The first major Chinese alchemical text appearing in Western language, was the 'Secret of the Golden Flower' text by Richard Wilhelm and interpreted by Carl Jung. This text came from the 'Grand Unity's' Instructions (on Developing) Golden Florescence (a light body)’, and came from at least two separate spirit-writing cults next to Patriarch Lu Dongbin active in the late seventeenth century. Jung's emphasis on the cross-cultural validity of his ideas on psychic individuation and archetypal symbolism however, downplayed the cultural specificity of the text and its tradition.

But in China, it should be known, ‘adepts’ responded not by abandoning their traditions (as when chemistry overtook alchemy in Europe by first narrowly redefining and then undercutting it), but by enriching them. Chinese compiled written texts and embedded their traditions into grand genealogical structures marked by textual elaboration, and spiritual meaning.

Among the most prominent examples here is that of the division of corporeal alchemy into five collateral branches, each corresponding to one of the five standard directions - south, north, center, east, and west that articulated space in traditional China. This geo-genealogical five-lineage structure built on the cultural model of the Southern and Northern branches of contemplative alchemy, and sought to embed new patriarchs, scriptures, into familiar structure.

To give their traditions durable geo-cultural foundation that could outlast the political decay and disintegration they faced. To date, most scholars have studied the Completion of Authenticity (Quenzhen), later dubbed the Northern Branch, followed by studies of the Western Branch. Plus, several studies have emerged relating to Lu Xixing and the Eastern Branch.

Belief in physical immortality among the Chinese seems to go back to the 8th century BC, and belief in the possibility of attaining it through drugs to the 4th century BC.

The genesis of alchemy in China may have been a purely domestic affair, we suggest however that there was some overlap with India during the time the Tantras were formulated (see the link at the end of this page to enter this wider 2008.World-Journal.net research project). In China it emerged during a period of political turmoil, the Warring States Period (from the 5th to the 3rd century BC), and it came to be associated with Taoism (Daoism). The Taoists/Daoists were a miscellaneous collection of 'outsiders', in relation to the prevailing Confucians, and such mystical doctrines as alchemy were soon grafted onto the Taoist canon. What is known of Chinese alchemy is mainly owing to that graft, and especially to a collection known as Y'n chi ch'i ch'ien ('Seven Tablets in a Cloudy Satchel'), which is dated 1023. Thus, sources on alchemy in China (as elsewhere) are compilations of much earlier writings.

The magical drug, namely the 'elixir of life' (elixir is the European word), is mentioned about that time, and that most potent elixir, 'drinkable gold,' which was a solution (usually imaginary) of this corrosion-resistant metal, as early as the 1st century BC many centuries before it is heard of in the West. First invented by the scholar-official, Ge Hong (283-343), the Way of the Golden Elixir attracted disaffected literati seeking spiritual advancement through elixir-making.

Ge's alchemy combined three traditions, and included divine rituals and formulas for preparing and ingesting mineral or metallic compounds, each of which gave specific powers to chose who took them. Ge uses the term Golden Elixir to name the best synthesis that would lead to the highest form of transcendence, but the wide readership of his book ensured that this term would become the generic label for alchemy. When later writers resorted to the same name however, they often had something quite distinct from Ge's ideas on the Golden Elixir in mind. They not only added new writings, deities. structures, and goals to their alchemical pursuits in the centuries after Ge's death, but from the tenth century, they frequently omitted any evidence of laboratory knowledge at all.

The Warring States next generated new approaches to life. Fears that spirits (shen) prematurely leave the corporeal form prompted some to focus on cultivating the body's vitalities. Thus Golden Elixir alchemy as it exists today, built upon the established traditions of sacred places on mountains and in temples as elements of marketing systems. Developments occurred within the matrix of learning, including the Confucian, Buddhist, and Taoist classics and several of their recent incarnations.

