A Python Spirit Becomes A Demon 蟒精為妖

In Nanzhong there is the Xuanxian place for offerings, at the foot of a steep and rocky precipice, and at the top of that is a stony grotto cave. Tradition has it that this was the residence of supernatural beings, and at times it is shrouded and hidden by clouds and mist. Students of the Way often built houses beneath it, and would see an immortal manifest before them, saying: “Every year on the Zhongyuan day (the Ghost Festival; the fifteenth day of the seventh month), you should select a person of virtuous conduct at the altar, and they will then ascend as an immortal.” At this all of those who studied the way and admired immortals gathered together there. When the time came, people from near and far congregated beneath the altar, holding incense, gazing at the cave mouth and praying. Afterwards, a person of moral virtue was selected from among the crowd, dressed and capped spotlessly, and stood still on the dais for a long time, eventually ascending, at which the remainder were all left dejected, saying goodbye and leaving. Then a multi-coloured auspicious cloud gathered, extending from the cave over to the altar. The virtuous person, robe and hat quite still, rode the cloud and ascended to the grotto’s entrance, where a great scarlet lantern guided their way. The spectators without exception wept and snivelled in admiration and envy, gazing into the distance and making obeisance. This continued for several years, and none were chosen whose lack of virtue or destiny in the Way provoked resentment.

The next year, the crowd chose someone of great age, and just as he ascended, a person of the Way said that he had come from Wudangshan to take up residence at a monastery, and asked what was going on; everything was explained to him. The monk sighed in admiration of this, and said: “Ascension as an immortal, now, [260] who would have thought it could be so easy? In the void there must, however, be noble spirits among the strong celestial winds, and one must be able to intercept them. I have a token which can protect against this; please place it on your chest, and be careful not to lose it.” The virtuous one placed it on his chest, and was delighted. When the time came the multi-coloured cloud wound around his feet, and he gradually ascended.

The following day, the monk sent his people to the edge of the cliff, in order to look into the cave. There they saw the levitated person lying emaciated and haggard as if suffering from serious illness, breathing with difficulty and eventually just about able to speak. When questioned, he said: “Just as I reached the cave mouth, I caught sight of a huge python, spitting a haze that became clouds, with two eyes like fires. Just as it opened its jaws, intending to swallow me, there came a sudden quaking of wind and storm, striking it dead at the edge of the cavern.” When they looked, it was a python of several arm spans around, dozens of zhang (3.3m) in length. Moreover, there were skeletons piled up around the cave, which were the bones of the levitated people. The multi-coloured cloud was the python’s poisoned breath, and the scarlet lantern its glowing eyes.

Anon., Huhai xinwen yijian xuzhi, 後2.259-60 (Tale 471):

蟒精為妖

南中有選仙道場,在一峭崖石壁之下,其絕頂石洞穴,相傳以為神仙之窟宅,時有雲氣蒙藹。常有學道之人築室於下,見一仙人現前,曰:「每年中元日,宜推選有德行之人祭壇,當得上昇為仙。」於是學道慕仙之人咸萃於彼。至期,遠近之人齎香赴壇下,遙望洞門祝禱,而後衆推道德高者一人,嚴潔衣冠,佇立壇上,以候上昇,餘皆慘然訣別而退。於時有五色祥雲油然,自洞而至壇場。其道高者,衣冠不動,躡雲而昇至洞門,則有大紅紗燈籠引導。觀者靡不涕泗健羨,遙望作禮。如是者數年,人皆以為道緣德薄,未得應選為恨。至次年,衆又推舉一年高者,方上昇間,忽一道人云自武當山來掛搭,問其所以,具以實對。道人亦嗟羨之,曰:「上昇為仙, [260] 豈容易得?但虛空之中有剛風浩氣,必能遏截。吾有一符能禦之,請置於懷,慎勿遺失。」道德高者懷之,喜甚。至時果有五色祥雲捧足,冉冉而昇。踰日,道人遣其衆緣崖登視洞穴,見飛昇之人形容枯槁,橫卧於上,若重病者,奄奄氣息,久方能言。問之,則曰:「初至洞門,見一巨蟒,吐氣成雲,兩眼如火,方開口欲吞啗間,忽風雷大震,霹死於洞畔。」視之,蟒大數圍,長數十丈,又有骸骨積於巖穴之間,乃前後上昇者骨也。蓋五色雲者,乃蟒之毒氣也;紅紗燈籠者,蟒之眼光也。

Yuan Haowen 元好問, Chang Zhenguo 常振國 (ed), Xu Yijian zhi 續夷堅志 (Continued Records of the Listener), and Anon., Jin Xin 金心 (ed.), Huhai xinwen yijian xuzhi 湖海新聞夷堅續志 (Continuation of Records of the Listener with New Items from the Lakes and Seas) (Beijing: Zhonghua shuju, 1986).

