Today I’d like to show you something really cool that I recently got: a traditional Chinese jade disk. Of course, that by itself doesn’t sound very impressive. What’s so cool about a jade disk, you might ask?
This unassuming ornament, called a bi 璧 in Standard Chinese, is just a trinket at first glance. However, it carries enormous historical weight, and through it we hear the whispered voices of the sages and shamans of a time long forgotten. This symbol was ancient when the blocks of the pyramids were quarried. Between the fifth and second millennia BC this was a ritual object used in burials, placed on the chest or stomach of the deceased. It appears that they represented in some way the sky or heaven. Consider the circular shape centered on a hollow point—it is not difficult to see the parallel to the night sky spinning around the North Star:
This is my (second) favorite Journey song. This song rules so much. In this song they tap into something extremely ancient and primordial in the human conception of heaven and earth. The neolithic shamans and Journey had the same idea—one expressed it with jade, the other with Dad music.
In placing the bi on the abdomen of the deceased, my personal hypothesis is that it must have served as a kind of conduit for the soul. The soul would ascend to heaven by passing through the aperture of the bi—and by extension, through the cosmos by means of the North Star.
The oldest jade disks found date from around 7000 years ago, a fairly close temporal and spatial match to the Proto-Sino-Tibetans. The design and concept may well have been familiar to them. It is worth mentioning that in both Chinese and Tibetan mythology, people were said to have been able to ascend to and descend from heaven as they wished, connected by a kind of cosmic string. In light of these legends, along with the use of bi, I can’t help but think of traditional Ket cosmology, wherein people are linked, by a spiritual umbilical cord, to the sky...or, more specifically, to the North Star.
Spooky. Might be a coincidence, but if not we may be seeing in the bi one expression of a cultural traditon going deep into the palaeolithic. We too can become stewards of this tradition: and, as a proud bi owner, it’s now my job to keep on passing these ancient whispers, so we can remember the places, things, and ideas that made us who we are today.