The Taiqing, or Great Clarity, legacy flourished between the third and the fourth centuries in Jiangnan, the region south of the lower Yangzi River. While earlier documents yield frag­mentary evidence on the origins of alchemy in China, the extant Taiqing sources provide details on the doctrines, rites, techniques, and aims of wai­dan. And The Scripture of Great Clarity (Taiqing jing), the Scripture of the Nine Elixirs (jiudan jing), and the Scripture of the Golden Liquor (jinye jing)  form the nucleus of the Taiqing doctrinal and textual legacy.

Enter Ge Hong

While not a creation of Ge Hong's family, they certainly played an important role in the preservation and the spreading of the Taiqing texts during the third and the early fourth centuries. (See Encyclopedia of Taoism (Curzon Encyclopaedias of Religion)

Based on Ge Hong's account, the three scriptures we just mentioned originated at the end of the second century, in the area of what should be Mount Qian (Qian­shan), which Emperor Wu of the Han had designated as the southernmost of the five sacred peaks (wuyue) in 106 BC. Mount Tianzhu at the end of the second century. The alleged first recipient, Zuo Ci, gave them to Ge Xuan (164-244), then they were transmitted to Zheng Yin (?-ca. 302), and finally they reached Ge Xuan's grandnephew, Ge Hong.

Different hagiographic lines of trans­mission were devised about one century later, when waidan was partially in­corporated into the corpus of one of the main Daoist schools of the Six Dy­nasties; The Celestial Masters sect, thus releasing themselves from their formal association with the heaven of Great Clarity (still causing confusion among many present day scholars). The main study of the cosmological tradition of waidan is found in Sivin, "The Theoretical Background of Elixir Alchemy." On correlative cosmology see especially Kalinowski, Cosmologie et divination dans la Chine ancienne: Le Compendium des Cinq Agents. Virtually all texts that document the use of correlative cosmology in waidan are related to the Zhouyi cantong qi (Token for the Agreement of the Three According to the Book of Changes). The earli­est known mention of this seminal work in association with waidan dates from around 500 CE.

What we know today about the beginnings of Taiqing tradition, however  is that it originated in present-day eastern Anhui around 200 CE, and was soon transmitted to the nearby region across the Changjiang River. (See Encyclopedia of Taoism, Curzon Encyclopaedias of Religion)

Apparently the three main scriptures took form, or at least were initially transmitted, within the milieu of the fangshi, the "masters of the methods." And  waidan participated in the progressive eastward transmission of elements of early religious culture from the Chu region to the coastal ar­eas that culminated, in the fourth century, with the revelation of the Shang­qing (Highest Clarity) scriptures.

Zheng Yin was the master who pro­vided Ge Hong with the required "oral instructions" (koujue) on the Taiqing and other texts, and who formally transmitted the three alchemical scrip­tures mentioned above to his disciple-then aged about eighteen-around the year 300. Ge Hong states that he originally collected, materials found in several sources to compile a handbook titled Inner Chapters, for his own refer­ence, and that later he expanded those excerpts and notes into a book ad­dressed to "those who are moved by the same aspirations as myself." (Ibid Encyclopedia of Taoism)

While hagiographic accounts depict him as compounding elixirs  on Mount Luofu (Luofu shan, Guang­dong), Ge Hong himself acknowledges that at the time he wrote his Inner Chapters he had not performed any alchemical method. Ge Hong's lack of personal expertise in compounding the elixirs does affect his image as an al­chemist-which anyway is to a considerable extent a creation of later hagiographers and modern scholars-and may be at the origin of some unclear or inaccurate reports of alchemical processes found in his work. The docu­mentation provided in the Inner Chapters, moreover, reflects the author's at­tempt to incorporate fragments of different bodies of doctrine and practice into a comprehensive view. See Ho Peng Yoke, On the Dating of Taoist Alchemical Texts; Chen Guofu, Daozang yuanliu xukao, 285-381. On this and related issues in the study of Chinese alchemy see also Sivin, Chinese Alchemy: Preliminary Studies, II-34; and his "The Theoretical Background of Elixir Alchemy," 2I0-12.

When following Ge Hong’s Inner Chapters,  the Taiqing scriptures began to circulate in Jiang­nan,  a new corpus, was ‘channeled’ by mediums, in the second half of the fourth century. This, was the point of departure for a series of changes within the religious traditions of Jiangnan that provide clues to un­derstand the relation of Taiqing alchemy to medieval Taoism.

