Episode 31: Magic Tricks

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People like to watch magic shows and sometimes learn to do magic tricks themselves. Today we can explain the magic tricks using science. However, I don’t know how to explain magic tricks in mythology. The story is from the book TaiPingGuangJi太平广记.

There was a girl named HuMeier胡媚儿 in the time of ZhenYuan贞元 in Tang Dynasty. She usually did some tricks in the markets in the place Yangzhou扬州 for a living. Nobody knew where she was from and her tricks were kind of weird and different from anyone had seen before. After ten days in the market, more and more audiences got together to see her performance and she could earn thousands of thousands of money. One morning, she brought a glass bottle about half a liter. It was totally transparent and empty. She put the bottle on a sheet and said to the audiences that,” I would be happy if I can earn enough money to fill the bottle today.” The neck of the bottle was around the size of a reed. Somebody put coins worth 100 into the bottle, ding! The money went into the bottle however when you saw them the coins looked like the size of rice. Audiences were shocked and somebody put 1000 coins , 10,000, 100,000, 200,000 coins into the bottle. Same thing happened. They looked like rice. Somebody even put horses and donkeys into the bottle, which not only went through the neck of the bottle, they looked like the size of flies in the bottle yet they moved as usual.

魔术.jpg

Later, there were two officials in charge of taxes passing by with 10 carts full of products. They stopped to watch the show and were excited to try as well. Hu Meier the magician tilted the bottle and shouted something, the 10 carts moved into the bottle in order and they looked like ants in the bottle and disappeared. Hu Meier then suddenly jumped into the bottle. Until then, people just realized she was gone and tried to break the bottle to catch her. However, nothing could they find in the bottle. After that nobody where she went. In Calvin and Hobbes, Calvin told his dad he could do this magic trick to make $100 bill disappear and for some reason his dad didn’t go for the trick.

About a mouth or so later, somebody said they saw Hu Meier leading the carts to the place DongPing东平. At that time Li Shidao李师 道 was a general there. Just to explain here Li Shidao was a leader of rebellion army. So this magician lady basically used her tricks to help the rebellion army.

I am still curious in magic shows today when the magicians make people disappeared, do they go to the other world? Maybe next time I would volunteer on the stage to figure the truth.

Mentioned:

太平广记TaiPingGuangJi

李师 道Li Shidao

Episode 30: A Random Story About A Haunted House

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I know a lot of urban legends are about haunted houses and people never get tired hearing more of the horror or bloody stories. However, today I am going to talk about a not so scary yet a little bit random story of a haunted house. It is from the book SouShenJi 搜神记, which we mentioned before from Jin Dynasty 晋朝 around the year 350.

There was a person called ZhangFen 张奋 who used to very rich and for no reason he became old super fast and lost his money so he sold the house to another guy named ChengYing 程应. Not too long after ChengYing moved into the house with his family, they all got diseases. So ChengYing sold the house to his neighbor called HeWen 何文. It seems like the house is haunted and has some bad FengShui.

The neighbor HeWen he probably figured out when he bought the house and wanted to figure out the reason. He brought a huge knife and climbed to the pillar in the north room when it was getting dark. During the midnight, there suddenly appeared a person about 2~3 meters wearing a tall hat , yellow clothes, coming to the court and shouted “XiYao 细腰!” XiYao literally means “skinny waist ”. Then there was a voice replied. So apparently XiYao was some other person in the house. The big guy wearing yellow asked “why do I smell some strangers in the house?” XiYao answered, “I don’t think so there are no strangers” So the yellow guy left.

Soon after, another guy wearing tall hat however wearing greenish clothing. Afterwards a third guy wearing tall hat wearing white clothes. They both asked the same question and got the same answer from XiYao. HeWen waited on the pillar the whole night and got down until sunrise. He followed all the tall hat guys and shouted “XiYao”. He asked who was the guy wearing yellow clothes? XiYao said, “it was gold under east wall of the house” He asked again who was the guy wearing green? XiYao answered “it was coins 5 step in front of the well in the house” “Who was the guy wearing white?” “It was the silver under the pillar near the northeast wall” replied XiYao. HeWen kept asking,” who are you?” XiYao answered, “I am the wooden pestle under the stove.” that’s why the name was XiYao, skinny waist cause it was a pestle. When it was totally bright outside, HeWen went through the places in order and got gold, silver and coins. In the end he burned the wooden pestle. After that, the house became peaceful again.

In Jin Dynasty 晋朝 in China, there was a popular theory that things that old enough could become some form of spirits. In the story gold, silver and coins under the ground for so long that they became evil spirits and so was the pestle. I think this is quite interesting cause when you think of the ghosts in a haunted house, they always were already evil creatures or mistreated where they were alive. I sometimes wonder when something is missing is it because they walk around themselves? And be a hoarders cause your old stuff may be haunted one day….