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A Demon Wizard Takes Heads 妖巫斷首

When Yuan Wenyu of Taihe was transferred to take charge of the Hunan Censorate, he first waited in his home to take up the post. A scholar came to visit him with a request, and informed him: “The Censorate has a doubtful case that has gone three years without judgement, [87] and hearing that the gentleman will soon attend the censorial offices, I reverently offer humble loyalty. In Heng there is a diabolical wizard surnamed Li, who is able to decapitate people by magic. In the village there was a daughter of the Liu family who was married into the Zhangs. On the day of her marriage they encountered the demon magician and the woman ended up losing her head without the Liu family realizing. When they reached the Zhangs, her close relatives and clan gathered to lift the bride from her carriage, but they suddenly found a headless girl. They bound and dragged the matchmaker and footmen and asked to make reports to the government office. The Lius sued the Zhangs saying that the Zhangs had killed their daughter. The Zhangs sued stating that the Lius had attempted to deceive them by means of a headless woman. Those imprisoned were numerous, and those who had since died in prison numbered more than ten; neither prefecture nor province have been able to make sense of this. If the gentleman can redress this injustice, it would indeed be an act of hidden virtue.” Yuan was very pleased to hear this. When his appointment began, this case indeed still required resolution, so he secretly briefed the judicial commissioner Liu Xiren, and Xiren entrusted it to the county constable Wang Jun. The constable declared himself on sick leave, not emerging for over a month, but took his servant along to the place to make a divination. The constable was proficient in Five Element theory, and had a divine view over fortune and misfortune. The villagers all respected him, and spoke to him: “In this village is Wizard Li, who has great skill in magic; how could anyone be more expert than him?” The constable was pleased and deputed his people to make overtures to Li. Li was very pleased, and he promised him rich reward if he restrained himself. First he tested Li on his servant; Li said: “Turn your head once.” Suddenly his servant was decapitated. The constable was terrified, but Li said: “Don’t be scared, just drink.” He then spoke to the constable: “Look again,” and the servant was restored to wholeness. This continued for three days, after which the decapitated person could no longer be fixed. The constable eventually left, with an agreement to bring paper money and having exhausted the sorcerer’s magic. When the time came he returned with the troops under his command. The constable visited his house first, and got him roaring drunk. At midnight he ordered a group of his subordinates to surround the room and bind him, and then they searched and confiscated the property. There turned out to be 150 baskets of skulls, together with those of his wife and child, which were turned over to the government, and later released. The Censorate took the sorcerer and his household and executed them in the marketplace.

Anon., Huhai xinwen yijian xuzhi, 前2.86-87 (Tale 150):

妖巫斷首

太和袁文焴,調湖南憲幹,待次於家。有謁士來訪,告之曰:「憲司有一疑獄不能決者三年, [87] 聞君將赴憲幕,願獻小忠。衡有妖巫李生,能以術斷人之頭。里有劉氏嫁女於張,去之日,中途而遇妖巫,女竟失首,劉氏不知也。至張,親戚族黨及環聚扶新人下車,忽見無首之女子,大駭,紐拽媒妁僕從,求白於官。劉訴張則云:張殺其女。張訴則云:劉以無首之人欺騙。繫獄者數人,前後囚死者十餘人,州郡皆不得其情。君能平反,亦是陰德。」袁聞之喜。及任,果有是獄未斷,乃以是言密告之提刑劉希仁,希仁委之縣尉王君。尉告病假,月餘不出,攜僕至其地算卜。尉精於五行,禍福如神,里人皆敬之,與之言曰:「吾里李巫,有術甚奇,何若更學之為佳!」尉欣然託其人求之於李,許以厚資,李喜,與之斂。先以其僕試之,李曰:「請回頭一覷。」則其僕無首矣。尉恐,李曰:「無恐,且飲。」又與尉言:「更一覷。」則其僕復存。蓋其法過三日,斷者不可復全矣。尉遲去,約以某日攜錢楮來盡其術。及期領卒同行,尉先過其家,飲酒極歡。中夜令羣卒圍屋就縛,搜籍其家,有髑髏百五十箇,並其妻子,悉以付官,獄遂解。憲司將妖巫一家棄刑於市。

Yuan Haowen 元好問, Chang Zhenguo 常振國 (ed), Xu Yijian zhi 續夷堅志 (Continued Records of the Listener), and Anon., Jin Xin 金心 (ed.), Huhai xinwen yijian xuzhi 湖海新聞夷堅續志 (Continuation of Records of the Listener with New Items from the Lakes and Seas) (Beijing: Zhonghua shuju, 1986).

A Skull Becomes A Monster 髑髏為怪

A villager surnamed Liu, of Guosheng Village, Jutian County, sometimes fell into a mania, walking around wildly without avoiding wells or chasms. His family invited the exorcist Hou Gongmin to treat him. Just after Gongmin arrived, Liu suddenly rose and said: “I am going away for a bit; don’t pretend this is your doing.” He therefore picked up a stick from the firewood and went into the fields, stripping to his waist and carrying it over his shoulder, he then acted as if he were beating something. Coming back after a long time, he said: “My sickness is over, I have been and beaten the head of a spirit into the earth, burying it among the fields.” His brothers and the exorcist thought he was still manic, so went together to have a look. Liu had exhumed a skull, from which jutted a dozen stalks. His illness was immediately relieved.

Anon, Huhai xinwen yijian xuzhi, 後2.244 (Tale 441):

髑髏為怪

奉天縣國盛村百姓姓劉,病狂發時,亂走不避井塹,其家為迎禁咒人侯公敏治之。公敏才至,劉忽起曰:「我暫出,不假爾活。」因杖薪擔至田中,袒而運擔,狀若擊物。良久而返,乃曰:「我病已矣,適打一鬼頭落,埋於田中。」兄弟及咒者猶以為狂,遂同往觀之。劉掘出一髑髏,戴發十餘莖,其病頓愈。

Yuan Haowen 元好問, Chang Zhenguo 常振國 (ed), Xu Yijian zhi 續夷堅志 (Continued Records of the Listener), and Anon., Jin Xin 金心 (ed.), Huhai xinwen yijian xuzhi 湖海新聞夷堅續志 (Continuation of Records of the Listener with New Items from the Lakes and Seas) (Beijing: Zhonghua shuju, 1986)