The compilation of the Shangqing (Highest Clarity) and Lingbao (Numinous Treasure) corpora-between 364 and 370, and around 395 to 405, respectively-resulted in a new arrangement of the southeast­ern religious customs and their historical or legendary representatives. The new hierarchy was codified during the fifth century in the system of the Three Caverns (sandong), the earliest traces of which are found in the Shangqing scriptures. (See Robinet, La revelation du Shangqing, I: 75 - 8 5. On Lingbao Daoism see Bokenkamp, "Sources of the Ling-pao Scriptures"; and Yamada Toshiaki, "The Lingbao School.")

Within this system, which formally defined the identity of Six Dynasties and later Daoism, the heaven of Great Clarity, with the associated scriptures, doctrines, and methods, was ranked below those related to the Shangqing and the Lingbao corpora, bringing about a decline in the prestige of waidan.

Also the above mentioned texts, Way of the Celestial Masters (and real Clarity) texts were at first consolidated in the third tier. This lower tier normally associated with the Sanhuang (Three Sovereigns) and with one of the  main scriptures of the pre-Shangqing and pre-Lingbao traditions of nan, the Sanhuang wen, or Script of the Three Sovereigns. This explains why medieval alchemy, despite the lack of textual connec­tions of its sources to the Script of the Three Sovereigns, is often related to Sanhuang corpus; it also helps to understand why the Way of the Celestial Masters is often associated with the heaven of Great Clarity, and why Zhang Daoling, the originator of the Way of the Celestial Masters, is credited with alchemical knowledge by medieval and later sources.

Although almost all scholars translate the word ‘waidan’ with “outer Alchemy,” in contrast the foremost authority on waidan Ge Hong deemed meditation to  be superior to self-cultivation methods like daoyin (gymnastics), breathing, sexual techniques, and various types of diets including, in particular, the abstention from cereals (duangu or bigu).

To him the use of herbal drugs also was subordinate to meditation and alchemy: whereas medicines of herbs and plants (caomu zhi yao) only afford longevity, Ge Hong states, guarding the One (shouyi) enables one to approach the gods and repel demons, and ingesting the Taiqing elixirs con­fers immortality. The distinction between the benefits of alchemy and medi­tation, however, was not so clear-cut, for, as we shall see, Ge Hong also says that "if one ingests the Great Medicine of the Golden Elixir (jindan dayao), the hundred evils do not come close." For Ge Hong, therefore, alchemy grants one access to the sacred in both of its aspects: the absolute Tao, on the one hand, and the intermediate world of gods and demons, on the other. Through this appraisal, Ge Hong presents alchemy as a teaching that, by the beginning of the fourth century, had positioned itself, together with meditation, at the higher end of the spectrum of religious and ritual traditions of Jiangnan.

The Major Sources

The earliest written of what later unfolded in the waidan tradition is performed by a fangshi (shaman, magician, astrologer ) whose role in the early history of waidan is ac­knowledged by both historical and alchemical sources. Named  Li Shaojun, around 133 BC,  suggested to Emperor Wu that he perform a complex practice. The method began with a ceremony to the stove (zao) intended to ask some deities (or spirits, wu) to assist the emperor in making an elixir. In their pres­ence, cinnabar would transmute itself into a gold fit to cast vessels for eat­ing and drinking. Taking food and drinks from those vessels would extend the emperor's life, and enable him to meet the transcendent beings. After meeting them, and after performing the major feng and shan ceremonies to Heaven and Earth, the emperor would obtain immortality. Thus, told Li Shaojun to Emperor Wu, did the Yellow Emperor in ilia tempore. This event is narrated in the Records of the Historian as part of a lengthy debate on whether and how Emperor Wu should perform the feng and shan state cer­emonies. The views of the fangshi and the court officials differed on this is­sue, with the officials suggesting that the emperor should only express grat­itude to Heaven and Earth for the restored unity of the Nine Regions, and the fangshi maintaining that he should emulate the Yellow Emperor, their main deity, who had celebrated those rituals at the beginning of human time. The Emperor who is said to have personally made offerings to the stove, sent some fangshi to the sea to search for Penglai and for those like Master Anqi, and also occupied himself with the transmutation of cinnabar and other substances into gold. (jiuzhuan huandan jing yaojue , 28.1385, in  Taiji zhenren jiuzhuan huandan jing yao­jue, Essential Instructions on the Scripture on the Reverted Elixir in Nine Cycles of the Perfected of the Great Ultimate; as quoted in K.Schipper, Concordance du Tao-tsang: Titres des ouvrages, 1975 p. 889)  See also  Sivin, Chinese Alchemy, 25 -26; Needham, Science and Civilisation in China, 5·Ill: 34 - 35.

