Materializing Martial Gods: Thunder Ritual, Material Culture, and the Story of Daoism in Ming China
4: I Want You for the Militia of Spirits: The Canonization of Local Gods and the Department of Thunder in Ming Daoism
Friday, March 25, 2022
3:30pm – 5:00pm EST
Location: Conv. Center, Room 316B
Aaron K. Reich
Saint Joseph’s University, United States
Over thirty feet in length, a late Ming handscroll titled The Canonization Scroll of Li Zhong depicts a local god standing in audience before the celestial court of the Daoist pantheon. Its pictorial and textual portions respectively illustrate and describe a process known as daofeng, literally “conferral of the Way,” typically translated in current scholarship as canonization. The term denotes the liturgical promotion of a local god into the authorized pantheon of the largest Daoist institution at the time, the Zhengyi Order of the Dragon-Tiger Mountains. Although scholars have recognized the handscroll’s value as the most detailed document on the procedures involved in late-imperial canonizations, questions remain regarding the place of Thunder rites and their pantheons in the liturgy that the handscroll describes. High-ranking supreme gods of Thunder stand at the center of document’s celestial court scene; meanwhile, the accompanying written certificate of canonization announces the local god’s promotion to the position of Minister in a Daoist celestial-bureaucratic body known as the Department of Thunder. What do these details suggest about Ming canonizations more broadly? Through a close analysis of the document alongside contemporaneous religious and historical texts, this paper argues that the canonization of local gods during the Ming period amounted precisely to an expansion of the Department of Thunder, an expansion that was part and parcel of what scholars have shown to be the Zhengyi Order’s duty, assigned by imperial decree, to recruit local spirits, harness their power, and unite them in the service of protecting the realm.