Category Archives: Luck
Etymology: “God of Wealth”
Also Known As: Ts’ai-shen, Tsai Shen Yeh, Zhao Gongming, Bi Gan
Alternative Spellings: T’shai-Shen, 財神 (Traditional Chinese,) 财神 (Simplified Chinese)
In the Taosist and folk religions of China, Caishen is the god of wealth, specifically prosperity who is rather popular that even atheists will worship him from time to time, at least during the Lunar New Year celebrations.
In some depictions, Caishen is shown dressed in exquisite flowing red robes and riding a black tiger. He is said to have a black face with a thick mustache and wears an iron helmet along with holding an iron weapon. Unless this misunderstanding is on my part, Caishen may also be shown with a Ri Yu staff or scepter that he holds. A golden yuanbao (gold ingot, bar of gold) is also shown near to Caishen or he may be holding one. Other imagery of Caishen will show him with several attendants with various gold bars, scrolls and fruit to pass to people that Caishen has blessed.
A temple to Caishen was built in the 2000s in Zhouzhi, Xi’an, Shaanxi. That is fairly recent in the grand scheme of things.
Caishen aids in ensuring that a person will receive profits from any commercial transactions.
Gold – This is rather obvious as a symbol of Caishen. He is often shown with a gold yuanbao or ingot as this holds value. The iron weapon that Caishen is shown holding also sometimes transforms into gold, showing Caishen’s power over wealth and prosperity.
Alchemy – There is sometimes another tool, a golden cudgel that Caishen holds that he can use to turn stone or iron into gold.
Tiger – In Chinese symbolism, the tiger represents persistence and represents that a person must do more than wish for wealth, they must do more and act on it.
Close on the heels of being a god of prosperity, Caishen presides over a bureaucracy with numerous minor deities under him.
Aside from promoting prosperity and wealth, Caishen is known to protect or ward against thunder and lightning.
Lunar New Year
During the Chinese Lunar New Year, Caishen descends from the heavens to come down to the earth and check on his followers.
With the Lunar New Year, this is a good time in the days leading up to it to do some spring cleaning of your home and remove unwanted clutter. Do any repairs that need it and check the lightbulbs, especially for the front door.
Families worship Caishen in the early morning by setting three candles on the dining table and burning three incense sticks of choice as the main entrance and windows are open to invite Caishen into the home. After bowing and inviting Caishen in, it is traditional for the family to set a place for him at the table and to eat dumplings on this day as they look like the gold yuanbao or ingot associated with Caishen. Images of Caishen are also displayed, in more modern times, posters are acceptable.
On the second day of the Lunar New Year, Caishen ascends back up to the heavens, and the pictures used to welcome him on the first day are now burned to see him off. Burning the pictures is part of wishing for a more prosperous and luckier year.
The fifth day of the Lunar New Year is Caishen’s birthday, so its natural to want to celebrate that and wish him a happy birthday too! Cake, dumplings, and fireworks!
It is popular among friends and family to say the traditional New Year greeting of “Gongxi Facai” or “May you become rich!” Admittedly, many Westerners confuse the saying as being equivalent to the English “Happy New Year” when it’s a prayer wishing someone wealth and prosperity.
For those who practice feng shui, an image of Caishen can be displayed in one’s home or office to attract money, good luck or fortune, wealth, and prosperity. Some believe that this can come in the form of a sudden windfall of financial luck. The higher that you are able to place this image of Caishen, the better as that is believed to show more respect for him with the best places being the foyer, entryway, or living room for him.
Among the “Pure Land Buddhists,” they venerate Caishen as a buddha. In esoteric Buddhism, Caishen is identified with Jambhala, the God of Wealth.
In various Chinese and Taosist temples, a statue of Caishen may sometimes stand near a door, usually in conjunction with Randeng Daoren, the Burning-Lamp Taoist.
Under Mao and Communism, the veneration of Caishen in mainland China hasn’t faired too well as the state believes in making it’s own way and luck with money. Several of the temples and statues of Caishen were destroyed during this time.
As luck would have it, 1979 saw a renaissance from the “Four Asian Tigers” of overseas Chinese communities in Taiwan, Hong Kong, Singapore, and South Korea where the veneration of Caishen had been kept alive, finding themselves wealthy and prosperous, even well developed. This wouldn’t be hard for people back in mainland China to see a correlation and have a swift return to using Caishen’s symbols from abroad and to place statues of Caishen in several prominent places, there are shrines, incense burned and statuettes tucked away on a shelf in a restaurant.
Possible Reality Behind The Myth
Many of China’s mythical figures are often said and thought to have once been a living person in life before ascending a deified or higher state. In this case, there are several legends of whom Caishen has been linked to, making it a bit dubious to determine if these were real, living historical people once.
With Caishen, we see him linked to the historical figure of Zhao Xuan-tan or Chao Hsüan-t’an, “General Zhao of the Dark Terrace,” during the Qin Dynasty. As Zhao Xuan-tan, he gained enlightenment on the top of a mountain. While still mortal, Zhao Xuan-tan is said to have assisted Zhang Dao-ling during his search for the Life-Prolonging Elixir.
Bi Gan – The historical figure of Bi Gan is the most ancient person to link Caishan with and the first incarnation. Bi Gan had been married to a woman with the surname of Chen. Their son’s name was Quan. After Bi Gan was sentenced to death by his nephew, King Zhou of Shang, Bi Gan’s wife and son fled to the forest. Bi Gan’s death is noted to mark the collapse of the Shang dynasty. Later, Quan would be revered as the ancestor to the Lins by King Wu of Zhou.
Zhao Gongming – There is a novel written during the Ming dynasty era called Fengshen Yanyi that tells the story of a hermit by the name Zhao Gongming who used magic to support a failing Shang dynasty. Jiang Ziya, who supported the following Zhou dynasty, made a straw effigy of Zhao and after twenty days of spells, prayers and incantations, fired an arrow made of peach tree wood through the heart of this effigy. At the moment the arrow struck, Zhao became ill and died. Later, when Jiang visited the temple of Yuan Shi, he was chastised for causing the death of a virtuous man. Jiang Ziya, having remorse, carried Zhao’s corpse to the Yuan Shi temple to make atonement. As Jiang expounded on Zhao’s virtues, Zhao would become canonized as Caishen, the god of Wealth, and become the president of the Ministry of Wealth. There are some sources that reverse the loyalties of Zhao and Jiang for this story.
The historical figure of Bi Gan is the most ancient person to link Caishan with. Bi Gan had been married to a woman with the surname of Chen. Their son’s name was Quan. After Bi Gan was sentenced to death by his nephew, King Zhou of Shang, Bi Gan’s wife and son fled to the forest. Bi Gan’s death is noted to mark the collapse of the Shang dynasty. Later, Quan would be revered as the ancestor to the Lins by King Wu of Zhou.
Fan Li – During Confucius’ time, Caishen came to be associated with Fan Li, a military strategist, businessman, and advisor to Goujian who ruled over the kingdom of Yue. Both Fan Li and Goujian were taken hostage by the state of Wu and held for three years. After they were freed, Fan Li continued to serve Goujian, carrying his government appointments and reforms that improved the kingdom of Yue. Fan Li’s reforms aided Goujian to be able to conquer the Wu state. After this victory, Fan Li resigned from his position and took on the name Tao Zhu Gong.
Fan Li and his wife, Xi Shi went to live on a boat out on Lake Tai. Fan Li’s success with business and his reforms led to his being defied and regarded as a reincarnation of Caishen.
