So you’ve decided to replace some of your daily coffee intake with Chinese tea. Wonderful. And you got yourself a tea kit, and a table to put it on. Even better. A daily tea-making ritual is right up there with long-distance running and mantra-chanting for peace of mind. Until you crowd your tea table with clay deities, however, you’re not getting full use out of it. It’s like buying a MacBook and not using it at the coffee shop so everyone can see how hip you are.
The tea table is an ideal place for totems, house gods, if you will. Unlike your Livestrong bracelet or lucky scarab, tea table figures get the two things necessary to turn any object into a magical fetish – focused attention, and sacrifice. From time immemorial, the first brewing of tea, – the one with most of the caffeine and impurities – has been poured over the figures. They get fed, and will turn glossy over time, if made from good clay. You, in turn, get whatever juju vibes each figure offers. Here are some of the more well-known.
Ninth and least of the Great Dragon’s offspring, the Pixiu craves only gold and silver, despite its menacing aspect. By some divine birth defect , the Pixiu has a huge mouth, a bottomless stomach, but no…uh, excretory orifice. Furthermore, he will share his coveted gold and silver with a gracious (read: tea-sharing) owner. One’s good; two are better for wealth-attracting power.
If money’s good in China, a pig is better, representing peace, plenty, and happiness. In fact, the Mandarin character for family, 家(jia), is a picture of a pig under a roof. Keeping a live pig under your own roof has grown woefully inconvenient in the hoity-toity times we live in. However, keeping a clay pig on your tea table is the next best way to ensure that someone in your family brings home plenty of bacon, that you have a warm bed, and plenty of time to wallow in it.
Ancient celestial dweller Liu Hai was a slayer of monsters. So when a massive poisonous toad began waddling across the countryside wreaking havoc, Liu Hai descended to do battle. After losing a front leg to the hero, Jinchan sued for peace, vowing to help Liu Hai fight other demons. Liu Hai was also a low-key philanthropist, showering wealth on the deserving through clandestine means. When he re-ascended to the heavenly realm, Jjinchan stayed behind, continuing his good work, and rewarding those who didn’t run off after glimpsing his repulsive form. A clay Jinchan will augment the wealth-attracting powers of the Pixiu.
You can have a pile of gold, and still be as vulnerable as a newly hatched turtle on a wild beach. The Jingui, however, sports an unbreakable shell. When he hides within, Jaws himself can do the Jingui no harm. Keep him on your tea table for protection against the many slings and arrows of modern life.
Slow and steady wins the race, and may the race last at least four score years. The Chinese symbol for longevity, a tortoise will do his best to make sure the hand of time lies but lightly on your shoulder. Of course, drinking lots of tea will do even more.
Some have health, wealth, and time to enjoy it, but still mope about like les miserables. Such malcontents lack peace, grace, and the inner beauty they bring. Swans remind us that composure is the starting point for true happiness.
He’d be happier if you renounced all material gain and took to the banyan grove, but understands enlightenment is for the few. Daily lashings of tea are a good way to win his blessings, and forgiveness for your all-too-human desires.
Or a rat, or a rooster, or a dragon, or whatever animal from the Chinese zodiac represents your year of birth. No exercise in narcissism, having a totem of yourself on the tea table provides a focal point for the rest of your clay pantheon. Notice in the top picture that the dog lies directly in the Pixiu’s, Jinchan’s, and tortoise’s line of sight.
So your friend was born in the year of the ox, steady and hard working. But that’s not enough in this world. No reason you can’t put her on the table to soak up some metaphysical benefits, and she put you on hers. A friend with tea is a friend indeed!