Dissertation/Thesis Abstract

Cracking to divine: Pyro-plastromancy as an archetypal and common mantic and religious practice in Han and medieval china
by Kory, Stephan N., Ph.D., Indiana University, 2012, 582; 3543218
Abstract (Summary)

Pyro-plastromancy, the mantic art of cracking turtle plastrons with fire, is one of the earliest documented forms of divination in East Asian history. This dissertation springs from the simple thesis that the divinatory cracking of turtle plastrons remained a living mantic and religious tradition in first-millennium CE China. Theoretical insights from the modern academic fields of semiotic, literary, cultural, and religious studies are utilized to help construct a multi-dimensional approach able to account for the methods, functions, institutions, and theories associated with the technique. These dimensions are separately and diachronically analyzed in the body of the dissertation to set up a number of brief comparative and synchronic views of pyro-plastromancy set in more circumscribed Han and medieval Chinese milieus.

Pyro-plastromancy is not just any form of Chinese divination; it is the archetypal model, as reflected in the pervasive use of the pyro-osteomantic (divination with fire and bone) and pyro-plastromantic term bu for all divination. As the historically earliest form of royal divination, the divinatory cracking of bones and shells possessed a special political and religious authority as the high orthodox form of divination, even when much cheaper and hence popularly accessible arts like achilleomancy (divination with yarrow stalks) and hemerology (the determination of auspicious dates) became dominant. For academic purposes, the study of a semi-ossified form of orthodox divination is an ideal place to attempt a truly multi-dimensional analysis, because while all the features of a developed and socially sanctioned mantic activity were present, its scope and evolution was relatively limited.

This dissertation concludes that the divinatory cracking of turtle plastrons persisted as potent source of cultural capital, served as a focal point of institutional and popular mantic and religious interaction, and flourished as an archetypal and common way to access culturally constructed notions of divine or spiritual power in Han and medieval China.

Indexing (document details)
Advisor: Eno, Robert
Commitee: Bokenkamp, Stephen, Campany, Robert, Luo, Manling, Stalnaker, Aaron
School: Indiana University
Department: East Asian Languages & Cultures (EALC
School Location: United States -- Indiana
Source: DAI-A 74/03(E), Dissertation Abstracts International
Subjects: Asian literature, Religious history, Asian Studies
Keywords: China, Common Chinese culture, Divination, Divination and mantic practice, Medieval Chinese religion, Plastromancy, Pyro-plastromancy, State and common religion, The divinatory cracking of turtle plastrons, Turtles
Publication Number: 3543218
ISBN: 978-1-267-71930-0
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