Caibo Xingjun – This is another name linked to Caishen as a possible historical figure. Originally born Li Guizu, he was born in the Zichuan district in the Shandong Province where he held a position as a magistrate. Due to his service and contributions, Li Guizu was given the title of Caibo Xingjun by the Wude Emperor of the Tang dynasty and the people built a temple to worship him.
These are just some of the stories I was able to find of those historical people who have been linked with Caishen.
The Caishen Of All Directions
With all of these various historical figures linked to Caishen and seeing them as various incarnations; they all lead to the fact that there are multiple Caishen who are associated with the various directions. Additionally, a person wanting Caishen’s aid should pick one of these nine different Caishen to call on.
Center – Zhao Gong Ming, the Military God of Wealth
East – Xiao Sheng, the God of Collecting Treasures
West – Cao Bao, the God of Collecting Valuables
North – Yao Shao Si, the God of Profitability
South – Chen Jiu Gong, the God of Attracting Wealth
South-East – Han Xin Ye, the God of Gambling
South-West – Liu Hai, the God of Luck
North-East – Shen Wanshan, the God of Gold
North-West – Tao Zhugong, the Civil God of Wealth
Also Known As: Saint Death, Señor De La Buena Muerte (Lord of the Good Death), Señor De La Muerte (Lord of Death), and in Paraguya, San Esqueleto (Saint Skeleton)
San La Muerte is a folk saint who is worshipped in many places in South America, namely Argentina, Brazil and Paraguay and notably of those who speak the Guaraní language.
Note: The most important thing to note with San La Muerte is not to confuse them with Santa Muerte. Yes, the two are incredibly similar in appearances as local Folk Saints and many of Santa Muerte’s attributes are held to be the same as San La Muerte.
Warning – As a result of San La Muerte’s associations with the criminal element such as the drug cartels, the worship, and veneration of San La Muerte is very controversial, especially by the Catholic Church and several Protestant dominations that don’t acknowledge or see him as cannon. There is a strong reaction of condemnation by the Catholic and other Christian sects to see his veneration as blasphemous and even satanic.
Color: Black, Red, White
Month: August (13th & 15th)
Patron of: Death, the Dead, Inmates, Prisoners
Sphere of Influence: Restore Love, Good Fortune, Gambling, Protection against Witchcraft, Protection against Imprisonment, Luck, Good Health, Vengeance
Symbols: Globe, Scale of Justice, Hourglass, Oil Lamp,Scythe
San La Muerte is essentially a male skeleton dressed in a hooded robe, carrying a scythe, much like the Grim Reaper and Santa Muerte.
Santito – Or Small Saint, these are small skeleton sculptures that depict San La Muerte. These can be carved from wood, bone, and metal. They are somewhere between 3 to 15 centimeters in height. A classic image is a human skeleton standing holding scythe. Devotees will also seek to get their statues consecrated by a Catholic priest seven times. If the statue is made from the bones of a Catholic saint, then such consecration needs only be five times. Devotees are known to perform subterfuge such as hiding their statue beneath the picture of another saint to get them consecrated.
Followers and worshipers of San La Muerte can be found in many places in South America, primarily Paraguay, northeastern Argentina (the provinces of Chaco, Corrientes, Formosa, and Missiones), Southern Brazil (states off Paraná, Rio Grande, and Santa Catarina) are the main places for San La Muerte’s Cults. Since the 1960’s and some internal migrations, the worshiping of San La Muerte has spread into the Greater Buenos Aires and the national prison system.
Like Santa Muerte, most of San La Muerte’s followers are Catholics and former Catholics who venerate this folk saint and deity. This means a person doesn’t have to exclusively be one religion or another to seek her favor and protection.
Put bluntly, everyone, rich and poor alike are equal in death, and in this regard, Santa Muerte plays no favorites. Everyone eventually dies, it’s just part of life.
Many seeking San La Muerte’s favor and miracles due to the strong Catholic influence, will offer up prayers and light votive candles, often of different colors depending on their need. Offerings given to San La Muerte are frequently for specific requests and tailored such as the devotee’s own blood, alcohol, candle and other items.
Such devotion to San La Muerte is a mixture of submission to an entity that expects punishment for any obligations not upheld by the devotee. Such obligations or threats involve going hungry or banishment to an uninhabited place. When the Saint grants his favors, it won’t be in full as there is the need for a threat or punishment again.
Side Note: This is also part of why the Catholic church sees blasphemy with San La Muerte, catholic style prayers, votive candles, and rosaries are used in prayers and rites with this folk saint.
Catholic Folk Saint?
It is thought and believed that the veneration for San La Muerte began among the Guarani tribe shortly after the expulsion of Jesuit missionaries in 1767 with the arrival of Catholicism. Over in Argentine was the local folk saint of Gauchito Gil, a known devotee to San La Muerte. Combine this with the Guarani tribes worshipping the bones of their ancestors, and these traditions and those of the Catholics would lead to the veneration and origins of the San La Muerte’s cult.
Archangel – Belief in San La Muerte has also compared him to supernatural beings like angels or archangels that a devotee will pray to.
Saint Of Protection
There are a variety of favors that San La Muerte is believed to grant. Everything from restoring love, to health and prosperity, protection in general of worshipers, protection from witchcraft, the evil eye, and the granting of good luck in gambling.
More controversial among devote Catholics is San La Muerte’s aid in helping those involved in crime and violence, bringing death to enemies, keeping a devotee out of prison, shorter prison terms even, and the recovery of stolen items.
Brujos and other traditional healers such as Curanderos can also invoke protections for their clients. Many practitioners and devotees will have a statue depicting San La Muerte that is kept hidden so he can extend protection to all family members. There are public altars that display a statue of San La Muerte too. Devotees will act as guardians and caretakers for any public altars.
Other protections will be more personal with rituals done in the house at the altar, wearing amulets, tattoos, or a carving depicting San La Muerte inserted under a worshiper’s skin.
Bullets that were fired to kill a Christian man are considered the most powerful material to use for an amulet. Other materials are gold, silver, and human bone.
Saint & Festival Day
Since there is no official Saint Day for San La Muerte from the Catholic church, plus they’re not recognized by the Catholic faith, some devotees will hold a festival for him on either August 13th or August 15th. When the date falls on the 15th, that is the same Saint Day and festival as Santa Muerte. Though some comment that Santa Muerte’s Saint Day can also be observed on November 1st.
Grim Reaper – The imagery of the Grim Reaper and San La Muerte are remarkably similar.
Mictlantecutli – There are very noted, strong similarities between the imagery of the Aztec god of death and San La Muerte.
Santa Muerte – A similar female counterpart found in Mexico and southern parts of the United States.
San Pascualito– A similar male counterpart to Santa Muerte found in Guatemala.
Other Names: All-Heal, Birdlime, Devil’s Fuge, Donnerbesen, Druid’s Herb, Golden Bough, Herbe de la Croix, Holy Wood, Lignum Sanctae Crucis, Misseltoe, Mistillteinn, Mystyldyne, Thunderbesem, Witches’ Broom, Wood of the Cross,
Deity: Apollo, Balder, Cerridwen, Freya, Frigga, Odin, Taranis, Thor, Venus
Sphere of Influence: Defense, Dreams, Exorcism, Fertility, Health, Hunting, Invisibility, Locks, Love, and Protection
Symbols: Friendship, Peace
Victorian Language of Flowers: “I surmount difficulties, I send you a thousand kisses.”
What Is It?
