The Double Nine Festival
October 9th, 2016 on the Western calendar is the 9th day of the 9th lunar month on the traditional Chinese calendar. It is the day we celebrate the Double Nine Festival. The ancient divination manual, the Yi Jing (易经) uses 6 as a Yin number and 9 as a Yang number. Because it has two nines together, the festival is called Chongyang Festival (重阳节) or “Double Yang” Festival.
There is a legend surrounding the origin of the festival. It is said that over 2,000 years ago, a demon living in the Nu River brought plague to people. Living nearby was a young man named Huan Jing. When his parents died from the plague, Huan Jing left his village to study under the Daoist master Fei Changfang. One day, the old master told Huan Jing that the demon would soon return to Huan’s village. He told Huang to gather his remaining relatives, carry branches of the dogwood tree (茱萸) and chrysanthemum wine to the top of a nearby mountain, and wait for the demon there. On the ninth day of the ninth month, Huan Jing and his family members climbed to the top of the mountain. When the demon emerged from the river it became dizzy from the smell of the dogwood and the wine. Huan Jing took advantage of the demon’s moment of weakness and ran it through with his sword.
Chinese people also celebrate the Double Ninth Festival by climbing mountains, carrying pieces of dogwood and drinking chrysanthemum wine. Many people eat Chongyang Cake. Chongyang Cake is a seamed rice cake made with nuts and jujube. In Chinese, cake (糕 gāo) is a homophone with “tall” (高 “gāo”) so it is perfect for eating while on a tall mountain. Many cakes have colorful decorations that look like dogwood flowers.
Chinese medicine uses dried dogwood fruit as an ingredient in herbal formulas. The ripe fruit is gathered from October to November. The fruit is boiled and the pit removed. The fruit is then baked or dried in the sun. It is used as a tonic and astringent, mainly in formulas that nourish the liver and kidneys. Chrysanthemum is mildly cold in nature, sweet and bitter. It disperses wind and heat. It calms the liver and improves eyesight. On the day of the Double Nine Festival, people pick fresh chrysanthemum and mix it with grain for brewing. The mixture is set-aside until the next Double Nine Festival, when it is cracked open and enjoyed. Chrysanthemum wine is good for treating nervous conditions.
In the late 1980s, the Chinese Government designated the Chongyang Festival to be Senior’s Day. Nine (九 jiǔ) is a homophone with “long” (久 jiǔ) so it is associated with longevity. Many people celebrate by spending time with their elderly family members, and taking them outside to enjoy nature.
The Double Ninth Festival in Daoism
In Daoism, the ninth day of the ninth month is considered to be the one day of the year when it is the easiest to attain immortality. Many Daoist sages are said to have ascended to heaven on this day, including The Perfect Warrior, the patron saint of Wudang Mountain. On Wudang Mountain, we celebrate the Double Ninth Festival with a 3-day ritual. Many pilgrims visit the mountain to express devotion to the Perfect Warrior. At many Daoist temples around China, pilgrims ask temples to hold rituals asking for long life (祈寿). Others who have attained immortality on this day include Zhang Daoling (the founder of the Celestial Masters’ lineage), Mazu (the Daoist goddess of the Sea), and the Yellow Emperor.
Here is a simple qigong practice for today. It is particularly good for those who feel their body has become unusually weighed down and lethargic. It is not recommended for those with pollen allergies, which can be problematic at this time of year. First, climb to the top of a mountain. Breathe out the turbid air from deep in the body. Feel the body becoming lighter as the old air leaves you. Feel your body becoming energized as you breathe in the new clean air.