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A Little ‘Heaven & Earth Society’ Sampler

Seals of the Society of Heaven and Earth, Tiāndìhuì 天地會.


Today’s sharing from the Blue House of HYGEIA is a little sampler of inner teachings of the Heaven and Earth Society, the 天地會, of which we published the legend quite some time ago. The source is from J.M.S. Ward and W.G. Sterling’s impressive study, ‘The Hung Society or the Heaven and Earth Society‘, Kegan Paul, 2006 re-print of the 1925/1926 Baskerville Press original Editions, London.  Volume III, Chapter X, pages 67 to 74.

Part I is ‘About the Soul‘ as as a concept practically understood by the members of the Society in their world vision; part II is about ‘The word ‘Ts’ing’ and ‘the need to crush our passions and exalt the spiritual side of our nature‘; part III is about ‘The Five Elements‘ as embedded in the society’s rituals; and finally, part IV is about ‘The Five Cardinal Virtues‘, as recognizable elements of the Heaven & Earth Society’s core spirituality.


Part I-About the Soul

ACCORDING to the Chinese the first subdivision of man is into Kwei and Shen. In the ‘Li-ki’ (Li Ji) (Book of Rites), Confucius is reported to have said, “The Khi (breath) is the full manifestation of the Shen and the P’oh is the full manifestation of the Kwei; the union of the Kwei and the Shen is the highest among tenets. Living beings are all sure to die, and as they certainly return (Kwei) to the Earth after their death, the soul (which accompanies them thither) is called Kwei. But while the bones and flesh moulder in the grave and mysteriously become earth of the fields, the Khi issues forth and manifests itself on high as a shining Ming (light) .”

In short, the Kwei represents the soul which remains in the tomb, and to which offerings have to be made on the Chinese “All Souls’ Day,” whereas the Shen, which we are elsewhere told comes from Yang and Heaven, is Divine, and on death, having disentangled itself from its grosser human characteristics, becomes a shining Ming, or Celestial Spirit. We also see that the baser earthly personality has its full manifestation as P’oh, while “the energy of the Shen operating in the living human body was denoted in China, except by the Khi, or breath, by the special term Hwun. It is the Li-ki again which teaches us this. We read ‘that …. the grandee Ki-Tsze …. on burying his son …. bared the left side of his body when the mound was finished, and moving to the right, walked round it, howling three times, and then he exclaimed,—that the bones and flesh should return to earth is ordained of fate; but the Hwun or Khi can go everywhere ’ In another section of the same work (Ch .38,1.27) we read; ‘the Hwun, or Khi, returns to Heaven; the body and the P’oh return to the Earth.’”

We thus have two souls, one which is truly immortal, the Shen, consisting of Yang substance and therefore divine. At death this becomes a celestial being of light, called Ming. The other, the Kwei, consists of Yin substance and is of the earth, earthy, whither it ultimately returns. It does not however immediately vanish at death but maintains a precarious existence for some time in the tomb and, according to numerous legends, can sally forth, and if evilly, disposed injure human beings. Sacrifices and offerings are made to both these souls and are mentioned by Confucius.

But in addition to these two constituent parts there is a third, which binds the others together, and this was the Ts’ing, or vital force . We gather that at, or even before, birth the Kwei or animal soul is clearly manifest. In the Tso Ch’wen (‘Zuo Zhuan’ or ‘The Commentary of Zuo on the Spring and Autumn Annals‘), we read that “when a man is born, the first thing that develops in him is what we call his P’oh; after the P’oh is produced, we denote the Yang (Celestial) substance (that is in him) by the name of Hwun. Things of all sorts and kinds being subsequently handled by him, his Ts’ing increases, his Hwun and P’oh being thereby strengthened; and as a consequence he obtains a Ts’ing perfectly sound and vigorous and in the end a Shen or Ming.” This Ts’ing, or vital force, cannot survive independently of his animal soul, or P’oh, and his Spirit, or Hwun.

The Chinese, however, from the earliest ages have loved to play on words, and since, their language being monosyllabic, they often have different characters with similar sounds, they can produce a curious play on words which in the West would be called “punning,” but in China is done in all seriousness. In the earlier volumes of this book attention has already been drawn to this tendency, which enables the Hung ritual to be translated in a mystical and also in a political sense, but a similar process produces still further meanings. We saw that Ming might mean either the Ming Dynasty or Light, but readers will now realise that it can mean the Divine Spark in Man, or, his Spirit. In like manner Ts’ing not only means the Manchu but also darkness, or rather, the material universe. We also perceive that it means the Vital Force in man, and so the Soul as manifested forth in the bonds of matter. But even still its alternative explanations are by no means exhausted.



In the Poh Hu T’ung (Bai Hu Tong), written during the first century A.D., by Pan Ku (Pan Gu), we are told of several of these meanings in which, though the form of the character used differed somewhat, the pronunciation was very similar. Of these the five following deserve particular mention:

Ts’ing, means, vital force.
Ts’ing, means, the passions.
Sing, means, innate natural character.
Ts’ing, means, stillness.
Sing or Sheng, means, birth.

