit floated from his body to visit Lao-Zi. Discovering upon return that he'd been cremated, he replaced his body with a dead lame beggar he found in a ditch.
LU-DONGBIN From a royal family, this patron of scholars was given a magic sword by a dragon. After dreaming that he would be killed by bandits, he adopted Taoism to escape the fate. Ultimately he became friends with ZHONG-LIQUAN and became immortal himself.
ZHANG-GUOLAO Associated with oragami because he rides a magic donkey he can fold up like a piece of paper, Zhang-Guola, patron of the elderly, became immortal when he refused to die.
ZHONG-LIQUAN Patron of military operations, this hermetic alchemist became immortal when an explosion during one of his experiments revealed the Elixer of Life.