The Eight Immortals are just what it says on the tin; eight people who gained immortality (as well as spiritual enlightenment) through the practice of Taoist magic. They are popular figures in Chinese folklore and often appear in the native fiction of both the Peoples Republic and the Chinese diaspora. Anyone remember the animated series Jackie Chan Adventures?
So, what are the individual immortals like?
He Xian’gu, the Girl
- Lived during Tang dynasty
- Around age 14, had a dream where heavenly personage told her to eat powdered mica for decreased chances of dying. (Do not try this at home)
- Did as instructed by heavenly personage, stayed a virgin, and gradually decreased food intake (Still not good idea IRL)
- Was once summoned to the court of Wu Zetian, disappeared along the way
- Ascended to heaven in broad daylight upon becoming immortal
- Special Immortal Power: Improving both physical and mental health with a lotus flower
Cao Guojiu, the Imperial Brother-in-Law
- Older sister was empress to Emperor Renzong of Song
- Younger brother abused the family’s position to be a jerk while he tried to fix him and use the family fortune to make up for little bro’s mistakes
- Finally gave up on both fixing brother and official career to become hermit after little bro goes too far
- Met Zhongli Quan and Lü Dongbin, who taught him how to become immortal
- Regarded as a patron of ACTING!
Li Tieguai, the Man with the Iron Crutch
- Studied with Laozi, founder of Taoism
- Used to be quite handsome, until his apprentice refused to wait the full seven days of an astral projection session and had him cremated so he could see his dying mother one last time. Nearest available body for Li to return to was that of a dead and very ugly beggar.
- Kind of a crotchety fellow, but also clownish
- Gives medicine to the poor and needy (unlike certain US presidents) from a gourd
- Fights for the 99%
- Has an awesome iron crutch that won’t rust
Lan Caihe, the Genderqueer
- Yes, really. Traditional depictions of this individual are very androgynous and their biological sex is never mentioned.
- Was said to be totally plastered when leaving the human world on a celestial swan or crane
- One legend states that Sun Wukong gave them help in becoming immortal
Lü Dongbin, the Scholar
- Was an actual person (Gasp!)
- Said to be quite the ladies man, even after achieving immortality
- Loves to get sloshed
- Once deformed a riverbank because he was angry
- Had a dream where he achieved great prosperity, only to have it taken away from him. It’s called the Yellow Millet Dream because he fell asleep while waiting for yellow millet to cook
Han Xiangzi, the Flutist
- Raised by his uncle, a notable Tang dynasty statesman
- After becoming immortal, he tried to convert his uncle, aunt, and wife to Taoism. Eventually succeeded
- Had a fling with a dragon girl
Zhang Guolao, the Really Old Guy
- Was an actual person (Gasp!)
- Claimed to be several centuries old by the time Wu Zetian came into power
- Enjoyed necromancy and craft brewing in his free time. (What)
- Was asked by Wu Zetian to stop on by, he died upon reaching the gates of a temple. He got better
- Images of him are used in old folks rooms to give them long life and a comfortable death
Zhongli Quan, the Guy Who Really Needs To Put A Shirt On
- Cried a full seven days after being born
- Fought the Tibetans back when they were more violent
- Could turn rocks into silver or gold with a wave of his fan
- Has quite the beer belly when depicted in art
So yeah. Eight very different people who became immortal and now hang out with each other all the time.
Just whatever you do, do not practice Taoist alchemy in real life. Not a good idea.
Next time: The care and feeding of ghosts. Hopefully I’ll get this one out before Halloween.