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
Baby New Year
Also Known As: New Year’s Baby
The figure we know as the Baby New Year is the personification of the New Year.
They are an infant human wearing a diaper, a top hat, and a sash with the date of the new year. Sometimes they are shown as a toddler, already able to stand and walk on their own. Sometimes they will have hair, sometimes not and usually it’s blonde hair when they do. In addition, a cartoon may depict the Baby New Year holding an hourglass and a noisemaker of some sort.
As the months progress, this baby gets older, until the end of December when they are an old man with a long, flowing white beard and it’s time for them to welcome the next year’s Baby New Year.
As an example, seen in “Rudolph’s Shiny New Year,” the Baby New Year will be shown as either a baby in January or as an old man in December when it’s time to welcome the new year and they either retire or die. With the Rankin & Bass Special, other past New Years will have some likeness to the year they represented any key, significant events that happened.
Editorial Cartoons – Newspapers or News sites will frequently have the familiar pictures of the Baby New Year in the first news articles for the start of the New Year. Joseph Christian Levendecker, a cartoonist working for The Saturday Evening Post is the most notable for his drawings of the Baby New Year and for making the image more secular between 1907 and 1943.
Rebirth & New Beginnings
This is the symbolism with the image of the Baby New Year, the “birth” of the next year, and the passing of the old year in a perpetual cycle of rebirth.
It can vary a little bit based on the mythic retelling of explaining the Baby New Year. Most agree that his purpose is to chronicle the year’s events as they pass by or happen.
Dionysus – As I noted when writing the post for Father Time with how he is based off of Cronos and Saturn; the Baby New Year is based on the ancient Greek god Dionysus, notably his role as a deity of Dying and Rebirth, particularly with the crops and harvest season.
With that revelation about the connection to Dionysus, it should come as no surprise that the concept and idea of a Baby New Year has been around since roughly 600 B.C.E. in ancient Greece when the Greeks would celebrate the rebirth of Dionysus, the god of wine and fertility. Part of this celebration would be parading a baby through the streets in a basket to represent the infant Dionysus. What’s more, we see an aspect of this tradition, notably in 1400 C.E. Germany, carry on with some early Christian celebrations of the New Year where this baby represents an infant Jesus.
Determining The Start
Most cultures tend to be centered agriculturally for the start of their New Year and Spring as that’s when they can begin farming.
For Western Culture, we go back and credit Julius Caesar for setting January 1st as the New Year, the start of the civil year, the month of the god Janus, the god of beginnings and endings, of gateways, comings, and goings. This calendar is called the Julian calendar after Julius Caesar as this was the beginning of the civil year
For Western Culture, celebrations of the New Year have only been celebrated in the last four centuries. During the Middle Ages period in Europe, celebrations of the New Year were deemed too pagan and therefore, unchristian. In 567 C.E., the Roman Catholic church did away with January 1st as the start of the year. During this era, depending on where in Europe you lived, the New Year could be celebrated on December 25th with the birth of Jesus or Christmas, March 1st, March 25th, the Feast of Annunciation, and Easter which still follows a lunar calendar for its date.
It is not until 1582 C.E., that we have Pope Gregory XIII reinstated January 1st as New Year’s with a calendar reform. This new Gregorian calendar would have countries upset as it upended the dates, they celebrated their winter celebrations and the start of the New Year.
In the United States, starting in 1904, New Year’s would see an uptick in the celebrations of New Year’s with the invention of the neon lights, the opening of the first subway line, and the first celebration of New Year’s Eve in Times Square. Before this, New Year’s celebrations had been fairly sedate.
Not All New Years Are Created Equal
Some are better…
Nearly every culture and country past and present celebrates the New Year. Depending on the country and civilization in question depend on when their calendar year begins.
Akitu – In ancient Babylon, this festival occurred in March and lasted for eleven days. Statues of the gods would be paraded out from his temples in March in a symbolic victory over the forces of chaos. The king would also come before the statue of Marduk, stripped of his regalia, and swear to the god that he had led the city successfully. A high priest would slap the king and pull on his ears to make them cry. Should the monarch shed tears, that was seen as a sign of Marduk’s favor.
