ENCYCLOPEDIA OF TAOISM (PRIVATE NOTES): Hún and pò 魂•魄 Yang soul and Yin soul

Sometimes we read English translation of Chinese novels and short stories and sometimes the authors mention hun and po, and in this case some short extracts from the Encyclopedia of Taoism can help a lot. For example, Farzeen Baldrian-Hussein wrote:

 “The notions of hun and po are central to Chinese thought and religion. Although the term “souls” is often used to refer them, they are better seen as two types of vital entities, the source of life in every individual. The hun is Yang, luminous, and volatile, while the po is Yin, somber, and heavy. They are, moreover, to be considered the epitome of the spiritual (shen) and demonic (gui): the hun represents spirit, consciousness, and intelligence, whereas the po represents physical nature, bodily strength, and movement. When natural death occurs, the hun disperses in heaven, and the po returns to earth. A violent death, on the other hand, causes the hun and po to remain among humans and perform evil deeds”. 

I would like to place two ancient glyphs here, they look very familiar 🙂

hunpo01 hunpo02

“During the Later Han period, moreover, the number of the hun was fixed at three, and the number of po at seven. Why these numbers were chosen is a matter of speculation, but the former figure may stand for the sangang 三綱, the three relationships between emperor and subject, father and son, and husband and wife (Needam 1974, 88-89), whereas the latter possibly denotes the seven openings of the human body and the seven emotions”(F. Baldrian-Hussein). 

In spite of ‘a matter of speculation’ the numbers three and seven still look appropriate, but the next step looks much more complicated: “The three hun and seven po, moreover, were anthropomorphized and given names, and their individual attributes were described in detail”. And my favorite question is, again —‘why people on the every continent and in the every part of the world are so eager to make simple and wonderful things so complex and verbose?”

The good news is at least I am NOT verbose in these private notes on Encyclopedia of Taoism, Routledge, 2008:)