Eight Immortals of Taoism
The flower basket is the emblem of Lan Ts’ai-ho, a woman or young boy, who wandered the streets waving a wand, and chanting a series of songs rejecting this life and it’s pleasures. Her attire consists of a blue gown, which she wears with one foot shoed. Lan Ts’ai-ho is the Patron Saint of florists and also embodies horticulture. One day, she was carried to heaven by a stork.
The castanets grant free access to the palace of Empress Ts’ao Hou of the Sung Dynasty. Ts’ao Kuo-chiu, brother of Empress Ts’ao Hou, was invested the castanets as his birth right. He is said to be the son of military commander Ts’ao Pin (930–999 A.D.) and he is considered the Deity of theater. Ts’ao Kuo-chiu is depicted as wearing official robes and a court head-dress, and he is always holding two castanets in one hand, symbolizing music.
Gourd and Iron Crutch
The gourd and the iron crutch are Taoist symbols associated with Li T’ieh-Kuai, a powerful and reputable magician. Li was such a powerful magician that he could leave his body and attend summons in spirit. One day, on his spirit journey, Li took longer than usual to return. His disciple got worried and thought him dead, thus burned the soulless body in a rush to get to his ill mother’s side.
Li T’ieh-Kuai returned to find that his physical body was destroyed, and sought a recently dead body. Unfortunately, all he found was a dead beggar in the woods. This is why Li T’ieh-Kuai is always depicted as a beggar with a pilgrim’s gourd and an iron crutch. The gourd is usually giving off a vapor, symbolizing Li’s ability to leave his body. Sometimes, Li is seen near a dear or a crab. He is the Patron of the sick.
The flute symbolizes harmony, and is the musical instrument of Han Hsiang-tzu. Han’s musical talent allows him to attract all sorts of animals and birds with his music. Han also has the power to make flowers bloom and grow. It is said that he scatters money on the ground because he does not know its value.
Han Hsiang-tzu became an immortal when one day, Lü Tung-pin took him to see the supernatural peach tree and he fell from the tree. Han was the nephew of Han Yü, a famous scholar (820 A.D.). He is worshiped by the musicians.
Musical Instrument (Yu Kü)
This musical instrument was carried by Chang Kuo-lao (7th and 8th Century A.D.). Chang was a powerful man with supernatural powers and magic. One of his powers allowed him to become invisible. Because of his musical skills, the Emperor Ming Huang wanted Chang to join his royal court. Chang Preferred a nomadic life and the freedom of travel. So when the Emperor persisted, Chang vanished and became a living immortal. Chang’s travel companion is a mule, which symbolizes longevity in old men.
Yu Kü, the musical instrument, is described as having a tube or drum like shape. It comes equipped with two rods which are used to drum on the tube.
The lotus flower is the symbol of Ho Hsien-ku, daughter of a shopkeeper (7th Century). She became one of the Eight Immortals when she ate from the supernatural peach tree, and feed off powdered mother-of-pearl and moonbeams. As legend has it, she was once saved from great danger by Lu tung-pin and his magical sword.
Ho Hsien-ku is sometimes portrayed floating on a lotus petal with a lotus in her hand. The Taoist believe that she helps in house management and is the Deity of housewives.
Sword and Taoist fly-brush
The sword possesses supernatural powers. It was given to Lü Tung-pin. With the sword, Tung-pin traveled the entire world for 400 years, slaying dragons and riding the earth of evil.
Lü Tung-pin learned the secrets of Taoism from the chief of the 8 Immortals, Chung-li Ch’üan. At the age of 50, he became an immortal. He is depicted as wearing a sword slung across his back and a fly-brush in his right hand. Lü Tung-pin earned the magical sword when he overcame ten temptations. Among his many worshipers are the sick and he is the patron saint of the barbers. Lü is also honored as a scholar. He lived around 750 A.D. and is involved in many legends.
It was believed that the fan had the power to bring back the souls of the dead. Chung-li Ch’üan, the chief of the Eight Immortals of Taoism, is said to have carried the fan. As legend has it, Chung-li Ch’üan was married to a beautiful wife and lived during the Chou Dynasty (1122-249 B.C.). One day, as he was walking home, he saw a widowed maiden fanning a grave. In explaining her actions, the young woman said that her late husband had bid her not to remarry until his grave was dry. Since she had fallen in love with another man whom she wanted to marry, the widow was fanning the grave to help it dry faster. Chung-li Ch’üan helped her dry the grave by summoning powerful magic. The widow thanked him and left him her fan.
When Ch’üan’s wife heard the story, she thought it was absurd and protested, saying that the widow was a monster and that she would never behave as such. Ch’üan decided to test her claim. He pretended he was dead and transformed himself into a handsome young man. His widowed wife fell in love with the handsome man. So when the man agreed to marry her if she brought him the brain of her late husband, she agreed and dug up the grave. To her surprise, her husband came to life just as the young man disappeared. She became ashamed and hung herself. Ch’üan burned down their house and has carried the fan ever since.
Note: It is said that Chung-li Ch’üan also carries a Peach and the sacred book called Tao-teh King. Ch’üan also represents the military man and possessed the secrets of the elixir of life, and the powder of transmutation.