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    Lu, Di and Lo, Vivienne 2015. Scent and synaesthesia: The medical use of spice bags in early China. Journal of Ethnopharmacology, Vol. 167, Issue. , p. 38.

  • Print publication year: 2011
  • Online publication date: May 2011

5 - Sages, Spirits, and Senses


In eating it is best not to fill up,

In thinking, it is best not to overdo.

Both the strategies aimed at conditioning the bodies and minds of ritual participants and the care invested in preparing and selecting the material apparatus and offerings for sacrifice drew on the idea that the sacrificial exchange facilitated access to the spirit world through sublimated modes of sensory perception that transcended normal everyday life. Preparatory acts such as purifying the body through diet or marking out the sacrificial space through olfactory, visual, and aural stimuli served to distinguish human agency during sacrifice from conduct in daily life. Similarly, offerings and implements used in sacrifice were set apart from daily usage, and often their selection was dictated by taboos and requirements specific to the ritual occasion. At the end of a ritual cycle, some offerings or parts thereof could transform back into edibles for human consumption during sacrificial banquets or feasts.

The efficacy of sacrificial ritual in early China was thought to depend largely on the degree to which the ritualist was able to tap into the right sensory channels through fragrance, sound, color, flavor, and orchestrated movement and dance. Although firmly anchored in the physical world, the powers generated by sensory stimuli through sacrifice were transgressive in that they both provided ephemeral contact with the spirit world and transformed the body and sensory engagement of the human participant(s).

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Food, Sacrifice, and Sagehood in Early China
  • Online ISBN: 9780511736247
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