Mistletoe is the common name for plant that is parasitic (hemiparasite) in that it grows by attaching itself to the branches of a tree or shrub, taking water and nutrients from the host plant. The mistletoe species, Viscum album is the one referred to in folklore is that is native to Great Britain and most of Europe. It is characterized by having a smooth-edged, oval shaped evergreen leaves set in pairs along the stem and white berries that are known to be poisonous.
There are a variety of other species of mistletoe plants found in other countries of Europe such as Spain and Portugal and on other continents. American Mistletoe is also known as False Mistletoe as the homeopathic remedies and uses are different from the European Mistletoe. Over time, the term mistletoe has come to include other species of parasitic plants. Even plants get parasites…
Despite mistletoe’s parasitic nature, it does have an ecological benefit with being a keystone species in that it provides food for a variety of animals that feed on it as well as providing nesting material for various birds.
There used to be all sorts of folkloric beliefs about how mistletoe would come to grow on various shrubs and trees. By the sixteenth, botanists had it figured out that seeds were passed by the digestive tracts of birds who fed on mistletoe or by the birds rubbing their bills on trees to get rid of the sticky seeds. An early reference to this is in 1532, an Herbal book by Turner.
What’s In A Name
One etymology for mistletoe that seems fairly accurate are the Anglo-Saxon words for “mistel” meaning “dung” and “tan” meaning “twig.” Making the meaning of mistletoe as “dung-on-a-twig.” Which makes sense, people observed that mistletoe grew wherever birds roosted and thus did their business.
The Latin word “viscusas” and the Greek word “ixias” both refer to the white coloration of mistletoe berries and being thought of to resemble sperm. The same words “visand ischu” mean “strength” In the Greek and Roman mindsets, sperm was connected to strength and vitality and thus to fertility for life springing seemingly out of nowhere. Mistletoe berries harvested from Oak trees were believed to have regenerative powers.
Mistletoe is a plant strongly associated with Christmas, Yule and other Winter Celebrations where it is used in decorations for its evergreen leaves that symbolize the promised return of spring.
Hanging Mistletoe – Anyone standing beneath the mistletoe can expect to be kissed. This probably originates in Druidic beliefs where mistletoe is strongly connected with fertility as the white berries of the mistletoe resembled semen. Now, proper etiquette says that when someone is kissed beneath the mistletoe, a berry needs to be removed until all have been plucked, at which point, there are no more kisses.
One tradition holds that if any unmarried woman went unkissed after the hanging of the mistletoe, they would not be able to marry for a year.
British farmers would feed a bough of mistletoe to their livestock on January 1st, believing it would ward off any bad luck for the coming year. Alternatively, a farmer feeding mistletoe to the first cow calving in the New Year was what brought good luck.
In some regions of Britain, mistletoe would be burned on the twelfth night after Christmas to ensure any boys or girls who didn’t get kissed could still marry.
Celtic Druidic Mythology & Traditions
In the Celtic language, the name for mistletoe translates to “All-Heal” as they believed this plant to have healing powers that could cure a number of ailments and held the soul of the host tree. By Mistletoe was held the chief of the Druid’s sacred seven herbs. The other sacred plants were: vervain, henbane, primrose, pulsatilla, clover and wolf’s bane.
The tradition of kissing under the mistletoe is attributed to the Druids who held the plant as being sacred. It held a magical virtue and served as a remedy to protect against evil. Mistletoe found growing on Oaks were especially sacred. Ovid’s writings mention how Druids would dance around oak trees with mistletoe growing on them. If mistletoe were to fall to the ground without being cut, it was considered an ill omen.
In Between – Seen as a tree that was not a tree. One of the things making mistletoe sacred was its seeming ability to spring forth out of nowhere. It represented the “in between” or a gateway to other worlds and spirit.
Harvesting – Pliny the Elder in his Natural History, circa 77 C.E. notes how the Druids revered the mistletoe. Pliny goes on to explain how white-clad Druids would use a golden sickle when harvesting mistletoe; taking great care to make sure that none hit the ground, believing that the plant would lose its potency and sacred powers. The sacrifice of two white bulls would follow. Pliny’s accounts are the most well-known documentation of Druid beliefs regarding the sacredness of mistletoe. Either the Midsummer or the Winter Solstice were the times to harvest and collect mistletoe. Better when done so on the sixth day after a waning moon.
Oak King & Holly King – This is a particularly old folkloric belief. With the Oak King and Holly King being personifications for the cycle of the year. Mistletoe berries found on an Oak tree were thought to be representative of the Oak King’s semen. So when the Oak King’s power waned and gave way to the Holly King, the harvesting of mistletoe and it’s berries off of Oak trees was symbolic of emasculating the Oak King. Hence, why two bulls would be sacrificed, to compensate the Oak King.
The white berries of mistletoe would be made into fertility potions as they were thought to be regenerative as on the Winter Solstice, the Oak King would be reborn, gaining power again as the new year progressed.
Fire & Lightning – It was thought that mistletoe would grow on an Oak tree that had been struck by lightning. For this, mistletoe was believed to be able to stop fires.
French farmers would burn mistletoe in their fields in order to have a successful harvest with the coming year.
Maidens would place a sprig of mistletoe beneath their pillows so they could dream of their future husband.
Herbe de la Croix – In Brittany, there is a legend how the cross that Jesus is to have been hung on was made from the wood of mistletoe. After Christ’s death, mistletoe is said to have been cursed or degraded to become a parasitic plant. Now days, thanks to 16th century Botanists discoveries, it’s better understood how the seeds of mistletoe or spread.
Immortality – Asclepius, the son of Apollo and god of medicine was greatly renowned for his healing skills to the degree that he could even bring people back from the dead. This knowledge of healing came about after Glaucus, the son of King Minos of Crete had fallen into a jar of honey and drowned. Asclepius had been called onto the scene and while there, saw a snake slithering towards Glaucus’ body. Asclepius killed the snake and then saw another snake come in and place an herb on the body of the first snake, bringing it back to life. After witnessing this, Asclepius proceeded to take the same herb and place it on Glaucus’ body and bring him back to life.
This herb is said to have been mistletoe. Now armed with this knowledge, Asclepius brought Glaucus back to life. Later, he would bring Thesues’ son, Hippolytus after the king’s son had been thrown from his chariot.
This angered Hades enough that he complained to Zeus that humans would become immortal and that there wouldn’t be anyone entering the Underworld. To prevent people from becoming immortal, Zeus agreed to kill Asclepius, doing so with a lightning bolt. Later, Zeus placed Asclepius’ image up into the heavens to become the constellation of Ophiuchus in honor and memory.
Golden Bough or Mistletoe is the plant Aeneas uses to enter the Underworld to Hades’ realm.
Saturnalia – Many traditions regarding mistletoe and the Christmas traditions are believed to trace their origins to this ancient Roman festival once held on December 17th of the old Julian calendar.
The Death Of Balder
This is one of the bigger, more well-known Norse stories. Balder’s mother Frigg, the goddess of Love had received a prophesy concerning Balder’s death, who was the most beloved of all the gods. Wishing to try and avoid this fate, Frigg got an oath from all living things that they wouldn’t harm her son. In her haste to do so, Frigg overlooked the mistletoe, believing it to be too small and inconsequential.
Leave it to Loki to learn of this oversight and to test the validity of the prophesy. Depending on the source, Loki either makes an arrow or a spear out of mistletoe and hands it off to the blind god Hod, instructing him to aim it at Balder. This act doesn’t seem so unusual when taken into account that many of the other gods were taking aim at Balder to test his invulnerability.