We thus see that the Hung ritual contains numerous subtle references, and the phrase, Overthrow Ts ’ing and restore Ming can mean, crush your passions and exalt the spiritual side of your nature. There is also a definite link between the two souls consisting of the Ts’ing, or vital principle, but Taoist metaphysicians were not content with this modest number. In their opinion the two souls were multiple in nature, and the total spiritual organisation of each man consisted of at least fifteen parts. His Hwun consisted of three parts, his P’oh of seven parts, and since each of his five Viscera had a separate Shen he had in all fifteen sub-souls .  In the three Hwun we no doubt get the three souls of the usual Chinese obsequies. The lower Hwun being connected with the Kwei, or Tomb Soul, the middle Hwun took up its residence in the Ancestral Tablets, while the higher Hwun, having severed all connection with the other two and gathered around it the highest spiritual elements in man, entered Heaven as a glorious Ming (Light).

The continual sub-divisions and reshufflings of the constituent parts of the human soul are most perplexing to the Western mind and difficult to follow, but these facts indicate the true significance of the mysterious fifteen puzzle which so often appears in Triad Certificates This is a table consisting of three lines of three numbers, ranging from one to nine, so placed that however added the total is always fifteen. We now perceive that this puzzle symbolises man, whose fifteen souls, however arranged, form the complete man. It will also be remembered that the total number of Founders of the Hung League, as set out in the Traditional History, consisted of fifteen individuals, who were gathered together in groups. In like manner, according to the Taoists, as the foetus develops in the womb first Ts’ing appears, then the ‘tri-partate’, Hwun, then the ‘septem partate’, P’oh, and finally, the Five Elements are distributed through the Viscera to enable the Shen to dwell therein.

Although in the Hung ritual the Society grows by groups of five, five, three and two, instead of three, seven and five, we cannot doubt that there is a reference to this fundamental belief, and that herein we have an allegory of the descent of the soul into matter at the call of the Ts’ing, and therefore of its wandering and exile, far from its spiritual home, in Heaven, here depicted as the Shiu Lam Monastery. The fifteenth day of the month, to which we also get references in the ritual, may likewise be connected with the fifteen constituent souls of man, even though it mainly refers to the full moon, for among many races that luminary is considered to be a symbol of the soul.

Of these various souls the five Shen of the Viscera are peculiarly interesting, since Taoist Sages declare that sometimes they assume bodily shape and can be seen, not only by strangers, but even by their owners. Sometimes these shapes are those of fabulous beasts, but often they appear as men, and in such cases their appearance preludes the death of their owner . They are thus like the live senses in the Christian Mediaeval morality play, Everyman, where they appear to him just before he enters the grave. When such beliefs as these are current, it is hardly surprising that the Hung Society should attempt to symbolise the experience of the human soul in a legend wherein certain individuals correspond with the various parts of the soul, and these facts will help us to discover the true meaning of many incidents in the Traditional History, more especially we shall perceive the full significance of the constantly reiterated phrase: ‘Overthrow Ts’ing and restore Ming‘.


Part III-The Five Elements

In the last chapter it was shown that in the multiple soul of Chinese metaphysics the five Shen were posited in the five Viscera, and we shall now discover that these five Viscera are correlated with the five elements, which play such an important part in the Hung ceremony, which in their turn are linked with several other important aspects of existence. The Chinese, like the Hindus, and unlike the Western nations, have five, not four, elements and correlate them with the five cardinal points, namely, North, South, East, West and Centre. These elements and cardinal points have also their distinctive colours, and not only are the elements said to preside over the five Viscera, but the latter are regarded as the seats of the five great Chinese virtues. The following table sets out the supposed relation which exists between these groups:

The above curious, and to our minds artificial, correlation of these items is of importance to us, since to some extent it explains the origin of some of the signs of the Five Elements as taught in the Hung Lodge.

Thus the Sign of Water consists of placing the hands on either side of the body, thereby drawing attention to the kidneys, which correspond with the element of Water.

On the other hand, while the Sign of Earth does to some extent indicate the position of the spleen it more accurately points to the Solar Plexus, which may be regarded as the centre of man’s Body, and so corresponds with the “Cardinal Point” of the centre. Since the world seems to be the centre of the visible universe this is the most probable origin of the sign.

But the Sign for Fire in no way indicates the heart, whereas the motion made does suggest flames of fire which leap up and down towards the sky. As fire is also a terrible engine of destruction, this explanation would account for the widespread use of this sign as a signal of distress. Since the South is the hottest point of the compass in China, its identification with the element of fire is most natural.

So far as the Sign for the element of Metal is concerned, it can hardly be said that this indicates the lungs. The Chinese, however, are often most fanciful in their comparisons and it may be that this is a hint that the breath, which is intimately linked with the spirit, ascends to the golden mansions of Heaven.

The Sign for the element of Wood is probably derived from the crosspiece which forms the roof, a most prominent feature in primitive wooden buildings, but it may also be thought to indicate the liver. Perhaps equally important, however, is the fact that it does represent the cross of the Equinox and so would be appropriate either for Spring or Autumn. The fact that the trees bud in Spring is given by the Chinese as the reason why the element of wood is attached to Spring, and therefore the possibility that there is an astrological reference to the Cross of the Spring Equinox cannot be ignored.


