Taoist Spirit Maps (Líng Tú 靈圖)

Líng Tú 靈圖, or spirit maps, are oft referenced in the Taoist Canons (道藏經). They’re a recurring feature in the Canons that have always intrigued me, and how the term “Líng Tú” is used in the scriptures.

So that’s the topic for video #6 in this series.

修真歷驗鈔圖, one of the scrolls in the 洞真部靈圖類 of the Taoist Canons

Let’s summarize the three classifications of spirit maps: (1) maps of spirit realms for the purposes of astral journeying or spiritual cultivation, (2) enshrining divinities or creating thresholds for which communication between the physical and spirit realms can take place, and (3) Fu, which are talismanic edicts or petitions to regulate spirit forces in a way that will influence physical forces.

#1: Diagram of a Region on the Astral Plane

This is when the spirit map serves as a map of a region in the spirit realm, the Yin Jiān (as opposed to the earthly realm Yang Jiān that we live in).

The wu 巫 is one who can traverse between the two realms, who has connections to the realm of spirits and can petition them to influence the physical realm.

“洞玄部靈圖類” – 上清長生寶鑑圖

Also, wu traverse to the spirit realm and navigate the astral planes through their super-consciousness. Thus spirit maps are integral to a wu‘s practice.

In the video, we touch briefly on this concept of meditation-like techniques for astral journeying to the spirit realms. The above is a spirit map of the Nine Heavens, based on the Lo Shu.

靈寶天尊. Heavenly Lord of Spiritual Treasures, whose eyes contain the Mysteries of the Universe.

#2: Image that Enshrines a God or Spirit

These can be paintings, murals, or seals of identifiable gods, immortals, or spirits that, per the way that image has been enlivened, is a portal through which the named spirit can access our world.

蝶仙靈圖. Spirit Map of the Butterfly Immortal (Dié Xiān Líng Tú)

In the linked video from my I Ching, The Oracle series, I give the example of the Spirit Map of the Butterfly Immortal, likened to a Ouija or spirit talking board.

The underlying blueprint for these types of spirit maps remain remarkably consistent throughout the texts. The diagram acknowledges the binary of yin and yang forces, the Wu Xing five movements of change, the trigrams arranged in a manner to form a circle, guarded at the four corners, or in some manner designating four directional gateways.

All of which hearken back to the He Tu and Lo Shu, previously covered in this series. By and large the He Tu Lo Shu are the basis of the spirit maps.

And the He Tu Lo Shu are the basis for the 64 hexagrams of the I Ching. At this point, the sequential presentation of these images and concepts should be connecting into patterns for you.

周易圖 (Diagram/Map of the I Ching), from 洞真部靈圖類

The above comes from one of the volumes of the Canons on spirit maps (靈圖類), titled Map of the I Ching (or Diagram of the I Ching; in the text, the I Ching is referenced as the Zhouyi). To the left is a diagram of the He Tu and to the right is the Luo Shu (Lo Shu), per the notations.

From 遺論九事 (宋-劉牧)

Thus, there is something to this particular architecture that creates thresholds [Jiān] between the physical realm [Yang Jiān] and the spirit realm [Yin Jiān], and that architecture is the same construct of the I Ching Book of Changes.

From 金液還丹印證圖, one of the scrolls in the 洞真部靈圖類 of the Taoist Canons. Notice the Earth trigram captioned under the feminine figure, and the Heaven trigram under the masculine figure.

The Book of Changes is in and of itself a Líng Tú — a spirit map, fitting all three classifications. This brings us to another historical reference to spirit maps.

The Book of Supreme Mysteries (太玄經, Tài Xuán Jīng) – compare Book of Changes (易經, Yì Jīng) – emerged some time in 2 BC. Whereas the I Ching Book of Changes is dated to the Shang dynasty of Ancient China, the Book of Supreme Mysteries is dated to the Han dynasty of Imperial China.

