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Spiritualistic Séances

IT is customary in Shantung, when any one is sick, for the womenfolk to engage an old sorceress or medium, who strums on a tambourine and performs certain mysterious antics. This custom obtains even more in the capital, where young ladies of the best families frequently organize such séances among themselves. On a table in the hall they spread out a profusion of wine and meat, and burn huge candles which make the place as light as day. Then the sorceress, shortening her skirts, stands on one leg and performs the shangyang, while two of the others support her, one on each side. All this time she is chattering unintelligible sentences, something between a song and a prayer, the words being confused but uttered in a sort of tune; while the hall resounds with the thunder of drums, enough to stun a person, with which her vaticinations are mixed up and lost. By-and-by her head begins to droop, and her eyes to look aslant; and but for her two supporters she would inevitably fall to the ground. Suddenly she stretches forth her neck and bounds several feet into the air, upon which the other women regard her in terror, saying, “The spirits have come to eat;” and immediately all the candles are blown out and everything is in total darkness. Thus they remain for about a quarter of an hour, afraid to speak a word, which in any case would not be heard through the din, until at length the sorceress calls out the personal name of the head of the family and some others; whereupon they immediately relight the candles and hurry up to ask if the reply of the spirits is favourable or otherwise. They then see that every scrap of the food and every drop of the wine has disappeared. Meanwhile, they watch the old woman’s expression, whereby they can tell if the spirits are well disposed; and each one asks her some question, to which she as promptly replies. Should there be any unbelievers among the party, the spirits are at once aware of their presence; and the old sorceress, pointing her finger at such a one, cries out, “Disrespectful mocker! where are your trousers?” upon which the mocker alluded to looks down, and lo! her trousers are gone—gone to the top of a tree in the courtyard, where they will subsequently be found.
Manchu women and girls, especially, are firm believers in spiritualism. On the slightest provocation they consult their medium, who comes into the room gorgeously dressed, and riding on an imitation horse or tiger. In her hand she holds a long spear, with which she mounts the couch and postures in an extraordinary manner, the animal she rides snorting or roaring fiercely all the time. Some call her Kuan Ti, others Chang Fei, and others again Chou Kung, from her terribly martial aspect, which strikes fear into all beholders. And should any daring fellow try to peep in while the séance is going on, out of the window darts the spear, transfixes his hat, and draws it off his head into the room, while women and girls, young and old, hop round one after the other like geese, on one leg, without seeming to get the least fatigued.




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