Mentioned:

搜神记SouShenJi/ In Search Of the Sacred

Episode 3: Chasing The Sun

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People have been worshiped the sun since the prehistorical time, which can be found in art in many cultures. The big bright thing in the sky, who doesn’t want to worship that? Before we talk about the stories, I want to mention a book called Shanhaijing 山海经, Classic of Mountains and Seas. It is such a cool book full of geography, mythology, folktales, science, religions and It is from the 4th century BC. There are a lot of versions of people drawing the weird mythical creatures from the book throughout time. We are going to mention this book more in the future.

The first story is from this book about Kuafu 夸父, a giant, who had a mission of chasing the sun. It didn’t mention in the book how tall he was. Since the nutricients weren’t that great as today, we might be gaints ourselves. Anyways, why did he chase the sun? Because he wanted to capture the sun! Not for gaining powers or other particular purposes. One day Kuafu started chasing the sun from the sunrise until the sunset. He was so thirsty while running and the heat that he drank up all the water from the Yellow River 黄河, WeiShui 渭水 and Daze 大泽, which are huge lakes. Before he captured the sun, he still died on the road not due to too much water in the belly but due to a lack of water and exhaustion. The wooden cane he carried grew into a forest of peach trees. I remember when I heard this story as a kid, all I cared was how juicy and tasty those peaches were. People sometimes use this story to describe a person sets his goal to high that he overestimates his ability like Icarus from Greek mythology who fly who flew too close to the sun and fell into the sea, or like the phrase a moth drawn to a flame. But for me, Kuafu is such a romantic idealist, who would sacrificed his life for the dream. He died for the fire in the heart and after he died he left those tasty peaches for people (really want to try those). Even today, human being always are curious about the nature and wish to conquer the nature.

夸父2

Another guy called Houyi 后羿, in a way, he tried to capture the sun or suns as well. However, he was a archer so he doesn’t need to chase after the sun but to shoot them. Long long time ago, ten suns rose and turned the world into hell. Why wre there ten suns? Some version says the suns are the newly born children of Dijun 帝俊, the Emperor Jun, one of the ancient supreme deities and Yihe羲和, the solar deity. They lived in a mulberry tree in the East Sea 东海. Ten suns usually tooj turns to rise. But this time these kids came out together for fun. With his bow and arrow, Houyi shot down nine suns leaving one left. He also killed some beasts to save people. Houyi is also regarded as a god of archery. I am glad he left one for us today. Maybe he left it for Kuafu to chase after and maybe if left more suns in the sky, Kaufa would had a better chance to capture one sun. Some scientists assumed this story based on an event of the implosions of comets in planetary atmospheres.

后羿

It’s dangerous to chase after the sun maybe the moon is a better choice.

Mentioned:

山海经 Classic of mountains and seas

夸父 Kuafu

黄河 Yellow River

渭水 WeiShui

大泽Daze

后羿 Houyi

帝俊 Diyun

羲和 Yihe

东海 East Sea

Icarus

Episode 2: The Beginning

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In Chinese mythology, Pangu 盘古 is the god who created the universe. Pangu’s Creation story came later than the story of Nvwa 女娲. Pangu was originally a mythical character from the minorities in the south China. When the tribes of Fuxi 伏羲 migrated from the Yellow River, from the North to South. his stories combining with Pangu’s stories became the one we know today. Pan 盘 means beginning in the ancient Chinese and gu 古 means gourd, the plant, which represents fertility.

盘古

In the book called WuYunLiNianJi 五运历年记, before anything was created in the universe, Pangu emerged from the egg-like universe. When he was born, he was already 18000 years old. So he sat in the egg for a while. He separated Yin, which is murky, became the earth and Yang, which is clear, became the sky. Pangu was between the sky and land. Each day, the sky grew one zhang 丈 , a unit of length in ancient China, is about 2~3 meters (10 feet), and the land also grew about one zhang thicker and pangu grew one zhang taller. Hey! It is like the Big Bang. This went on for another 18000 years. You can do the math and distance between the sky and the earth is around 1000200 miles, which is half of the diameter of the moon or a third of the way of the equator of the earth according to Wolfram. So the universe definitely fit in half of the moon for sure (not really). 36000 years was probably a huge number for people to imagine in the ancient time that the universe took to emerge.

