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Religions in China - Wulaojun 五老君, the Five Old Lords


The Wulaojun 五老君 "Five Old Lords" are personifications of the Five Agents or "Five Transgressions" (wuxing 五行, formerly known as the "Five Elements").
The number of five is very common in many fields in China, like the mythological Five Emperors (wudi 五帝) thought to have been the oldest rulers of China. The Five Old Lords are also called "Five Emperors". In the book Yuanshi wulao chishu yupian zhenwen tianshu jing 元始五老赤書玉篇真文天書經 "Heavenly classic of the perfect words of the red book with jade chapters of the Five Olds from the primary origin" from the Liu-Song period 劉宋 (420-479) each of the Five Emperors is described in detail, with informations which cap and robes he wears, which animal he rides, which banner he holds, how large his army is, which fields of Heaven and earth he dominates, and which are his tasks:
Anbao hualin qingling shi laojun 安寳華林青靈始老君 "Old Lord of the beginning of the green spirits in the flowering grove of peaceful jewels", the Cangdi 蒼帝 "Green Emperor" of the east is called Yan Kaiming 閻開明 (courtesy name Lingweiyang 靈威仰) and rides a green dragon (canglong 蒼龍). He respresents the agent "wood" (mu 木) and is responsible for the balance of Yin and Yang (eryi 二儀). Sometimes the "Green Emperor" is identified with the mythological emperor Fu Xi 伏羲.
Fanbao changyang danling zhen laojun 梵寳昌陽丹靈真老君 "Old perfect Lord of the red spirits of the bright Yang of the pure jewel", the Chidi 赤帝 "Red Emperor" of the south is called Dongfu Jiyan 洞浮極炎 (courtesy name Chibiaonu 赤熛弩) and rides a red dragon (danlong 丹龍). He represents the agent "fire" (huo 火) and is responsible for the regeneration and flourishing of the beings on earth. The Red Emperor (also called Yan Di 炎帝) is identified with Shen Nong 神農, the "Holy Husbandman" or with Zhu Rong 祝融.
Yubao yuanling yuan laojun 玉寳元靈元老君 "Old Lord of the origin of the primary spirits of the jade tresures", the Huangdi 黄帝 "Yellow Emperor" of the center is called Tongban Yuanshi 通班元氏 (courtesy name Hanshuniu 含樞紐) and rides a yellow dragon. He is responsible for the overall completeness and harmony of things and represents the agent "earth" (tu 土).
Qibao jinmen haoling huang laojun 七寳金門皓靈皇老君 "Old august Lord of the white spirits of the golden gate of the seven jewels", the Baidi 白帝 "White Emperor" of the west is called Shangjin Changkai 上金昌開 (courtesy name Yaohunbao 曜魄寳). Riding on his white dragon he controls the ways of the spirits and souls and the agent "metal" (jin 金). The White Emperor is identified with the mythological emperor Zhi 摯.
Dongyang shuodan yujue wuling xuan laojun 洞陽朔單鬱絕五靈玄老君 "Old dark Lord of the five spirits of the luxuriant exhaustion of the singular beginning of the conceiled Yang", the Heidi 黑帝 "Black Emperor" of the north is called Heijie Linghui 黑節靈會 (courtesy names Yinhouju 隱侯局 and Yeguangji 葉光紀). From the back of his black dragon he controls the fluency of qi 氣 energy down to earth and the balanced harmony on earth. His agent is the water (shui 水). The Black Emperor is identified with the mythological emperor Zhuan Xu 顓頊.
According to correlative thinking each of the five deities is also correlated to a constellation in the sky, which is their seat. On earth each one controls a sacred mountain from which he reigns. They are also personal representatives of each field where the Five Agents are correlated to, especially in the realm of medicine where they are identified each as god of one of the five viscera (wuzang 五臟). They have accordingly different titles, depending on the topic related to, like the Five Energies (wuqi 五氣), the Five Deified Emperors (Wulao shangdi 五老上帝), the Five Celestial Seats (wudizuo 五帝座) or Five Stars (wuxing 五星), the Five Emperors of the five cardinal directions (wufang wudi 五方五帝), the Holy Emperors of the Five Summits (wuyue shengdi 五嶽聖帝), or the five divine rulers of the five organs (wuzang shenjun 五臟神君).

Source: Qing Xitai 卿希泰 (ed. 1994), Zhongguo daojiao 中國道教 (Shanghai: Zhishi chubanshe), Vol. 3, pp. NNN.

August 3, 2010 © Ulrich Theobald · Mail