Xuantian shandi is also known as Zhenwu(真武) or Xuanwu(玄武), the Dark Warrior. The title Dark Warrior is origin from ancient cosmology and constellation. In Han dynasty, As Xuanwu, Xuantian shandi is a symbol of star not a warrior. People regarded Xuanwu’s outlook as a combination of snake and turtle. The combination represented the northern pole and the Big Dipper(北斗七星). It was because of people thought that the seven stars line as a turtle. Xuanwu is also linked with the direction. They are called siling(四靈). Siling are spirits corresponding to the cardinal directions represented as four kinds of animal. Xuanwu is one of them. The others are the Green Dragon (青龍, qinglong), White Tiger(白虎, baihu), Red Sparrow(朱雀, zhuque). Because Xunawu is corresponding to the north, he is also called He di(黑帝), Black Emperor. Xunawu is also as a deity administrating the creatures in the ocean and river. Basically, Before Sung Dynasty, Xunawu was represented as a creature mixed by turtle and snake.
Xunawu became Xuantian shandi, an individual figure, by 7th
century. Taoist described him as a figure having unbounded long hair, wearing black robe, holding a sword and stand on a turtle and a snake. His followers flied black flags. By 1018, Sung royal courts titled him as Perfected Warrior, Numinous Response Perfected Lord(真武靈應真君, Zhenwu lingying zhenjun) and founded a temple dedicated to him. Xunanwu became a warrior and general. By 1304, When it was Yuan reigned, Xunawu was titled the Primordial Sage of the Dark Heaven, Benevolent and Majestic Highest Emperor (玄天元聖仁威上帝, Xuantian yuansheng renwei shangdi). A title we are familiar with.
Xuantian shandi became an individual not only in Taoist way but also Buddhist. There is another story about him. Xuantian shandi was origin a prince in a kingdom. When he grew up, he was inspired by a Taoist scripture and divinity. Then he left his kingdom for Wudan Mountain and pursued Taoist practice. He experienced many trials and suffering. Finally, he became a divinity and flying to the heaven. Jade Emperor decreed him as a general and dispatched him to guard the heaven ‘s northern side. Xuantian shandi is not only as a general in the heaven but also as an exorcist in this world. Occasionally he returns to the earth helping people. It was said he made his presence in Sung dynasty when there was a rebel in Bei province(貝州) and he assisted the general Wen YenBo(文彥博) suppressing the rebel.
In Ming Dynasty, Xuantian shandi still made his divine presence before Ming Emperor and be propagated by the royal court as well. When the founder emperor Ming Taizu(明太祖) was in a decisive battle with his main enemy Chen Yulian(陳友諒) by the side of Dongting Lake (洞庭湖), Xuantian shandi showed up and animated the army. Finally, Ming Taizu won the battle and founded Ming dynasty. Xuantian shandi kept his privilege again. No doubt one of the reasons is that the Taoist in Wudan Mountain was closed to the royal court and involved deep to the interior affairs of royal house. Wudan Mountain is the main Taoist temple dedicated to Xuantian shandi. Besides the official propagation, popular novels helped lot as well. The novel, Biography of the Northern Zhenwu’s origin(北方眞武祖師玄天上帝出身志傳),written by Yu Xiangduo(余象斗) is one of them.
In Taiwan, the temples dedicated to Xuantian shandi Where there is under the reign of Zheng Chenggong(鄭成功,1624～1662) were more than the temples dedicated to Mazu(媽祖). It was the main deity enshrined and prayed by peoples. Apparently it was because of Ming royal court favoring on Xuantian shandi. There were about four to eight Xuantian shandi ‘s temples scatter on the plain of Tainan(台南) and Chiayi(嘉義). The number is increased in Qing dynasty. There were about more than ten to twenty temples dedicated to Xuantian shandi. The belief on Xuantian shandi was also spread to other area, such as Nantou(南投) and Taichung(台中). In the reign of Japan government, the numbers was up to 34. It was estimated 267 by 1960’s. According to an investigation in 2003, there were about 600 in Taiwan.
Not only the belief on Xuantian shandi developed but also the function and the legend changed in Taiwan. Originally, Xuantian shandi was a tutelage deity of sea and river. However, he became the tutelage deity of butcher. It was said that Xuantian shandi was a butcher when he was living. He was filial piety to his mother who was favoring eating pig’s internal organs. He offered many meals to his mother. However, after his mother was dead, he regretted that he killed many lives. He committed suicide as repentance and his intestines and stomach became a snake and a turtle. He transformed to Xuantian shandi. Xuantian shandi is popular today, there is a national association named The Mission Association of Xuantian shandi in Chinese Taoism(中華道教
玄天上帝弘道協會)that identified itself as a Taoist association and goaled on promoting Taoist teaching.
Dark Warrtor, Zhenwu, North Pole Temple, Wudan Mountain
3.莊宏誼。 2007 。〈宋元時期道教