The Eight Immortals in Taoism
The Eight Immortals in Taoism are a group of legendary figures in Chinese mythology and Taoism. They are said to have achieved immortality through their cultivation of the Tao, or the Way of nature and harmony. Each of them has a unique story and a special object that represents their power and personality. They are often depicted as travelling together on various adventures, using their magic to help people and fight evil. The 8 immortals are also associated with a group of five islands in the Bohai Sea, where they are believed to reside. They represent different aspects of human life and aspirations. They are also revered by Taoists as examples of spiritual attainment and harmony with nature.
WHO ARE THE EIGHT IMMORTALS IN TAOISM
Lü Dongbin, (Lu Tung Pin)
- He was a scholar and a poet who mastered the arts of swordsmanship and alchemy. He was also a follower of Zhongli Quan, another immortal, who taught him the secrets of immortality. He is usually seen with a sword that can slay dragons and demons. He is the patron of barbers and doctors.
- A mythological figure, he is often represented with a bare stomach and carrying a fan that resurrects the dead; and can transform stones into precious metals such as gold and silver. He is usually shown with a long beard reaching to his naval and drinking wine. He was a general of the Han Dynasty who retired from military service after a defeat. He met Laozi, who taught him the way of Taoism. He was also the leader of the Eight Immortals and initiated several of them into immortality. He is the patron of soldiers and martial artists.
Cao Guo Jiu
- He was a royal relative of the Song Dynasty emperors, but he renounced his wealth and status after witnessing the corruption and injustice of the court. He is usually depicted holding a jade tablet, which signifies his authority and integrity. He is the patron of actors and the theatre, also believed to be a historical figure. He is seen dressed in official clothing, carrying the insignia of his office in the form of a jade tablet or castanets.
He Xian Gu
- In the shape of a young woman, the only female in the group was once seduced by Lü Dongbin. She is thought to be the daughter of He Tai and is seen carrying either a ladle or a lotus flower which is thought to improve physical health and mental well-being. She was born during the Tang Dynasty and became immortal after eating a magical peach. She is the patroness of women and household harmony.
Han Xiang Zi
- Whose name translates as “Philosopher Han Xiang”, is also thought to be a historical person who lived during the Tang Dynasty, supposedly the nephew of the famous Tang writer and Confucian Han Yu (768–824), Han Xiang is usually seen carrying a flute and is the patron deity of musicians. He was adept at playing the flute, which he used to control the weather and the seasons. He was also a student of Lü Dongbin, who helped him attain immortality. He is the patron of musicians and dancers.
Zhang Guo Lao
- Also a historical figure, he was a Taoist hermit living in the mountains of east-central China between the 7th and 8th centuries. He is usually seen carrying a drum and depicted as an old man riding a donkey, sometimes backwards – which he apparently folded up like a piece of paper upon reaching his destination. He was also skilled in necromancy and could revive the dead with his breath. He was a friend of Lü Dongbin, who invited him to join the immortals. He is the patron of old people and longevity, wine and the good life as well as the protector of children.
Lan Cai He
- He was a wandering minstrel who dressed in ragged clothes and carried a basket of flowers. He was known for his carefree attitude and his love of music and wine. He is sometimes depicted as a young boy or a girl, or even as a hermaphrodite. He is the patron of florists and gardeners.
Li Tieh-Kuai (Li Tieguai)
- Perhaps the most ancient of the eight immortals was also referred to as Iron Crutch Li, he was a beggar with a crippled leg who used an iron crutch as his weapon and support. He was also a disciple of Laozi, the founder of Taoism, and possessed great wisdom and compassion, he was a beggar with a crippled leg who used an iron crutch as his weapon and support. He is often shown with a gourd from which bats fly out or to dispense medicines, elixirs and spirits. He is thought to be ill-tempered but also shows benevolence and is the patron deity to those who are needy or sick. He was also a disciple of Laozi, the founder of Taoism, and possessed great wisdom and compassion. He supposedly lived between the turn of the sixth to the seventh century AD and attained the Dao, or “The Way”, at an early age.
One day, Li Tieguai was about to attend a meeting with Master Lao Tze, in order to be instructed in Daoist teachings, before leaving he told his apprentice Li Qing to wait seven days for his soul to return, if he didn’t return within this time he was instructed to cremate his body. The inevitable happened – the disciple did cremate his master’s body, but he did so early, on the sixth day, because he had to rush home to help his mother who had fallen ill. When Li’s spirit returned on the seventh day, he was understandably distraught at failing to find his body and had no other choice but to enter the corpse of a beggar who had just starved to death, thus taking on the shape of a crippled man with an iron crutch.