Worship of the family God – the wedding ritual of “Suzhu”

The following article will be published in the third issue of Dongba Culture 《东巴文化》, the newsletter of the Lijiang Museum; many thanks to the Museum and Zhao Xiuyun, the translator. Unfortunately, I don’t have a copy of any of the original scriptures mentioned in the article.

A note on some of the terminology
The article was originally written in Chinese, and did not contain any Naxi phonetics or Dongba script. Proper Naxi nouns are therefore transcribed in pinyin. Using my dictionaries I have traced the original Naxi for some of the terms:

sɪ55 life god– the family or life god, analogous to the Tibetan ‘srog lha’, God of Life. The pictograph depicts a sacrificial bowl.

sɪ55 tɤ21 ritual– the name of the ritual (Suzhu) and also the sacrificial ‘basket’ used therein (see picture).

ɕy55 le33 dʑi21 pine ladder– the pine ladder (one of the implements placed into the basket). Here pine is read ‘ɕy55′ and the ladder is ‘le33 dʑi21′.

tse55 tse33 hæ21 lɤ33 me33 sacred stone– the sacred stone. ‘hæ21′ meaning gold, in the top right corner, is a phonetic element.

dʑy21 na55 ʂɪ55 lo33 sacred mountain– the sacred mountain.

Worship of the family God – the wedding ritual of “Suzhu”

translated by Zhao Xiuyun

During a traditional Naxi wedding, a ritual named Family God Worship, or “Suzhu” [sɪ55 tɤ21], must be held. “Su” [sɪ55] is the life god of the whole family according to the Naxi traditional belief system. When a traditional wedding is held, the bride’s family should hold a ritual named “Separation of the God Su” so as to separate the bride’s soul from the collective souls of her family, as well as to prevent the loss of other family members’ souls. At the bridegroom’s house, the God Su should be worshipped, a ritual which includes putting butter on the foreheads of the new couple. This ritual is held so as to put the ‘Su’ soul of the bride into the ‘Su basket’ (pictured) where the life god of the bridegroom’s family resides. The holding of this ritual indicates that the bride formally becomes a member of the bridegroom’s family, and that their marriage will be accepted by society. The essential aspect of this ritual is to join the souls of the bride and bridegroom together, and allow the soul of the bride to become a member of the life god of the bridegroom’s family.


In the ritual of ‘Suzhu’, many Dongba scriptures should be chanted, including: “Invoking God Su·Expelling Impurities “, “Invoking God Su·Burning the Sacred Lamp”, “Invoking God Su·Burning Incense “, “Invoking God Su·Sacrifice Animals”, “Invoking God Su · the Origin of Sacred Medicine”, “Invoking God Su·Sacrifice Food to God Su”, “Invoking God Su·the Origin of Sacred Butter and Smearing the Butter”, “Invoking God Su·Praying for Good Luck”, and “Invoking God Su·Saying Auspicious Words”.

In the basket that represents the place where the God Su resides, there are Su arrows, a pagoda made from green cypress, a pine tree ladder [ɕy55 le33 dʑi21], a yellow oak sacred Su stick, and a sacred stone. Among them, the arrow represents the three generations of the family, including the father, the son and the grandchildren; the five color silk strings or cloth stripes represent the main elements of life, namely wood, fire, earth, metal and water. The pagoda represents the place where Su rests. The pine ladder has nine steps and represents the necessary path that the God Su must pass to bless the family with luck and prosperity.

In the Dongba manuscripts, there are many origin stories regarding the smearing of butter in the ritual of Suzhu, or the sacred arrow or sacred stones in the Su basket. For example, in the Dongba manuscript entitled “Worship God Su – Smearing the Sacred Butter”, the following is written:

“(If you) don’t know the origin of the nine cakes of butter, you cannot do anything related to the sacred butter; and you cannot say anything related to the sacred butter either. Hence, (we) should talk firstly about the origin of the sacred butter. Danpanyuhua, is a man who lives in heaven beside the heavenly gate. Beside him, lives Jiushou, a divine lady who smiles all the time and never becomes old. There is also a domestic animal named Ketaolabeng which whistles all the time. Its milk never runs dry. Jiushou milks Ketaolabeng, the domestic animal every day, bringing her a silver milk pail. She gets three pails of milk each morning, and nine pails over three days. One morning’s milk can make three cakes of butter, and three days’ milk makes nine cakes of butter. The butter is taken as God Su’s sacred butter and that is the origin of the sacred butter of God Su.”

“The Origin of the Sacred Arrow” is narrated as follows:

“When there is change between the father of rattan bamboo and the mother of rank grass bamboo, blackish bamboo appears. The white sickle comes to cut the blackish bamboo and makes the God Su arrow by using the three joints of the bamboo. The metal arrowhead is then divided into three joints. These represent the father, son and the grandchildren, three generations of the family, and the five color silk strings or cloth stripes on the three joints of the metal arrowhead represent the main elements of life, including wood, fire, earth, metal and water. Later, the arrow should be placed into the Su basket…”

The following is recorded in the “Origin of Sacred Stone”:

“Sibajibu went out to find sacred stones. He found a sacred stone, a stone which looked like silver, from a mountain; Gemajimu went out to find sacred stones. She found a sacred stone, a stone which looked like gold by the riverside. A change occurred in a place where the river and mountain did not notice, and 360 stones were formed. (Let’s) make a God Su Stone by using the stone that looks like black jade and put it into the Su basket. It is as stable as the sacred Junaruoluo [dʑy21 na55 ʂɪ55 lo33] mountain and its life is as long as the life of the sacred stone named Zhenzenhanllumei [tse55 tse33 hæ21 lɤ33 me33].”

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