Hogmanay – A Scottish word for the last day of the year and often coincides with New Year’s Eve celebrations. It’s traditional to sing the tune “Auld Lang Syne” at the stroke of midnight, bidding goodbye to the Old Year and bringing in the New Year. Hogmanay is thought to originate in Norse and Gaelic celebrations of the Winter Solstice with gift giving, visiting friends and neighbors to try and be the first visitor to a home as it is thought to bring good fortune.
Janus – Also a celebration for the Roman god of the same name, the ancient Romans would make offerings to the god on January first for good fortune in the coming year.
Lunar New Year – Also known as the Chinese New Year, this celebration coincides with the second Full Moon that will fall somewhere between January and February with current calendars and goes for fifteen days. Legend holds that a fearsome creature known as a Nian would attack villages every year. To ward and scare off the beast, the villagers would trim their homes in red, burn bamboo and make loud noises. This ruse worked and now those colors and fireworks have become part of the celebrations. Nian is also the Chinese word for year. During the fifteen days of celebration, people will focus on their families, have feasts, and do cleanings of their homes to get rid of bad luck and pay off debts.
Nowruz – Meaning “New Day,” this thirteen-day festival is celebrated in many countries throughout the Middle East. Sometimes called the “Persian New Year,” it is believed this festival occurs during the vernal equinox in March and is believed to date back to the 6th century B.C.E. Gifts would be exchanged among family and friends, feasts, bonfires lit, the dying of eggs and sprinkling of water, all symbols for the arrival and rebirth of spring.
Wepet Renpet – Ancient Egyptians, in the month of Tut, corresponding with September, would celebrate the New Year as the start of their agricultural calendar. The dog star Sirius would be up high in the sky, letting Egyptian farmers know the Nile River would be flooding soon. The first month of the year was also so a “Festival of Drunkness” in which the Egyptians would get really hammered, celebrating that time they averted the war goddess Sehkmet from destroying all of mankind by getting her drunk.
Sometimes the Baby New Year will be shown holding an hourglass, strongly alluding to his connection to the figure of Father Time that he often bears a strong resemblance due at the end of December when it’s time to pass on his duties and responsibilities to the incoming Baby New Year.
This hourglass that the Baby New Year is shown with represents the constant progression and march of time, representing the forces of entropy and how eventually everything eventually comes to an end.
It’s not all doom and gloom, time does represent wisdom, especially the wisdom that comes from age and living life. Another thing that is notable is that an hourglass can be turned over, representing the ability to start over or a new generation coming in.
New Year’s Day
Certain cartoons and editorials, most notably “Rudolph’s Shiny New Year”, will show Father Time as the Old Year welcoming in the Baby New Year as part of the never-ending progression of years and time. In this role, Father Time will be wearing a sash showing the date of the old year on it. In some beliefs, Father Time is said to pass on all of his knowledge and wisdom to the Baby New Year before they retire or die.
Auld Lang Syne
Scottish for “old long ago,” this is a traditional tune sung during Hogmanay (December 31st) in Scotland. It was collected and written down by Robert Burns in 1788. The song has since found its way to becoming a traditional tune to sing on New Year’s Eve at the stroke of midnight.
Baby New Year Title
When bestowed as a title, this name will be given to the first baby born to any village, town or city and hold that title for the year with it passing on to the next first baby born in the following year. By this tradition, the Baby New Year can be either or any gender. Though the mythical version of the Baby New Year will be male.
Several hospitals have ceased to announce the first baby born and given the title Baby New Year. The thought is to protect the infant from being a target for any potential harm. Though many cities will still give gifts such as bonds, diapers, and formula for a year to the first baby born.
There’s a handful of places where the Baby New Year has made an appearance in various media. There is Happy, the Baby New Year in the Rankin & Bass “Rudolph’s Shiny New Year” for TV. The animated series Histeria! Features a parody of Baby New Year by the name of “Big Fat Baby.” Lastly, there’s an appearance as “Happy New Year” from The Grim Adventures of Billy & Mandy animated series.