It should be noted that Li's method did not involve ingesting the elixir, and that his alchemical gold did not grant immortality, but only longevity: the emperor would become an immortal after per­forming the feng and shan ceremonies. This would change over time when following the ingestion process many died of mercury poisoning, hence the popularity of the later solely meditative, neidan methods. The earliest evidence on ingesting elixirs in order to "last as long as Heaven and Earth" dates from several decades after Li; it is found in the Treatise on Salt and Iron (Yantie lun), a work based on court debates held in 81 BC but compiled about two decades later. For more details about the origines of Chinese Alchemy see Kim Daeyeol, "Le symbolisme de la force vitale en Chine ancienne" (chapter IV.3.I), also Sivin, "Chinese Alchemy and the Manipulation of Time," 113 and 117-I8.

On the relationship between the daoshi and the fangshi see John Lager­wey, "Ecriture et corps divin en Chine." Lagerwey remarks, in particular: "le mode taolste de production des symboles n'est pas le mode metaphysique des possedes, mais celui, scientifique, du devin" (p. 282).

On the one hand, the following techniques for refining and transmuting minerals and metals do not constitute alchemy per se, as they do not necessarily imply the existence of a doctrinal and soteriological back­ground. Or better said, this background exists, but for a variety of reasons the techniques may come to be transmitted separately from it. Within the Chinese tradition, this is true not only of the proto-chemical techniques of waidan, but also of the physiological techniques of neidan; to give one example that pertains to the latter form of alchemy, one of its great­est representatives, Chen Zhixu (I289-after 1335), emphatically rejects the understanding of alchemy as consisting only of its practices when he writes:

"It has been said that the way of cultivation and refinement consists of the techniques (shu) of the Yellow Emperor and Laozi. No more of this non­sense! This is the Great Way of the Golden Elixir, and it cannot be called a technique." (See Halleux, Les textes alchimiques, 49, "un ensemble de pratiques et de speculations en rapport avec la transmutation des metaux").

Where the doctrinal principles at the basis of the compound­ing of the elixirs are shared by alchemy with other traditions and disciplines,  the compounding of the elixirs is not the only means of access to them. In Chinese alchemy, this is clearly visible in the fact that the alchemical pro­cess, either waidan or neidan, is rooted in doctrinal notions that originate elsewhere-specifically, within Taoism-and of which alchemy represents one of the applications. Alchemy, in other words, cannot be defined either by its techniques or by its doctrinal foundations alone but rather, using the formulation suggested by Halleux, by the unique relationship it establishes between "practices and speculations," or between techniques and doctrines. This relationship can take several forms, including some in which the com­pounding of the elixir is meant in an entirely metaphoric way.

 Sources ranging from historical and archaeological documents to mythological and hagiographic accounts yield some information on the quest for immortality and the knowledge of proto-chemical techniques in pre-imperial and early imperial times. At a closer inspection, however, very few of them are found to be directly relevant to alchemy proper; most consist of legendary accounts such as those on medicines of immortality that spontaneously grow in re­mote places, or refer to artisanal techniques for refining metals and miner­als. Some of these legends and tales are likely to descend, in the first place, from the same background that also gave rise to alchemy; no early document, however, makes the link explicit.