After Pangu died, his breath became the wind and clouds, his voice became the thunder, his left eye became the sun, his right eye became the moon. His arms, legs and head became the mountains and polars, his blood became rivers and lakes, his muscles became fertile lands, his fair became stars, his skin became grassland and forests, his bones and teeth became minerals and his sweat became rainfalls. The fleas from his body were carried by the wind and became animals. The profile we used for the podcast is Pangu himself! Some researchers think this story is from Indian Myth of Purusha, which is a very similar story about Purusha whose sacrifice created all life forms including human beings. In the same book, it also recorded that Pangu had a dragon head and a snake body, which is different from the photo, which is a hairy guy with horns. In the folktale version, Pangu held a chisel in his left hand and a hammer in his right hand to separate the sky and land. When he opened his eyes, it was the day. When he closed his eyes, the night fell. People worship Pangu at some shrines in China today, where Pangu usually holds a Bagua, which is a Taoist symbol.

Pangu created the universe. Who created Pangu?

 

Mentioned:

盘古 Pangu

女娲 Nvwa

伏羲 Fuxi

zhang

五运历年记 WuYunLiNianJi

八卦 Bagua

Purusha

Episode 1: Wonder Woman

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Who created us human beings? Maybe nobody created us and we are just the processes of the universe. In the Bible, Adam is the first human being and creates Eve. Why did men come before women? Because we are living in a patriarchal society. However, in Chinese mythology, Nvwa 女娲, who is a female, created the mankind. which makes more sense biologically. Nv means female in Chinese.

Xiaoyuncong_nvwa

Nvwa 女娲 is the mother goddess of Chinese mythology. When we talk about goddess, what is the image in your mind? In the prehistorical time, goddess were fertility figures and in Greek mythology goddess are always those strong and beautiful women. I don’t know how pretty Nvwa was but she had a snake body. In the book ChuCi 楚辞, from around 220 BC, the Chapter TianWen天问, which means Heavenly Questions, it says she has a human head with a snake body and created 70 things a day. This is a typical image in the later Chinese literature for a pretty lady maybe because how females move is like how snakes move.

The reason she decided to create mankind is that one day she walked along the Yellow River and she saw her reflection and felt lonely and she thought “Hmm, I need somebody else looks like me in this world”. If horses had god, the god would look like horses. She tried to create human based on herself however I don’t know why we don’t have snake bodies. One version of the myth says on the day she created mankind, other gods came to help. Some helped her with the creation of Yin and Yang, some helped with ears and eyes, and some helped with arms and hands. The other well-known version of the story, which can be found in the book Four Great books of Song, from 960- 1279 AD, is that she used yellow clay to make people maybe the color of clay is like Asian’s skin color. Myths is a reflection of history. It seems people at that time already knew how to use clay to make things. She started with hands like the lady makes monsters out of clay in Power Rangers. It was a hard work even for a goddess to hand make clay people. So she decided to dip a rope in the mud and to swing the rope. As soon each mud drops landed on the ground, it became a person. People now still joke about good looking or smart people are made by hand and the others are made by mud drops. I don’t like this part of the story cause nobody wants to be a mud drop. The Bible says we are made of dust. However, people are equal even everyone is made of dust.

After the creation, she prayed to gods to be the goddess of marital affairs and created the marriage system. I guess she was tired of making more human by herself. Instead she let people get married and give birth to new generations. Nvwa herself married to her brother Fuxi 伏羲, one of the Three Sovereigns, which is a group of rulers or deities dated from 2852 BC to 2070 BC. There are paintings from the ancient time of Nvwa and Fuxi and they both have snake bodies. Actually people think Nvwa has the body of snake because it was what Fuxi looks like. And since they are siblings and later a couple, people drew them together with similar bodies.

nvwafuxi

 

Another story about Nvwa is recorded in HuaiNanZi 淮南子, a book from before 139 BC. It says long long time ago when the four pillars were broken, the nine provinces were in taters, the sky could not cover the land, the land could not hold up the sky, fires could not be extinguished, floods would not recede. It was a totally catastrophe. Beasts ate innocent people, birds snatched the elderly and the weak. Nvwa smelted a five-colored stone to patch the sky. She cut off the legs of a tortoise as the four pillars, killed the black dragon and piled up cinders of reeds to stop the floods. And people’s lives were saved and the world was tranquil. So the purpose of her patching the sky was to deal with the floods, which is mentioned in a lot of myths including in Bible. In the ancient time, when people didn’t know much about how to protect themselves with natural disasters they wished to have a goddess to save them and world. Nvwa is one of the them with the hope.

Terms mentioned:

女娲 Nvwa

伏羲 Fuxi

楚辞 ChuCi

淮南子HuaiNanZi

太平御览 TaiPingYuLan

Power Rangers