Otherwise, in more modern times, we’re likely to only see the figure of the Baby New Year in quick Editorial Cartoons on New Years.
Also Known As: Cronos, Saturn
Essentially Father Time is the personification of time, especially the concept of time that moves ever forward.
The 18th century sees the formal introduction of the figure of Father Time that many are familiar with as an elderly man with a long flowing beard dressed in robes and carrying a scythe. Sometimes he is shown with wings or carrying an hourglass or other timekeeping device. An Egyptian influence to the image of Father Time is that some depictions show him with a snake in his mouth, said snake being a symbol of eternity.
Renaissance Influence – Both the wings and hourglass are additions from the early Renaissance era.
The origins of Father Time seem mysterious at first glance as if he might be a more modern convention. However, there are a couple of mythological origins.
Cronos – The Greeks associated their word for time, chronos with Cronos, the god of agriculture who incidentally carries a scythe or sickle for harvesting. For the cyclical nature of the year and agriculture, it’s easy to see how the two words chronos and Cronos would become intertwined and nearly synonymous.
Saturn – As typical of many of their deities, the Romans equated Cronos with the god Saturn who also carries a scythe. Saturn was represented as an old man who sometimes got around with the aid of a crutch. With Saturn, he is also associated with wealth and renewal.
The hourglass and other time devices that Father Time is shown with represent the constant progression and march of time, representing the forces of entropy and how eventually everything eventually comes to an end.
It’s not all doom and gloom, time does represent wisdom, especially the wisdom that comes from age and living life. Another thing that is notable, is that an hourglass can be turned over, representing the ability to start over or a new generation coming in.
Or sickle, it is a harvester’s tool and is a symbol of the renewal of time as seen in the wheel of the year and cycles of life for birth, growth, and death.
Death’s Age-Old Companion
It’s notable how the imagery for both Father Time and the Grim Reaper are very similar in appearance. Both wear a robe and both carry a scythe. One just happens to be an old man while the other is a skeleton. Despite how similar the two look in certain details, they are not the same being.
New Year’s Day
Certain cartoons and editorials, most notably Rudolph’s Shiny New Year, will show Father Time as the Old Year welcoming in the Baby New Year as part of the neverending progression of years and time. In this role, Father Time will be wearing a sash showing the date of the old year on it.
Baby New Year – If Father Time is based on Cronos and Saturn, who is the Baby New Year based on? A couple sources dared to venture that this is Dionysus, in his role as a Dying and Reborn deity for the crops and harvest season.
The Legendary Council Of Guardians
In recent years, the figure of Father Time may appear alongside other legendary figures such as Mother Nature, Sandman, Cupid, and a few others.
Disney’s The Santa Clause trilogy is notable for the figure of Father Time appearing in the latter two movies.
Alternate Spelling: Uncle Nowruz
Also called: Persian – عمو نوروز
Etymology: Uncle Nowruz or Uncle New Year.
The figure of Amu Nowruz is a familiar one in Iranian and other Middle Eastern cultures for their celebrations of New Year that coincides with the official start of Spring.
In Iranian tradition, Amu Nowruz appears every year at the start of Spring along with his companion Haji Firuz. Their appearance marks the beginning of Nowruz, the New Year.
Amu Nowruz is often depicted as an elderly, silver or white-haired man wearing a felt hat, long blue clock, sash, pants, sandals, and carrying a walking stick. Amu Nowruz’s role is to pass on the story of Nowruz to the young.
Naneh Sarma And Amu Nowruz
One thing I found of interest is learning about Amu Nowruz’s wife, Naneh Sarma. There’s a love story wherein they only meet each other once a year.
According to the one story found, every year, on the Spring Equinox, Mother Simorq flies down from Mount Qâf with Amu Nowruz, the Young Man Spring. Once Simorq has dropped off Amu Nowruz, he heads for a chestnut-colored horse waiting for him. Amu Nowruz will then ride the horse out over the plains towards the city gates where he will meet Naneh Sarma, Grandmother Frost in her orchard just outside the city walls.