Hod then, unknowingly of Loki’s true intent, fires the mistletoe weapon at Balder and impales the god who soon dies. Frigg is grief stricken and Hermod rides off on Sleipnir down to the Underworld to plead for Balder’s release from Hel, how everyone loves him. The Underworld goddess replies that if this is so, then every being in the living world will weep for the slain god. If everyone does weep, then Hel will release her hold on Balder and allow him to return.
Hermod returns with the news and every creature on the earth cries for Balder. All, that is except for an old giantess by the name of Tokk (or Þökk, meaning “Thanks,”) she was most certainly and likely Loki in disguise.
With this failure to have everyone weep, Balder remained in Hel’s domain.
Some variations to this legend have mistletoe becoming the symbol of peace and friendship to make-up for it’s part in Balder’s death.
In the version of the story with a happy ending, Balder is restored to life, and Frigga is so grateful that she reverses the reputation of the offending plant–making it a symbol of love and promising to bestow a kiss upon anyone who passes under it.
The white berries of mistletoe are to have formed from Frigg’s tears when she mourned Balder’s death. Shakespeare makes an allusion to the story of Balder’s death by referring to mistletoe as “baleful.”
Peace & Love
Due to the above story, the Norse held the belief that hanging the mistletoe would be a symbol of peace, indicating that any past hurts and anger would be forgiven. Enemies would cease fighting each other for the day.
Under the incoming Christian religion as it spread throughout Europe, the symbolism of the mistletoe would be converted to have Christian meanings as older pagan beliefs and traditions would get adapted and changed.
For example, in the Norse story with the death of Balder, mistletoe would keep its meanings as a symbol of life and fertility.
Wearing sprigs of mistletoe is believed to help conceive, attract love and for protection.
During Medieval times or Antiquity, branches of mistletoe would be hung to ward off evil spirits. Mistletoe would be hung over the house and stable doors to protect from witches and keep them from entering.
Mistletoe could also be worn in amulets, bracelets, and rings for its magical qualities of protecting from evil, witches, poisoning and even werewolves!
Yes, there are medical uses for mistletoe. However, the white berries are poisonous as they do cause epileptic type seizures and convulsions. Keep the white berries away from small children and pets who might decide to try and eat them.
Do make sure to consult an accredited medical source as some information has changed.
Homeopathic Remedies – Due to the nature of the poisonous berries, it causes many cultures such as the ancient Celts to use mistletoe berries in remedies for treating convulsions, delirium, hysteria, neuralgia and heart conditions. Some Native American tribes used a tea wash for bathing the head to treat headaches and infusions for lowering blood pressure and treating lung problems.
Warning – Do make sure to consult an accredited medical source as some medical experts disagree about the applications of homeopathic remedies and information is likely to change with better data and research.
Mistletoe is seen as an all-purpose plant and has been attributed a wide variety of magical uses and even a number of herbal and homeopathic remedies. A lot of it ending up very contradictory and suspect as to which to see as accurate. Further, you want to make sure you have the right mistletoe species.
Etymology: Bright Battle
Also known as: Sigrdrífa (“driver to victory”)
Alternate Spellings: Brunhild, Brünhild, Brunhilde, Brünnhilde, Brunhilda, Brynhild, Brunhilt, Prunhilt
Brynhildr is a famous shieldmaiden and Valkyrie from Germanic and Scandinavian mythology. She is a main character in the Völsunga saga and Poetic Eddic poems. She also appears in the Nibelungenlied and in Richard Wagner’s Der Ring des Nibelungen operas.
There are a few different versions of Brynhildr’s story that can be found along with alternative spellings. It’s likely that these could be about a different Brynhildr and these different versions just reflect different regional differences based on which clan is telling the story.
Parentage and Family
Budli – Her father as made mention in the Völsunga.
Erda – Her mother in Wagner’s Der Ring des Nibelungen operas.
Wotan – Her father in Wagner’s Der Ring des Nibelungen operas.
Valkyrie – An unnamed Valkyrie is her mother in the Völsunga.
Alti – Her brother in the Eddic poem “Sigurðarkviða Hin Skamma.” Interestingly, Alti could be Attila the Hun.
Heimer – Her brother-inlaw in the Völsunga for the versions of the story that have her up in a tower. He’s married to her sister Bekkhild.
Sisters – According to the Eddic poem “Helreid Brynhildar” with Brynhildr being a Valkyrie, she has eight sisters.
Other siblings are Bekkhild and maybe Oddrun.
Gunnar – Whom she is tricked into marrying in one fashion or another in different versions of the story.
Aslaug – Brynhildr’s daughter by way of Sigurðr in the Völsunga. Aslaug goes on to marry Ragnar Lodbrok.
This is the main source for Brynhildr’s story. It is a 13th century Icelandic saga from the Völsung clan that tells the story of Sigurðr and Brynhildr and the subsequent destruction of the Burgundians.
Brynhildr is the daughter to Budli, who grows up to become a shield-maiden and Valkyrie. As a Valkyrie, she was tasked by Odin to determine the outcome of a fight between two kings, Hjalmgunnar and Agnar. Odin favored the older king Hjalmgunnar and in an act of defiance, Brynhildr throws the fight and to favor Agnar as the winner.
Angry, Odin condemns Brynhildr to live out the rest of her life as a mortal woman and has her imprisoned in a remote castle with a wall of shields on top of Mount Hindarfjall. There, Brynhildr slept within a ring of fire until a man without fear could ride through the fires to rescue and marry her.
The hero, Sigurðr Sigmundson, the heir to the clan Volsung and the slayer of the dragon Fafnir, is the one who enters the castle and awakens Brynhildr when he removes her helmet and chain mail armor.
Sigurðr still had some other tasks he needed to go perform and he promised Brynhildr that he would return. As both Brynhildr and Sigurðr have fallen in love with each other, Sigurðr proposes to her with the magic ring known as Andyaranaut. Brynhildr makes an oath that she will marry the man who rides through the flames for her. It’s also here, during their stay in the castle that Aslaug is conceived.
Unknown to Sigurðr, the ring Andyaranaut is cursed and would cause him and Brynhildr a lot of problems later. The ring was part of the cursed treasure that Sigurðr claimed after slaying Fafnir.
Meeting In Hlymdale
This seems to be a slight variation to the story where Sigurðr has taken Brynhildr with him or she was up in a tower this time.
Later, when Brynhildr and Sigurðr are at Hlymdale, the home of Heimer, Brynhildr’s brother-in-law, Sigurðr spots her up in a tower and declares his love. Sigurðr promises that he will return for Brynhildr to wed her.
Sigurðr then heads for Burgundy, to King Gjuki’s court. While Sigurðr is gone, Brynhildr receives a visit from Gudrun, Gjuki’s daughter. Gudrun has come seeking help with interpreting a dream, a dream that seems to foretell Sigurðr’s betrayal to Brynhildr when he marries Gudrun.
Over in Burgundy, Grimhild, a sorceress and wife to Gjuki conspires to have Sigurðr marry her daughter Gudrun. Grimhild creates a magic potion that she manages to get Sigurðr to drink so that he will forget all about Brynhildr.
Naturally enough, Sigurðr does marry Gudrun.
As a consolation prize for Brynhildr, if you can call it that, Grimhild, upon learning about Brynhildr being a Valkyrie, decides to have her marry her son, Gunnar.
A slight variation to this story has, that when King Gjuki dies, his son Gunnar becomes King and is a sworn oath brother to Sigurðr. Grimhild desired to see Gunnar wed, but Gunnar had told his mother that he had seen no maiden whom he would want to take as a wife.
Fair enough it seems.
News is brought to Gunnar by his sister Gudrun about a warrior maiden behind a wall of flames. Gunnar decides this maid is the perfect one for him and goes to find out if she is the one.
