Treatment by Incantation


Zhu you ke (Treatment by incantation) is an extremely rare manuscript, said to have been written by a Daoist priest named Zhang Zun. Also known as Mi jue qi shu (The rare book of secrets), the work is in five unnumbered volumes, each designated by a character: qian, yuan, heng, li, and zhen. On the initial qian volume is a note that the original stone tablets of the texts entered the imperial collection in the 13th year of the Kangxi reign (1656) as one of Shi san ke (The 13 ways of treatment). The incantation treatment is the 13th of “13 ways.” The work was probably issued before the early Qing dynasty. The qian volume has an account of its source. It states that in the 28th year of the Chunxi reign (1188) of the Song dynasty, provincial governor Ya Qi was ordered to harness the Yellow River, where he discovered 58 stone tablets carved with secret words. Zhang Zun deciphered the inscriptions, and from then on the treatment of diseases was resoundingly successful. It was said that during the Jingtai reign (1450–56) of the Ming dynasty, a physician named Xu Jinghui, a native of Linqing, Shandong Province, mastered and practiced the 13 ways of treatment and that his house became crowded by patients. Zhang Zun, the author of a postscript in the first volume, the one with the qian designation, wrote that there was another copy of the work, an inferior one. That version was seen in 1724, collated, and hand-copied by Shen Changfa, but the five volumes did not seem consistent with each other and the methods of incantations and taboos varied. It is assumed that the book was copied using different sources. Practicing treatment by incantation was an accepted and respected profession. A zhu you doctor used prayers, magic charms or taboos, and ceremonies to “move the spirit to the essence of qi.” These means could cure not just illnesses and pains; they could stop infants from crying during the night, help women in childbirth, and treat unexpected injuries and bites by insects and animals. Examples of the results promised include “bringing wealth into the home by filling an urn with water,” “exterminating rats by using magic charms,” and “making a tiger by blowing a feather.” The treatments in the book are for both adults and children. They include conditions of the pulse, childbirth, eyes, wind, teeth and stomatitis, ear and nose, orthopedics, sores and broken bones, wounds from arrowheads, incantations, and the like.

Last updated: September 29, 2014