Amu Nowruz and Naneh Sarma were madly in love with each other and the first day of Spring, Naneh Sarma cleans her house and prepares for Amu Nowruz’ arrival. Naneh Sarma waits a long time for Amu Nowruz’s arrival. Long enough that she falls asleep.
By the time Amu Nowruz arrives, he finds Naneh Sarma fast asleep. Instead of waking her, Amu Nowruz leaves a flower he picked for Naneh Sarma on her lap. He then proceeds to make himself a glass of tea and stoke the fire so it doesn’t die down. After all this, Amu Nowruz heads into the city, bringing Spring time with him.
Shortly after, Naneh Sarma wakes up and finds the flower that Amu Nowruz left and the other signs of his having been there. She weeps to find that her lover has come and gone again. Mother Simorq comes to Naneh Sarma to comfort and remind her that she will have to wait another year for Amu Nowruz’s arrival without falling asleep.
Mother Simorq then carries Naneh Sarma back up to Mount Qâf as she begins to melt. On the top of the Mountain, Mother Simorq lays Naneh Sarma down as she completely melts, knowing that if Naneh Sarma and Amu Nowruz should ever meet, the world would end.
Nowruz – The Persian New Year
Amu Nowruz’s role in the New Year’s celebration is one very similar to that of Santa Claus or Sinterklaas with the celebration of Christmas in that of one who is bringing gifts. Depending on the country and the calendar used, Nowruz is celebrated close to the Spring or Vernal Equinox, often close to somewhere between March 19 to March 22.
Nowruz is Persian for “New Day,” marking the first day of the month Farvardin and the first day of Spring in the Iranian calendar. The celebration of Nowruz has its roots in ancient Persian traditions of Zoroastrian religion. Some scholars suggest that the celebration may even be older and have roots in Mithraism. It has survived some 3,000 years and varies a bit in celebration from one country to another, especially among the Middle Eastern cultures, mainly Iranian.
Heralding the start of Nowruz, Hajji Firuz is often seen parading through the city with a troupe of singers and dancers following him. Accompanying him, is Amu Nowruz who brings and bears gifts whereas Hajji Firuz is the one to demand and expect them.
With Nowruz, the New Year’s Day must start off with an atmosphere of joy and happiness so that families may continue to know joy throughout the coming year. The arrival of Hajji Firuz is important for bringing the necessary spirit of joy and happiness to accompany the New Year. This same spirit of joy and happiness is necessary too, for, without it, the faravahars (similar to guardian spirits or angels) will leave the household, taking with them the family’s blessings, abundance, and luck for the coming year.
Shahnameh – The Book Of Kings
The Shahnameh is an epic poem written by the Persian poet, Ferdowsi sometime between 977 and 1010 C.E.
What’s significant is that this poem dates the celebration of Nowruz to the reign of Jamshid, who in Zorastrian texts saves all of mankind from a killer winter that would have killed every living creature. This mythical Persian King likely represents or symbolizes the transition of people going from animal hunting to animal husbandry and the eventual more settled, civilized eras of human history.
Jamshid is credited with the founding of celebrating Nowruz. According to the text of the Shahnameh and Iranian mythology, Jamshid created a throne embedded with gemstones. Sitting on the throne, he had demons raise him up above the earth into the heavens where he sat, like the sun, shining brightly. The creatures of the world would gather around Jamshid and scatter gems around him. This started the day known as the New Day or Nowruz and marking the first day of the month of Farvardin.
Persian scholar Abu Rayhan Biruni, about 10th century C.E. notes in his Kitab al-Tafhim li Awa’il Sina’at al-Tanjim, the Persian belief that Nowruz marks the first day that the universe begins.
UN Recognition Of Nowruz
While it goes slightly off topic of focusing on Amu Nowruz, I feel it’s important to mention that in 2010, the UN General Assembly recognized March 21st as the International Day of Nowruz. It is recognized as an ancient Persian festival for Spring that has been celebrated for over 3,000 years.
For Christians, Christmas is often used to promote peace and goodwill, as does the celebration of Nowruz during Spring. Having more of the world, and the global community be better familiar with the significance of Nowruz and its meaning, it will help promote more cultural understandings, friendships, peace, and hopefully long-lasting respect.