Ritual, Myth and Oracle in Shang Period China
By Jan Fries

"Those who do not forget the past are the masters of the future" Sima Qian, Historian, 1st century BCE

Dragon Bones is a masterly and insightful exploration of ritual, myth and oracles in Shang Period China (16th-11th century BCE). Combining wide-ranging scholarship with pragmatic practicality, the author shines a light on one of the most obscure and least-known areas of ritual practice in the ancient world, demonstrating its value and connection to the development of magical practices in China over a period of many centuries.

Combining historical accounts, myths, practical meditation and the oracle bone inscriptions themselves, Dragon Bones elucidates an arcane system of divination and offers its wisdom to the modern world. To provide a relevant context for the dragon bone oracle, the reader is guided through a wealth of material by Chinese philosophers including Kongzi (Confucius) and Laozi, exploring philosophies and cosmologies such as Daoism.

The offerings, sacrifices and rituals which form the mystical matrix from which Chinese magic developed are considered from an elegant perspective which explores both the practices and their use and relevance. Also considered is their development from early shamanic practices into more stylised forms of social and cultural ceremonies, which contributed to the evolution of formal rites to serve communities.

As well as its detailed discussion of the historical and mythical figures, gods, spirits, ancestors, mountains, rivers, animals, types of weather and implements, which provide the context and provenance of the development of the dragon bone oracle, Dragon Bones includes a dictionary of over three thousand inscriptions, the most comprehensive of its kind created. As the earliest recorded Chinese texts, the dragon bones reveal unique glimpses of a period where history and myth merged, shaped by philosophy, political power and magic, whose lessons are as relevant today as they have ever been.

2013, 838 pages. Hardback with dust jacket, paperback & Kindle editions available.
ISBN 978-1-905297-62-7
B&W 6.14 x 9.21 in or 234 x 156 mm (Royal 8vo) Perfect Bound on White w/Gloss Lam

ISBN 978-1-905297-63-4
B&W 6.14 x 9.21in or 234 x 156mm (Royal 8vo) Blue Digital Cloth™ Cover w/Jacket on Creme w/Matte Lam

Dragon Bones by Jan Fries

  • First words: reading the past
    Introduction: three dynasties plus extras
    Chaotic beginnings
    Creation reconsidered: a primal giant
    Myths and literature
    Pangu’s relations
    Greenwood mysteries: Fuxi and Nüwa
    The culture hero and the creatrix
    Nüwa: world saviour
    The primal pair
    Advent of agriculture
    The yellow emperor

    A word on virtue
    A daoist model of evolution
    Dynastic history
    Flight of a dark bird
    The Zi clan
    Neolithic China and the Xia dynasty
    The rise of Tang
    Yi Yin’s tale
    War against the Xia
    Start of the Shang Dynasty
    Sacrifice in the mulberry grove
    A life of virtue
    Interlude: Zhengzhou
    From king to di
    Wu Ding
    Fu Hao and Fu Jing
    A time of drastic changes
    The tyrant and the fox
    Rise of the Zhou
    Concluding remark: is this for real?
    Time and space
    Recycling time: sixty days of eternity
    The ten suns
    Temple names
    Stems and branches
    Terrible ancestors
    A magical reality
    Life beyond death
    The thearch’s task
    The quarters of the world
    The royal tombs at Anyang
    Other cemeteries
    Bronze- a metal changes the world
    Cultural variety
    Toxic offerings
    Bronze economy
    Animal ancestors
    The taotie
    Kui dragons
    Play of the animals
    All in transformation
    Zhou period 1045 (?) – 221BCE
    Han dynasty 206BCE-220CE
    Three kingdoms period 220-265
    Jin dynasty, 265-420
    Masks of the divine
    Directional deities
    The names of the winds
    Women or mothers
    Xiwangmu and Guanyin
    More mothers?
    Strange gods
    Shang shamanism?
    Animal shamanism and rites of rebirth
    Wu in the Shang period:
    Wu in the Zhou period
    Divine government
    Zhou ritual
    Visions of the past
    Worship of the stars
    Sun and moon
    The ritual animal
    Animal sacrifice
    Human sacrifice
    Retainer sacrifices
    Foundation sacrifices
    Drought sacrifices
    Offering branches
    Food and blood
    Offering drink
    Offering clothes
    Ritual reports
    Manuscripts and promises
    The bin ritual
    A hierarchy of bin rites?
    Feelings of love and respect
    Meeting the ancestors
    Ritual purification
    The purity of water
    Five rituals: nourishing ancestors according to the ‘new school’
    The feather dance
    The festival of raw meat
    The cooked grains festival
    The harmonisation festival
    Drums and music
    Practical experience
    Enter the gourd
    Guarding the one
    Heavenly journeys
    Transforming the world
    Charging the signs
    Good questions
    Beyond the basics
    Studies in ancient history
    Tracking the bones
    Drilling bones in Anyang
    Bone readers

  • The author of Kali Kaula, Dragon Bones, Manasa and Neta, and The Seven Names of Lamastu, Jan Fries is one of the leading magickal authors of the 21st century. Jan is known for his exciting and practical works, and the breadth of scholarship with which he infuses them.

    He lives and works in Germany.