The Taiqing tradition we now come to, was not based on a body of doctrinal tenets explicitly stated in its texts, and even less so was it provided with a formal organiza­tion of masters and disciples. Far from being a "school" in the sense of an established movement, it was originally centered on a set of key scriptures and practices, and developed through the addition of subsidiary texts and methods. Possibly for these reasons, there is no trace in any extant source of a catalogue or a list of Taiqing canonical scriptures. In time, however, the original corpus of writings was expanded with the enlargement of the older texts, such as the Scripture of Great Clarity, the addition of new ones, such as the writings related to the Scripture of the Nine Elixirs, and the com­pilation of commentaries, such as the one on the Scripture of the Golden Liquor.

The Scripture of the Nine Elixirs, is said to derive from a ‘heavenly’ book titled; Superior Scripture of the Nine Methods of the Princess of the Primordial Dao of the  Nine Heavens, "Jiutian Yuandao jun jiufang zhi shangjing".12 As this title shows the text was intended to have been  revealed by the Princess of Primordial Dao (Yuandao jun), who is called Primordial Princess (Yuanjun) in several pas­sages of the commentary to the Nine Elixirs. Ge Hong mentions her in con­nection with the Great Clarity and the Golden Liquor, the two other texts that form the main early Taiqing corpus. In both instances, the Primordial Princess transmits these scriptures to her alleged son, Laozi. On the Primordial Princess as the mother of Laozi see Seidel, La divinisation de Lao tseu, 40 – 41, and Kohn, "The Mother of the Tao," 99. On Laozi as a master and a disciple of the alchemical arts see Baldrian-Hussein, "Inner Alchemy: Notes on the Origin and Use of the Term Neidan," 171-77.

The revelation of the Nine Elixirs is due it states, to two divine cou­ples, each of which consists of a female and a male figure: the Primordial Princess and Laozi on the one hand (transmission in heaven), and the Mys­terious Woman and the Yellow Emperor on the other (transmission on earth). The relation between the components of the two couples is similar: the Primordial Princess is the mother and teacher of Laozi, while the Myste­rious Woman, as we shall presently see, is one of several deities who granted teachings to the Yellow Emperor. Also similar is the relation between the two male and the two female figures. Laozi-or his divine counterpart, Laojun or Lord Lao-and the Yellow Emperor are in several ways two aspects of the same divine being: the former is on the non-temporal level what the latter is in the human time, where he rules at the beginning of history.See the account of the Mysterious Woman in Yongcheng jixian lu, 6.2a­4a (trans. Cahill, "Sublimation in Medieval China"). On the Mysterious Wom­an see also Seidel, La divinisation de Lao tseu, 40-41; and van Gulik, Sexual Life in Ancient China, 73 -76. Besides the one reported above, another tradi­tion, recorded in the Laojun kaitian jing (Scripture of the Opening of Heaven by Lord Lao), states that Laozi wrote the Taiqing jing when he appeared to the mythical emperor Shun as Yinshou zi. See Yunji qiqian (Seven Lots from the Bookcase of the Clouds; CT I032), 2.13 b; trans. Schafer, "The Scripture of the Opening of Heaven by the Most High Lord Lao," 17. Analogously, the Primordial Princess is associated with the celestial version of the Nine Elixirs, not addressed to human beings and therefore differently titled, while the Mysterious Woman is related to its transmission to the Yel­low Emperor, in its current form and with its current title. Note the Yel­low Emperor was already mentioned in the first written record of transmutation by fangshi Li Shaojun, around 133 BC.

On the represen­tation of the Yellow Emperor and other mythical sovereigns as receiving teach­ings from divine beings see also Harper, "The Sexual Arts of Ancient China," 546-48. The Mysterious Woman and the Pure Woman, who are often associ­ated with the sexual practices (fangzhong shu), are mentioned together in the passage quoted below in the present chapter from the commentary to the Nine Elixirs Uiudan jingjue, 5 .2a), which states that the Yellow Emperor learned the practices of Nourishing Life (yangsheng) from them. Guangcheng zi is the Yel­low Emperor's instructor in chapter 1 of the Zhuangzi, and Qi Bo is the Celes­tial Master (Tianshi) who teaches the medical arts in the corpus of the Huangdi neijing (Inner Canon of the Yellow Emperor).