So off Gunnar, his brother Hogni and Sigurðr ride, towards Hindfell in search of a maid worthy to be Gunnar’s bride. The three come across the high tower with black walls with shields and encircled with flames. Thanks to the potion, Sigurðr has no memory of this place or Brynhildr within, faithfully awaiting his return.
A slight variation to this has Gunnar getting Heimir’s consent to go court Brynhildr, provided he can be the one to show no fear and ride through the flames.
Gunnar decides he’s going to ride through the flames, but his horse, Goti refuses to go near the flames. Then Gunnar gets the idea that he can ride Sigurðr’s horse, Grani through the flames. But Grani being a smart horse, knows that Gunnar is afraid of fire and refuses to ride through.
At a loss, the three sworn brothers brainstormed and considered the matter. Hogni eventually spoke up and proposed the idea that Sigurðr could use magic to shape-shift (by use of his magic helmet) and take Gunnar’s shape.
Sigurðr now disguised, rides through the flames, claiming to be Gunnar and take Brynhildr’s hand in marriage. Of course, Grani, knowing this to be his true rider, gives Sigurðr no problems with riding through the flames.
When Brynhildr saw another man besides her Sigurðr enter the flames, she despaired and demanded to know who this stranger was.
The disguised Sigurðr responded that he was Gunnar, the son of Gjuki of the Nibelungs. Angry at the response, Brynhildr, as this isn’t Sigurðr, fights him. During the fight, Sigurðr manages to pull the ring Andvaranaut off her finger, rendering the Valkyrie powerless. Sigurðr would later give the ring Andvaranaut to Gudrun.
Before leaving, both Brynhildr and Sigurðr stay in the castle for three nights. Despite this, Sigurðr in a symbolic gesture, lays his sword between them to signify that he won’t take Brynhildr’s virginity.
Maybe they meant chastity if you remember Sigurðr’s earlier visit. He may not remember, but I know I do.
Eventually, Sigurðr and Gunnar switch back places so that Gunnar can marry Brynhildr. Poor Brynhildr believes that Sigurðr has forgotten her and keeps the promise she made of marrying the man whom she believes rode through the flames for her.
We’re not to any sort of a happy ending yet. Later, Brynhildr and Gudrun are out bathing in a nearby river when they get into a heated argument over whose husband is better and braver.
Brynhildr boasts that her husband, Gunnar was brave enough to ride through flames for her. Knowing the truth, Gudrun smugly reveals that it was actually Sigurðr who rode through the ring of fire. At this revelation, Brynhildr becomes enraged, making her marriage to Gunnar a sham as she is still in love with Sigurðr.
Due to the trickery and deceits involved, Brynhildr just assumes that Sigurðr went back on his word to marry her. It is still unknown to Brynhildr that Sigurðr had been given a potion to forget all about her.
Just remember, Hel hath no fury like a woman scorned.
Mysteriously at this time (or the potion wearing off), Sigurðr starts to remember what happened. Despite his efforts, Sigurðr is unable to console an enraged Brynhildr. Instead, Brynhildr plotted revenge by persuading Gunnar to kill Sigurðr in a false claim that he had taken her virginity in Hidarfiall. Something that Sigurðr had sworn not to do when he placed his sword between the two.
This of course gets Gunnar angry and wanting to kill Sigurðr for sleeping with his wife.
It is that ring I tell you. That and Grimhild’s mettling in people’s love lives.
Gunnar and his brother, Hogni were reluctant to kill Sigurðr as they had sworn oaths of brotherhood with him. Instead, the two got their younger brother Gutthorm to kill Sigurðr after giving him a potion of enragement.
Under the influence of the potion, Gutthorm killed Sigurðr in his sleep. As his final act before dying, Sigurðr manages to pull his sword and kill Gutthorm in return.
A still enraged Brynhildr mocks Gudrun’s grief for the death of Sigurðr and confesses to Gunnar that she had lied about Sigurðr sleeping with her. She then tells Gunnar and Hogni, that her brother Atli will come avenge her death. Poor Brynhildr had always loved Sigurðr, even when he betrayed her.
As Gunnar’s wife, Brynhildr then orders that Sigurðr ‘s three-year old son, Sigmund be killed. In a final act of desperation, Brynhildr kills herself by throwing herself onto Sigurðr’s funeral pyre.
If that’s not a Shakespearean Tragedy, the two were then reunited together in Hel’s realm, the realm of the dead.
The Nibelungenlied is a Germanic epic poem dating to the 1200’s. The events within the poem can be traced to oral traditions from the 5th and 6th century. In this poem, Brynhildr is known as Brunhild or Prunhilt. With this version of the story, she a queen or princess of Iceland. Gudrun is known as Kriemhild, Gunnar is known as Gunther and Hogni and known as Hagen.
As a queen (or princess) and a powerful woman in her own right, Brunhild declared that the man she would marry must be someone able to best her in three contests meant to show strength and courage.
Gunther wanted to marry Brunhild and with the help of his liege man, Siegfried (who has a cloak of invisibility), he is able to overpower Brunhild in her three contests. In the first game, Brunhild manages to lift and throw a spear at Gunther that three men together could barely lift. Siegfried with his cloak of invisibility on, blocks and keeps the spear from hitting Gunther. In the second game, Brunhild throws a boulder that requires the strength of twelve men to heave some twelves fathoms. In the last game, Brunhild leaps over the same boulder.
In an act of cheating and with Siegfried’s aid using the invisibility cloak, Gunther is able to defeat Brunhild and claim her for his wife.
That sounds like dirty pool to me.
Rightfully so, on their wedding night, Brunhild refuses to give up her virginity to Gunther. Instead, she ties up Gunther and leaves him dangling from the ceiling of their chamber. Coming to Gunther’s aid, Siegfried wearing his invisibility cloak, attacks Brunhild, breaking her bones and then taking both her girdle and ring.
It seems both girdle and ring are the source of Brunhild’s supernatural strength and without them, she was forced to be docile and submit to be Gunther’s wife.
At the Worms Cathedral, Brunhild and Kriemhild, Siegfried’s wife gets in a rather heated argument about their husbands. Brunhild takes the stance that Siegfried is nothing more than a lowly vassal beholden to Gunther. Kriemhild reveals the dirty pool and trickery used by Gunther and Siegfried, by showing off the girdle and ring that were stolen from Brunhild.
Unlike the Völsunga, Brunhild’s fate is never mentioned and it’s assumed she out lives Kriemhild and her brothers.
In this poem, Brynhildr is known as Sigrdrifa. The Sigrdrífumál does have the story of Sigurd and Brynhildr meeting. The poem is mostly about runic magic and has Brynhildr teaching Sigurd about their use.
For the most part, the Poetic Eddas collaborate the story told in the Volsunga, though with some changes.
In some of the Eddic poems, Gutthorm kills Sigurðr in a forest in Southern Rhine while resting.
In the Edda poems from Iceland, Brunhildr or Brunhilde is a strong, capable princess who is deceived by her lover.
I feel it’s worth noting that in the Eddic poems, Brunhildr is a prominent protagonist, whereas in other sources like the Nibelungenlied, her role and importance are diminished.
Helreið Brynhildar – “Bryndhildr’s Ride To Hel,” on her way down to Hel, the underworld of the dead, Brynhildr meets a giantess who blames her for leading an immoral life. Brynhildr refuted the giantess, saying that all men and women live lives of grief and that she and Sigurðr would live together.