The premise of the Book of Supreme Mysteries is similar to that of the Book of Changes, but here, it’s Taiji/Wuji (the Tao) expressed as Xuan 玄 (the Mysteries). You’ll see this in the page spread above– note 玄 at the top of the diagram and how it resembles the following expression of the Yi (Changes):

The diagram of the Book of Supreme Mysteries, with Xuan 玄 (the Mysteries) at the center of the circle, encircled by the Nine Heavens, is referenced as a Líng Tú:

This circular diagram is reminiscent of its predecessor, the I Ching:

In historical texts on the I Ching, you’ll often find a diagram in the front or end pages arranging the 64 hexagrams in an outer ring, with each ring inward depicting another layer or degree of permutations, reduced down to a circle of eight trigrams and ultimately the yin and yang binary at the center. Above, in lieu of Xuan 玄 (the Mysteries) as you saw in the circular diagram of the Book of Supreme Mysteries, here it’s Yi 易 (the Changes), in reference to the Book of Changes [Yi Jing].

Ling Bao scriptures on Fu talismans [靈寶派]

#3: Fu Talismans

Talismanic drawn images, symbols, and/or stylized writing that serves as an edict to petition a god or spirit to help change the current course of nature, or to send powers or blessings from the spirit realm into our earthly realm.

“符圖卷上” [靈寶無量度人上品妙經]. A talismanic spirit map that, when rendered in purple ink from the gromwell root, reveals to you secret mysteries from the beginning of Time and the true image of Change.

In the video I highlighted one such talismanic spirit map that intrigued me, sourced from Ling Bao scriptures that have now been integrated into the Canons.

修真歷驗鈔圖, one of the scrolls in the 洞真部靈圖類 of the Taoist Canons

We also talked about the significance of the Big Dipper to Taoist metaphysical philosophy, to crafting Fu talismans, Taoist ceremonial magic (i.e., Pacing the Big Dipper rituals), and to spirit maps.

In the above four examples of spirit maps from the Canons, I’ve emphasized the Big Dipper renderings in red so they’re easier to spot. I talk a bit about Pacing the Big Dipper in The Tao of Craft. You can locate the exact pages via the index. =)

Xi Wang Mu, Queen Mother of the West. Stone relief dated to the Han dynasty.

Returning to the stone relief dated to the Han dynasty depicting the Queen Mother, the two attendings are believed to be Fuxi and Nuwa with their serpent bodies intertwined. During the Six Dynasties, one prevalent apocalyptic lore positions Xi Wang Mu as the path to divine salvation, with legends of a secret and mysterious spirit map.

Two depictions of the Queen Mother. Left: As described in the Classic of Mountain and Seas 山海經 (4th c. BC). Right: As described in the Imperial Encyclopedia 古今圖書集成 (1725 AD).

You can download and read a free excerpt from I Ching, The Oracle on Xi Wang Mu. If you’re intently following this particular video series, then may I recommend that you go through the trouble to click, download, and read that excerpt on Xi Wang Mu (the Queen Mother), as subsequent videos will reference her.

When you get into the realm of Taoist ceremonial magic and occultism, Xi Wang Mu and the Lady of the Nine Heavens are among the most revered, most important, and influential divinities in the pantheon (in my opinion… gotta add that “in my opinion” disclaimer). So it’s not surprising that there’s going to be a mention of her (or several…) among the literature on spirit maps.

Hopefully my scattered coverage of topics hasn’t lost you just yet.

If we play this right, all of this will come together soon enough.

5 thoughts on “Taoist Spirit Maps (Líng Tú 靈圖)

  1. Loki

    I hear, Benebell speak loads of lovely mixed Chinese tonals intermixed with English-formal Chinese California culture into me!
    I’m impressed with your energetic delivery chunks!


  2. Pingback: Taoist Spirit Maps (Líng Tú 靈圖) – benebell wen – Dinesh Chandra

  3. somagic79

    Thank you so very much for your work. It is deepening my understanding of the I Ching greatly. I do have a question and I’m sure others have the same: in the I Ching diagram above we go from 64 permutations down to 36 in the second ring. HOW DID WE GET TO 36?! (lol) i have been trying to work this out but nada.


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