The main Taiqing text however was the Scripture of Great Clarity (Taiqing jing). This work contained methods for making several elixirs, two of which are summarized by Ge Hong in his Inner Chapters: the Elixir of Great Clarity (tai­qing dan) and the Elixirs of the Nine Radiances (jiuguang dan).2 The text has not come down to us, but the Daoist Canon contains two works that claim, through their titles, to have close ties to it. The first, entitled "Preface to the Scripture of the Divine Elixirs of Great Clarity" ("Taiqing shendan jingxu"), purports to quote teachings of the Primordial Princess (Yuanjun) on the types and ranks of spiritual beings. In her speech, the goddess em­phasizes that the elixirs lead to transcendence but pertain to the domain of human beings; alchemy, therefore, reflects the human limitations compared to the condition of beings of pure spirit (shen), who do not need to devote themselves to its practice. But despite the importance of this text-even a neidan author, Chen Zhixu, quotes some sentences of it in one of his works-and despite its attribution to the deity who, as we have seen, first revealed the three main Taiqing scriptures, there is no evidence that the "Preface" was part of the Scripture of Great Clarity as it existed in Ge Hong's time. More likely, it is excerpted from one of the expanded versions of this scripture that we shall presently mention.

The Practice

The alchemical process begins with the ceremony of transmission, performed in order to receive texts and oral instructions (koujue). As stated in the com­mentary to the Scripture of the Nine Elixirs, without the written instructions (wenjue) one would be unable to remove the toxicity of the ingredients, but the oral instructions are necessary to understand the meaning of the written instructions. More important, states the commentary, one should not as­sume that the alchemical practice simply consists in following the recipes found in the texts.

To receive the methods of the Nine Elixirs, the disciple throws golden figurines of a man and a fish into an east-flowing stream as tokens of his oath. The tokens offered to receive the Reverted Elixir in Nine Cycles are a golden figurine of a fish and a jade ring shaped like a dragon. Both are said to re­place the rites of smearing one's mouth with blood and of having one's hair cut. If the golden figurine and the jade ring are not available, they may be re­placed with hemp fabric and silk. On the offering of golden figurines in Daoist transmis­sion rituals, and on throwing talismans into east-flowing streams, see Wushang biyao (The Supreme Secret Essentials; CT Il3 8), 27.7b and 34.I2a-I6a (Lager­wey, Wu-shang pi-yao, 109 and 124), respectively. See also Chen Guofu, Dao­zang yuanliu kao, 283-84. Kim Daeyeol, "Le symbolisme de la force vitale en Chine ancienne" (chap. III.2), shows that the fish often appears in early Chinese literature and iconography as an image of communicating with divine beings, and suggests that the golden figurines of the man and the fish offered in the rite of transmission represent the adept's wish to enter the realm of the immortals. Lagerwey, Wu-shang pi-yao, 124, mentions the replacement of blood and the haircut with golden rings and green silk.

The offerings mentioned have the same colors as gold and silver, a relevant detail since alchemy is often called the Art of the Yellow and White (huangbai shu), with reference to those two metals. The passage on the transmission of the Scripture of Great Clarity is quoted in the commentary to the Nine Elixirs, which replaces blood with cinnabar; see Jiudan jingjue, 3.4a-b. (Huangdi jiuding shendan jingjue (Instruc­tions on the Scripture of the Divine Elixirs of the Nine Tripods of the Yellow Emperor, Schipper, CT, 885.)

Having received the texts and the oral instructions, the adept retires to a mountain or an isolated place. He is accompanied by two or three atten­dants, whose main tasks are pounding the ingredients and tending the fire. (For many references and details of this, and follows, including illustrations of all the talismans referred to, see the Curson Encyclopedia of Taoism.)