Part IV-The Five Cardinal Virtues

When we turn to the five cardinal virtues which are connected with the five elements we are bound to admit that the reasons given by the Chinese are somewhat far-fetched. Nevertheless, since among them their acceptation is practically universal, we must recognise the fact that the Signs of the Five Elements have a definite moral and allegorical meaning. Pan Ku (Pan Gu), in the Poh Hu T’ung (Bai Hu Tong), explains their identification as follows:

Why does the liver represent benevolence? Because it consists of the operative energy (Tsing) of the element of wood; for indeed benevolence is the love of living creatures and the East is Yang, and is the region in which all that is endowed with light has its origin. Thus, because the liver symbolises Wood it has a blue colour (like Spring) and also leaves and branches.”

Why are the lungs identified with righteousness? It is because they consist of the operative energy of the element of metal, righteousness decided the fate of Western regions, and Metal (being identified with the West and consequently with Autumn) brings everything to maturity. Because the lungs symbolise metal, their colour is white (like Autumn)….”

“Why does the heart symbolise ceremonial perfection ? It is so because that organ consists of the operative energy of the element of Fire. In the South (the region assimilated with fire) the estimable Yang has the upper hand, while the less estimable Yin underlies there, and in ceremonial and rites likewise, difference is kept in view between those of high rank and those of low rank. Because the heart thus represents fire its colour is red….”

Why are the kidneys identified with knowledge ? Because they consist of the operative energy of Water. A man that possesses knowledge, whether lie acts or does nothing is never indecisive or in doubt, just the same with water which also never wavers about the direction to follow when in a forward motion. The North being assimilated with Water the kidneys have the black colour (of the North)….”

“Why is the Spleen identified with Trustworthiness ? Because it consists of the operative energy of the element of Earth, which latter applies itself to nourishing all that exists, representing in this way absence of selfishness in producing living beings; and this is trustworthiness in the fullest degree. As the Spleen represents Earth, it has the yellow colour (of this element). . .”

These passages, at any rate, give us an interpretation of the symbolic meaning of the Five Elements and the human organs connected therewith. It will be remembered that almost all the flags of the Hung Society contain the colours of the Five Elements, but is should be noted that green replaces blue. As previously indicated, among the Chinese each of these five organs has a kind of soul of its own, and since the organs are linked with the eyes, nose, mouth, ears, etc., they to some extent correspond with our five physical senses.

Therefore one interpretation of the Five Founders, whose flags bear the colour of the Five Elements, is that they represent the five senses in each man. But the Chinese are never content with a piece of simple symbolism like this and so the Five Ancestors also represent other fives which play an important part in their speculation. For example, they may also be considered as representing the five-fold nature of the Soul of man, as taught by the Buddhists, indeed, it may be that the Five Ancestors really represent the Buddhist conception and stand for these five elements in the soul, whereas the five Horse dealers represent the five Shen of the Viscera, which is a Taoist conception.

It is hardly necessary to add that among European astrologers and doctors of medicine in the Middle Ages a similar fantastic correlation existed between the elements and the organs of man, which was complicated by placing various parts of the human body under the control of various planets, signs of the Zodiac, and so forth. On these fanciful associations Mediaeval medicine was largely based, and therefore readers of this book will not be surprised to find similar false analogies among the Chinese.

As we have had to refer to the Signs of the Five Elements it is worth drawing attention to the fact that the Sign associated with Fire by the Hung Society is also similarly used to denote distress, and in connection with fire, in the West. A very striking example is shown on a wall painting from Wadi Sarga, depicting The Three Children in the Furnace It is Coptic work of the 6th century and is important since it shows this double association.

Neither does it stand alone, for in a glass disc of Roman work found at Cologne, and belonging to the 4th century, A .D., are a series of eight pictures of which three show people making this sign. (See below picture).

One, which is badly worn, shows The Three Children in the Fiery Furnace. Here we have fear, or distress, because of fire. The next shows Daniel in the Lion’s den, whose distress is due to the presence of the fierce beasts, while the third shows mental distress, for it represents the widow of Nain standing over the corpse of her dead child. Among the other pictures are two showing the adventures of Jonah, one being of special interest as it depicts the ship. The original of this glass disc is in the British Museum.

The symbolic use of the Elements in certain Western Rites is probably well known to many readers of this work, and it is certainly a curious coincidence, if it is nothing more, that the same rites lay great stress on the symbolic meaning of numbers, for we find a like peculiarity in the Hung ceremony.


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More about the Heaven and Earth Society (Tian Di Hui ): 🌿 More about the Bai Hu Tong: 🌿 Chinese original of the Bai Hu Tong: 🌿 Confucius’ ‘Li Ki ‘ (Li Ji ) or book of Rites: 🌿Chinese original of the Li Ki (Li Ji ): 🌿 About the Tso Ch’en (Zuo Zhuan) or ‘The Commentary of Zuo on the Spring and Autumn Annals’:
A Little ‘Heaven & Earth Society’ Sampler

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