Sigurðarkviða Hin Skamma – In this Eddic poem, Gunnar and Sigurðr laid siege to the castle of Atli, Brynhildr’s brother. Atli had offered Brynhildr’s hand in marriage to Gunnar for a truce. The problem in this poem being, that Brynhildr had sworn she would only marry Sigurðr. She is then tricked into believing that Gunnar is Sigurðr.
Der Ring des Nibelungen
Richard Wagner’s famous four opera cycle. Wagner took of the mythology for Brynhilde or Brünnhilde’s role from the Nordic sagas rather than the Nibelungenlied. Brünnhilde only appears in the last three operas of this cycle, Die Walküre, Siegfried and Gotterdammerung where she plays a major role in the downfall of Wotan.
For those who don’t know or may have guessed already, this is the opera cycle that inspires a popular saying of “It isn’t over until fat lady sings.” Especially with Brünnhilde’s famous immolation in the finale of Gotterdammerung. Adding to this, thanks to the costume designer, the idea of Viking helmets having two horns was firmly ingrained in people’s minds after a visit to the museum for ideas and saw the ceremonial two horned helmet on display.
In this opera cycle, Brünnhilde is one of many Valkyries born from the union between Wotan and Erda, the personification of the earth. In the Die Walkurie, Wotan tasks Brünnhilde with protecting the hero Siegmund, his son by a mortal woman. When the goddess Fricka contests this, she forces Wotan to have Siegmund die for his infidelity and incest. Brünnhilde disobeys Wotan’s order and carries away Siegmund’s wife and sister Sieglinde along with the broken pieces of Siegmund’s sword Nothung.
After hiding them away, Brünnhilde then faces the wrath of her father, Wotan who makes her a mortal woman and then places her in an enchanted sleep who can be claimed by any man who comes across her. Brünnhilde argues against this punishment, saying she had obeyed Wotan’s true will and doesn’t deserve this harsh of a punishment. Wotan is persuaded to lessen the punishment to protect her enchanted sleep with a magical circle of fire and that she can only be awakened by a hero who knows no fear.
Brünnhilde doesn’t appear again in the operas until the third act of Siegfried. Here, the title character is the son of Siegmund and Sieglinde. He was born after Siegmund’s death and raised by the dwarf Mime, the brother of Alberich.
It should be noted that Alberich is the one who stole the gold and made the ring from which the entire Der Ring des Nibelungen cycle is based on. If you’re thinking “my precious” and the “one ring” as in Tolkien’s Middle Earth series, you’d be more or less correct as this is where J.R.R. Tolkien got inspired and took his ideas from with Norse mythology.
Back to the main story, Siegfried kills the dragon Fafnir that was once a giant. Siegfried takes the ring and finds himself guided to the rock hiding Brünnhilde by a bird. It seems Fafnir’s blood allowed Siegfried to understand the language of birds. Wotan tries to stop Siegfried who instead breaks the god’s spear. Wotan defeated, Siegfried than awakens the sleeping Brünnhilde.
The two appear again in the last opera, Gotterdammerung. Siegfried gives Brünnhilde the ring, the very ring that Alberich made. The two separate and Wagner goes back to following the Norse story though with notable changes.
Siegfried does go to Gunther’s hall where he is given the magical potion that causes him to forget all about Brünnhilde. That way, Gunther can now marry her. This is all possible thanks to Hagen, Alberich’s son and Gunther’s half-brother. Hagen’s plans are successful as Siegfried leads Gunther to where Brünnhilde is at.
During that time, Brünnhilde had been visited by a sister Valkyrie, Waltraute who warns her of Wotan’s plan for self-immolation and urges her to give up the ring. Brünnhilde refuses to give up the ring.
However, Brünnhilde is overpowered by Siegfried, who, disguised as Gunther using the Tarnhelm (a helm of invisibility instead of a cloak of invisibility) and takes the ring by force.
The enchanted Siegfried goes on to marry Gutrune, Gunther’s sister. When Brünnhilde sees that Siegfried has the ring taken from her, she denounces and calls him out on his treachery. Brünnhilde then joins with Gunther and Hagen in a plot to murder Siegfried. She informs Hagen that Siegfried can only be attacked from behind.
So, when Gunther and Hagen take Siegfried out on a hunting trip, Hagen takes the opportunity to go ahead and stab Siegfried in the back with his spear.
After the two brothers return, Hagen ends up killing Gunther in a fight over the ring. Brünnhilde ceases the moment to take charge and has a pyre built on which she will sacrifice herself, thereby cleansing the ring of its curse and sending it back to the Rhinemaidens.
Brünnhilde’s pyre becomes the signal by which Valhalla and all the Norse gods perish as Ragnarok is brought about with everyone dying in a fire.
This is the name of the magical ring that Brynhildr already possesses or is given to her by Siegfried. In Wagnar’s Der Ring des Nibelungen, it was forged by the dwarf Alberich and has a curse placed on it.
In the Völsunga, the ring is part of the cursed treasure that Siegfried takes after slaying the dragon Fafnir. Either way, it explains all of Brynhildr and Siegfried’s bad luck and subsequent deaths.
The ring had been cursed by its creator, Andvari when Loki tried to force him to give it up. Andvari cursed it that all his treasure and the ring would be the death of those who owns it. Aside from being cursed, Andyaranaut could also make gold.
By the account of the Völsunga, Brynhildr was a prophetess or seeress and able to foretell the future and interpret dreams.
In the Völsunga, Brynhildr tells Gudrun that Sigurðr would love her, Brynhildr but would marry Gudrun. She also told Gudrun that Sigurðr would die at the hands of her brothers. That she would marry Atli and kill him and her children. Brynhildr is also saw someone else, Svanhild get trampled to death. At the funeral for Sigurðr, Brynhildr tells Gunnar and Hogni, that her brother Atli would kill them.
The Valkyries are found in both Scandinavian and Germanic religions.
Some of the stories and sources for Brynhildr’s story have her as a Valkyrie, a chooser of the slain, the warrior maids who determined who died in battle and would to Valhalla, Odin’s abode where the fallen warriors would await Ragnarok. More properly, half the warriors go to Valhalla and the other half go hang out with Freya in her hall of Folkvangr.
Many scholars have questioned Brynhildr’s authenticity as a Valkyrie as there is a real person of the same name. In addition, the name Brynhildr or Brunhilda has been found as a place name for many places and regions throughout Belgium, France and the Rhine.
It’s possible that Brynhildr’s story is the same inspiration for the Visigothic princess Brunhilda of Austria. She married the Merovingian king Sigebert I in 567 C.E.
This Brunhilda did have a rival with a Fredegunde who was married to King Chilperic I of Neustria. This is a feud that would last several generations resulting in a lot of deaths on both sides among husband and numerous family members.
Plus, many of the Valkyries that appear in the Poetic Edda are often mortal woman who often come of royal blood.
Given that there are multiple sources for Brynhildr’s story along with Wagner’s opera series that combines a couple of them together. It can get a little confusing as to which clan or tribe Brynhildr would belong to.
Budling – In the Volsunga, being a daughter of Budli, would make Brynhildr a Budling.
Skioldung – In the poem fragment of Sigurd from the Poetic Edda, Brynhildr is called a “lady of the Skioldungs.” The Skioldungs were of course, the descendants of Skiod. Brynhildr’s connection to these people comes about as her father would have been one of 18 sons of Halfdan the Old, or Ali in Snorri Sturluson’s Prose Edda.
Nine of these sons would have gone on to found their own kingdoms and dynasties in the northern, Scandinavian countries. This would have made Brynhildr related to Sigurðr or Sigurd on his mother’s side as well as related to the children of Guiki. Those being Gunnar, Hogni and Gudrun.