After all the precepts, taboos, and rules have been obeyed, the delimitation and protecting of space can start. Space should be purified and pro­tected to guard oneself from the dangerous demons who inhabit the moun­tains. This can be achieved by the mere possession of major scriptures like the Script of the Three Sovereigns (Sanhuang wen), the Charts of the Real Forms of the Five Peaks (Wuyue zhenxing tu), or the Prajiiaparamita-sutra, which enable one to summon the gods it is said, and obtain their protection.(For details see  To drive away spirits and demons, one should also be able to identify them and shout their names, or to recognize those that, in days marked by certain cyclical characters, appear under the guise of human beings or wild ani­mals. According to the Supreme Secret Essentials (Wushang biyao), the suqi (Nocturnal Invocation) rite for the protection of ritual space can also be performed when one compounds the elixirs.

However, as is stated in the commentary to the Nine Elixirs, the most effective way to protect the compounding of the elixirs is to use talismans (fu) and seals (yin). These are worn on one's body, affixed at the four directions, placed along the path that leads to one's dwelling, thrown in the stove, or made into ashes and drunk with water before one compounds the elixirs. Examples show how the Taiqing adepts used talismans.

Referring to the rules for the establishment of the ritual area, three Taiqing sources mention a compound called Medicine for Expelling the Demons (quegui yao) or Pel­let for Expelling the Demons (quegui wan). Several ingredients of this com­pound are poisonous vegetable substances whose apotropaic properties are also mentioned in the pharmacopoeias.

Next the adept can start the process of selecting the proper time for compounding the elixir. The entire preliminary process for making the Reverted Elixir in Nine Cycles should be timed so that one kindles the fire at dawn on the ninth day of the ninth month. The Nine Elixirs and three other early texts give a list of auspicious and inauspicious days to begin the compounding; despite variants in the indication of inaus­picious days among them, the common origin of the passage is apparent. Among the days indicated as unfavorable are those of Establishment (jian), of Receiving (shou), and of the Killer of the Month (yuesha). The most fa­vorable days are the fifth of the fifth month and the seventh of the seventh month, followed by the days of Opening (kai) and of Removal (Chu). The compounding can also begin in the days whose cyclical signs are in a rela­tionship of "ruler and assistant" and do not "subdue" each other; moreover, the sky should be clear, and the sun and the moon should be bright.

Now the fire may finally be started. In the Nine Elixirs, this stage is also marked by a ceremony. The alchemist invokes the Great Lord of the Dao (Da Daojun), Lord Lao (Laojun), and the Lord of the Great Harmony (Taihe jun). He offers them food and drinks, and asks them to watch over the pro­cess, let the practice be successful, and let him become an accomplished man (zhiren) and have audience at the Purple Palace (Zigong), in the constellation of the Northern Dipper. The commentary to the Nine Elixirs describes a more complex rite, called Ceremony of the Nine Elixirs (jiudan ji), which is performed before kindling the fire.

The adept first sets up an altar, nine feet wide in the lower part and four feet wide in the upper part, and places the stove six feet west of the al­tar. On the altar he arranges five pieces of silk, placing one piece of dried meat and one cup of liquor on each of them. On a seat to the east of the altar he arranges nine pieces of silk, placing two pieces of dried meat and two cups of liquor on each of them. He also offers millet, dried meat of ox and sheep, boiled carp, cooked eggs, jujubes, pears, and oranges or other red fruits. Burning some incense, he pours liquor into the cups. Then he kneels in front of the seat, and after this he may start the fire. The offerings are moved near the crucible, and more dried meat and liquor are placed on three tables. The meat should be replaced once every three days, and the liquor three times a day.

After all the preliminary rites are performed, the compounding of the elixir may begin. The alchemist's attention now focuses on the crucible and the fire, and he performs the method according to the texts and the oral instruc­tions he has received from his master, helped by his assistants. When the elixir is achieved, according to the commentary to the Nine Elixirs, he performs again the ceremony made before the kindling of the fire, adding more pork meat on the altar, and cooked rice, a cooked chicken, and a dried carp in the seat to the east of the altar. Finally, having asked permission to do so with an invocation, he opens the crucible. In the Taiqing methods, the crucible is typically formed by two superposed - vessels made of red clay (chishi zhi) and joined by their mouths. Owing to this feature, the texts often mention a "double crucible" (liangfu) or an "upper and lower earthenware crucible" (shangxia tufu).