Tolkien And The Lord of the Rings!
As I previously mentioned above, J.R.R. Tolkien took his inspiration for his Middle Earth series from Norse mythology and the inspiration for the One Ring from that of Andyaranaut.
A fun note to add is that Tolkien did not like Wagner’s take on the German myths. I can see it too, Taking and combining the Völsunga and Nibelungenlied together can make it a bit harder to figure out which myth and legend is which.
Also known as: 布袋, 笑佛 (Laughing Buddha), Hasne Buddha (Nepal), 胖佛 (Fat Buddha), Hotei (“cloth bag”) Japanese, Hotei-Osho (Japanese), Bo Dai or Bố Đại (Vietnamese), Hangul (Korean), Pu-Tai, Wagon Priest, Budai Luohan
Etymology: Laughing Buddha, Fat Buddha, Cloth Sack
In Chinese folklore, Budai is a Buddhist deity who has been integrated into Buddhism, Taoism and Shinto religions. The historical Budai lived during the 10th century C.E.
In art, Budai is often shown as being a very fat, bald man wearing a robe, either wearing or carrying prayer beads and has a huge belly; seen as the symbol of abundance, contentment, happiness, luck and generosity. He carries a large linen bag holding a number of precious things, even children on his back. This same bag is the source of Budai’s name. Sometimes Budai is shown sitting in a cart being pulled by boys where he is known as the Wagon Priest.
With his nickname of the Laughing Buddha, Budai is frequently shown smiling or laughing. Budai’s image is often confused with that of Gautama Buddha with Westerners, where he gets the name of the Fat Buddha. In Japan, Budai becomes known as Hotei and is one of the Seven Lucky Gods or Shichi Fukujin.
Budai Statues & Depictions
As already said, Budai is nearly always shown carrying a sack that is filled with a number of precious things such as rice plants, candy for children, food and the sadness of the world.
In Buddhist temples throughout China, statues of Budai are placed in the front part of the entrance halls. Budai is frequently shown as a stough, smiling or laughing man wearing a robe that is unable to cover his large belly. This large belly represents happiness, good luck and abundance. Some Budai statues will have small children gathered around at his feet. Another common feature of Budai statues is a begging bowl, that clearly shows him to be a Buddhist.
Because of Budai’s great association with happiness and wealth, statues of Budai can be found in many businesses and homes in China and Japan.
I Kuan Tao – Budai statues are a central part of I Kuan Tao shrines. Here, Budai is known by his Sanskrit name of Maitreya.
Budai represents the teachings of contentment, generosity, wisdom and kind-heartedness. He is also associated with luck and abundance.
Budai is the guardian and protector of children, the weak and poor. As a wandering monk, Budai is known to take sadness from people and bring them happiness.
Chinese history holds that Budai had been an eccentric Chan monk who lived during the late Liang dynasty. He had been a native of Zhejiang or Fenghua and his Buddhist name was Qieci, meaning: “Promise This.” Budai or Qieci was regarded as a man of good and loving character.
In Buddhism, the term Buddha means: “one who is awake,” as in awakened to enlightenment. There have been many figures in Buddhism who have all been revered as Buddhas. The Chan school of Buddhism teaches that all beings possess a Buddha nature within them and thus, already enlightened, they just have yet to realize it.
A few Buddhist traditions view Budai as an incarnation of Buddha or a bodhisattva.
Angida Arhat – One of the original Eighteen Arhats, meaning one who is worth or a perfected person, much like the Saints of Western Culture. In the Sakyamuni Buddhism, there is a legend wherein Angida is a talented Indian snake catcher would catch venomous snakes, thereby preventing them from biting travelers. Angida would remove the snake’s venomous fangs before releasing them. Due to these acts of kindness, Angida was able to attain bodhi or nirvana. In Chinese art, Angiha is sometimes depicted as Budhai; being rotund, mirthful and carrying a bag.
Gautama Buddha – The historical Buddha, Siddhartha Gautama lived during the 6th century B.C.E. in India, Nepal and much of southeast Asia. Here, Gautama is shown as being tall and slender in appearance. Whereas in China and other areas, Budai is consistently shown as being short and rotund. Both of these descriptions have been noted as being the idealized imagery of the different religions, cultural and folkloric traditions of the countries and regions after the two monks’ deaths. Many Westerners too, often confuse Budai with Gautama and Budai often does get equated or replace Gautama.
Maitreya – The Future Buddha
Budai is identified or seen as an incarnation of Maitreya, the future Buddha. In China, Budai’s image is often the main used to depict Maitreya. Among the Japanese, Maitreya is known as Miroku. There is a Buddhist hymn that Budai is to have spoken at his death that identifies him with Maitreya:
Maitreya, the true Maitreya
has billions of incarnations.
Often he is shown to people at the time;
Other times they do not recognize him.
Mi-Lo-Fo – As Hotei, Budai is often confused with the Buddhist deity known as Mi-lo-Fo.
Pu-Tai – A Chinese monk that Budai came to be associated with, who due to their good nature, was seen as the incarnation for the bodhisattva or future Buddha, Maitreya. Due to how Pu-Tai is also portrayed with having a large, rotund belly, its easy to see how he came to be known as the Laughing Buddha and connected to Budai.
Chan, Seon And Zen
Chan is Chinese, Seon is Korean and Zen is Japanese, all three are the same philosophy.
The following koan, or short story is often told about Budai. One day, Budai was out traveling, giving candy to poor children. He would only a penny from any monks or lay practitioners he met with. One day, a monk approaches Budai and asks: “What is the meaning of Zen?” (Or Chan or Seon). Budai responded by dropping his bag. The monk continued with his questions. “How does one realize Zen?” At that, Budai picked up his bag and continued on his way.
Budai is greatly admired for his congenial and jovial attitude, along with his generosity and philosophy of contentment.
One of the most persistent and popular beliefs is that of rubbing the statues of Budai to bring wealth, good luck and even prosperity.
Japanese Religion & Folklore
In Japan, Budai becomes known as Hotei who was a Buddhist monk that lived during the 16th century. Like Budai, Hotei is still greatly associated with laughter and being called the Laughing Buddha. Chinese legend holds that Hotei had been a real person, whose name was Kaishi. While the date of his birth is unknown, Hotei death is given as being March 916. The Japanese began to believe in Hotei during the Edo era. Hotei was once a Zen priest who appearance and actions didn’t go along with his fellow Zen priests. He always looked like he was up to mischief and never had a permanent place to sleep. Hotei had no desire to be a Zen Master or to gather a following of disciples. He was known for walking the streets with a sack full of candy, fruits and doughnuts that he would give out to children. His bag would also hold the fortunes for those who believe in him. Among the Chinese, he is nicknamed: Cho-Tei-Shi or Ho-Tei-Shi, which means “bag of old clothes.”
According to Japanese legend, before Zen Buddhism came to the islands, another Buddhist philosophy of questionable aesthetics was prevalent. This philosophy originated with the priest Miroku. Miroku was the patron of those who couldn’t be saved by the beliefs of Buddha. Later, Hotei’s arrival was seen and accepted by the Japanese as a second Miroku.
Laughter – This is Hotei’s essence and teachings, he used laughter to impart wisdom. This was not the laughter of laughing at jokes or making fun of others. Hotei would laugh at himself and laugh for the mere celebration of life and existence, for the joy of life. Hotei has no other philosophy, scriptures, dogmas, ideologies or any other precepts to teach. Hotei’s laughter is considered a form of meditation, to experience the joy of living and to just be living and being present in the moment.