The elixirs had to be extensively consecrated before ingestion, in this rite, different quantities of the elixir are offered to Heaven, celestial bodies, and deities, and another portion is left in the marketplace for the benefit of those who cannot devote themselves to its compounding.

The Scripture of the Nine Elixirs also describes the transmutation of the elixir into gold, or-in one case-into silver, as the final act of the alchemical pro­cess. The First and the Fourth Elixirs are transmuted into gold with mercury; the Second Elixir is transmuted into gold with an aqueous solution of mag­netite; the Sixth Elixir is transmuted into gold with mercury or lead; and the Seventh Elixir is transmuted into gold or into silver with lead. This trans­mutation is referred to with the word dian, which denotes, as "projection" does in Western alchemy, the process by which a small quantity of elixir con­fers its properties to other substances that are added to it. The stated pur­pose of this transmutation is to verify that the elixir has been correctly pre­pared, but the Nine Elixirs also hints at the use of alchemical gold for making vessels when it says that the gold obtained in this way should be malleable. In the following instance, gold is used for making a cylinder in which the elixir itself should be stored.

After you achieve gold the document advises, take one hundred pounds of it and arrange a major ceremony. For the procedure there is a separate scroll, but this is not the same ceremony as the one performed for compounding [the elixirs of] the Nine Tripods. For this ceremony you separately weigh and arrange different quantities of gold. You offer twenty pounds to Heaven, five pounds to the Sun and the Moon, eight pounds to the Northern Dipper (beidou), eight pounds to the Great One (Taiyi), five pounds to the god of the well, five pounds to the god of the stove, twelve pounds to the Count of the River (Hebo), five pounds to the god of the soil (she), and five pounds each to the spirits and the divinities of the doors, of the house, of the village, and to the Lord of Clarity (Qingjun). This makes eighty-eight pounds altogether. With the remaining twelve pounds, fill a beautiful leather bag, and on an auspicious day silently leave it in a very crowded spot of the city market, in the peak hour. Then leave without turning back. (Ge Ho Baopu zi neipian, Inner Chapters of the Book of the Master Who Embraces Spontaneous Nature, 4.76-7.)

Because the talismans of the Three Sovereigns and the Real Forms, the Taiqing elixirs grant the power of expelling dangerous demons and keeping away harmful entities. To do so according to Ge Ho, one does not necessarily need to ingest the elixirs, and may merely keep them in one's hand or carry them at one's belt-a revealing detail since scriptures and talismans could also be used in the same way. The apotropaic properties of some elixirs also become active by rubbing them on a person's eyes, on the house doors, and even on the city walls. (Quoted in F. Pregadio, Great Clarity, 2006, 129. This book is an edited version of  Pregadio’s dissertation from 1990, he next went on to edit the Encyclopedia of Taoism.)

Ge Hong as quoted in The Encyclopedia of Taoism describes how the Real Pearl is obtained by placing mercury and saltpeter inside the quill of a bird's feather (niaoge), which is sealed with wood and lacquer and is soaked in a Flowery Pond for seven days or longer. If it is ingested for one hundred days, it confers immortality.( Mercury also appears as the name of the lead-tin compound (which is described as "quicksilver," shuiyin, possibly implying a change of properties from Yin to Yang) and as an ingredient of the three other methods given in the Oral Instructions: those for making the Silver Snow, the Hard Snow, and the Male Snow. To compound the Silver Snow, mercury is boiled in vinegar for nine days and nine nights; it is then added to the unidentified "flowery stone" (huashi) and is made into a powder. This powder is placed in the crucible and is covered with Red Salt, a compound obtained by refining alum and salt that is also mentioned by Ge Hong in his summary. The Hard Snow is obtained by placing mercury in a vessel with plaques of copper (tongban) and vinegar. The amalgam is made again into plaques and soaked in a Flowery Pond; if it is placed in a crucible with Red Salt, one obtains the Male Snow.

The commentary to the Nine Elixirs also refers to the Yellow Emperor's initiatory journey, at the end of which he compounded two elixirs that enabled him to rise to heaven.


For updates click homepage here