People would gather around Hotei as at first, they thought he was mad with how often he laugh and his laugh was known for being infectious in that others would soon laugh along with him. Such was Hotei’s laughter that people would cease to be judgmental or ask questions about enlightened. People would wait for Hotei and his laughter as they found it to have a purifying quality to it that would impart a deep sense of well-being.
One story about Hotei has a villager finding him sitting beneath a tree with his eyes closed. When the villager asked why Hotei wasn’t smiling or laughing, Hotei answered that he was preparing, preparing himself for laughter as he needed go within, forget the world without and recharge himself with rest. Once he was well rested, Hotei would be ready to laugh again.
Thailand Religion & Folklore
Phra Sangkajai – Also spelled Phra Sangkachai. Budai is sometimes equated with the monk Phra Sangkajai. Both Budai and Phra Sangkajai can be found Thai and Chinese temples. Though Phra Sangkajai can be found more often in Thai temples and Budai in Chinese temples. While very similar in appearance, Phra Sangkajai is distinguished from Budai in that he has a thin trace of hair while Budai is bald. Their styles of dress are also different, Phra Sangkajai is dressed in robes folded across one shoulder, with the other bare. Budai’s robes are clearly a Chinese style that covers both of his arms and front part of his upper body uncovered.
Phra Sangkajai is credited with composing the Madhupinadika Sutra. Buddha is said to have praised Phra Sangkajai for his excellence and understanding with explaining the more sophisticated dharma in easy and correct, understandable manners.
A folk story about Phra Sangkajai tells how he was so handsome, that a man once wanted to marry Phra Sangkajai and take him for a wife. To avoid this situation, Phra Sangkajai changed his appearance to that of a fat monk. Another story tells how Phra Sangkajai was found to be so attractive, that both men and angels would compare him to the Buddha. Phra Sangkajai considered this inappropriate, changed his body so he would be rather fat.
First off, Yiguandao is a folk religion out of China that got started around the late 19th century.
In many Yiguandao shrines, statues of Budai or Maitreya as he is known can be found. In Yiguandao, Maitreya represents a number of teachings such as: contentment, generosity, wisdom and open kind-heartedness. It is believed that Maitreya will succeed Gautama Buddha as the next Buddha and help people to realize their own spiritual essence within that connects everyone.
Shichi Fukujin – Seven Lucky Gods
In Japan, the Seven Lucky Gods or Seven Gods of Fortune, known as Shichi Fukujin are believed to granters of good luck and fortune. The Shichi Fukujin are often depicted in Japanese art and engravings known as netsuke. While many of the Shichi Fukujin are believed to be mythical in nature, one Shichi Fukujin is a known historical figure. Over the course of Japan’s history, the Shichi Fukujin became more associated with specific professions and aspects. Many of these same gods also originate from different countries and religions such as Hinduism and India to Chinese Buddhism and Taoism before coming to Japan. There are also seven Shichi Fukujin as seven in Japan is a lucky number.
While the gods had been worshipped for over a thousand years, mainly by merchants, they were first collectively called the Shichi Fukujin in 1420 C.E. It’s believed the Buddhist priest Tenkai arranged and selected these deities after talking with the shogun, Iemitsu Tokugawa. The selection was based on the following virtues of: longevity, fortune, popularity, sincerity, kindness, dignity and magnanimity.
Benzaiten – Often claimed as the only female deity among the Shichi Fukujin, Benzaiten originates in Hinduism where she had been the goddess Saraswati. Other names for Benzaiten are: Benten, Bentensama and Benzaitennyo. When she was adopted into Buddhism, Benzaiten became the associated with talent, beauty and music. Benzaiten is the patron of artists, writers, dancers and geishas. She is often seen as an intelligent, beautiful woman standing before a Torri, carrying a biwa, a traditional Japanese lute-style instrument and is accompanied by a white snake.
Bishamonten – A god originating in Hinduism where he had been the god Kubera and Vaisravana before becoming Bishamonten in Japanese culture. Bishamonten is the god of fortune in war and battles. He is also associated with authority and dignity, the protector of those who follow the rules and hold themselves accordingly. He is the protector of holy sites and other important places. Bishamonten is the patron of fighters and is often shown dressed in armor and helmet, carrying a pagoda in his left hand and a spear in his right hand to battle evil spirits. Bishamonten is also shown with a hoop of fire.
Daikokuten – The god of commerce and prosperity. He was also known as the patron of cooks, farmers, bankers and protected crops. Daikokuten was known too for hunting demons. There is a legend of how Daikokuten hung a sacred talisman from a tree branch in his garden to use as a trap for catching a demon. Daikokuten is often depicted with short legs, perpetual smile and wearing a hat on his head and often carrying a bag full of valuables.
Ebisu – The only purely Japanese god in the group, he is the god of prosperity, wealth in business, abundance in crops, cereals and food. Ebisu is the patron of fishermen and he is often dressed as a fisherman carrying a fishing rod in his right hand and the left holding a fish. Ebisu’s figure can often be found in restaurants where fish is served or in kitchens.
Fukurokuju – Originating in China, Fukurokuju is believed to have once been a hermit who lived during the Song dynasty. Fukurokuju is seen as the reincarnation of the Taoist god Hsuan-wu. As a god, Fukurokuju is the god of wisom, luck, longevity, wealth and happiness. In addition, he is thought to be one of the Chinese philosophers who could live without eating and was able to resurrect the dead. Fukurokuju is noted for having a head that is almost the same size as his body. He is often shown dressed in traditional Chinese attire, carrying a cane in one hand and a scroll containing historical writings. Fukurokuju is often shown being accompanied by a turtle, crow or deer, all animals that represent a long life. With a strong love for chess, Fukurokuju is also the patron of chess players. Fukurokuju, along with Jurojin both overlap with their origins with the Chinese Taoist god Nanjilaoren. Due to this overlapping, Fukurokuju’s position as one of the Shichi Fukujin is sometimes given to the goddess Kichijoten in the Butsuzozu compendium.
Hotei – This is the Japanese name for Budai. As Hotei, he is the god of fortune, the guardian of children, happiness, laughter, popularity and the patron of diviners and barmen. Hotei is often shown as a fat, smiling bald man with a curly mustache. Because he is so fat, Hotei is often shown as being half naked as his clothes aren’t quite big enough to cover his large belly.
Jurojin – Like Fukurokujin, he has his origins in the Chinese Taoist god Nanjilaoren. He is the god of the elderly and longevity in the Japanese Buddhist mythology. Jurojin is believed to be based on a real person, he was very tall, 1.82 meters with a very long head, much like Fukurokuju. Aside from his elongated skull, Jurojin is also shown to have a long white beard and rides a deer and is sometimes accompanied by a crane and tortoise, all animals that represent a long life. Jurojin is sometimes shown sitting under a peach tree, another symbol of long life. In one hand, he holds a cane, in the other he holds either a book or scroll containing the wisdom of the world. Jurojin is known to enjoy rice and wine and has a rather cheerful disposition. Finally, Jurojin is an incarnation of the southern polestar.
Kichijoten – Also known as Kisshoten or Kisshoutennyo. Kichijoten was adopted into Buddhism from the Hindu goddess Lakshmi. Kichijoten is shown holding a Nyoihoju gem in her hand. The Butsuzozu compendium from 1783 lists and has Kichijoten replace Fukurokuju as one of the seven Shichi Fukujin. By this accounting, Daikoku is portrayed as being feminine and all three of the Hindu Tridevi goddesses are seen represented among the Shichi Fukujin.