Thursday, September 11, 2008

Tie Guaili

Iron-crutch Li is sometimes said to be the most ancient of the Eight Immortals of the . He is sometimes described irascible and ill-tempered, but also benevolent to the poor, sick and the needy, whose suffering he alleviates with special medicine from his . He is often portrayed as an ugly old man with dirty face, scraggy beard, and messy hair held by a golden band, walking with the aid of an iron crutch.

He is also called Hollow-eyed Li or ''Li Ningyang'' .


The legend says that Iron-crutch Li was born during the period, and was originally named "Li Yüan". He studied with Lao Tzu and Goddess Hsi Wang Mu. He is said to have devoted 40 years to the practice of Taoist meditation, often forgetting to eat or sleep.

Before becoming an immortal, he was a very handsome man. However, on one occasion his spirit traveled to Heaven to meet with some other Immortals. He had told his apprentice to wait for seven days for his spirit to return; but after six days the student had to go home to attend to his sick mother, so the student the body of Li Yüan.

Upon returning, Li Yüan's spirit had to enter the only body available at the time, the corpse of a homeless beggar who had just died of starvation; who unfortunately had "a long and pointed head, blackened face, woolly and disheveled beard and hair, huge eyes, and a lame leg." Lao Tzu gave him a gold band to keep his hair in order, and turned the beggar's bamboo staff into an iron crutch to help his lame leg. Lao Tzu also advised him not to put too much emphasis on appearance.

Li Yüan then brought the apprentice's mother back to life using a magical potion. At night he makes himself so small that he can sleep inside his gourd bottle.


His characteristic emblems are the gourd bottle, which identifies him as one of the Eight Immortals, and his iron crutch. A vapour cloud emanates from the gourd, and within it is the sage's ''hun'' ; which may be depicted as a formless shape, or as a miniature double of his bodily self. Sometimes the ''hun'' is replaced by a spherical object representing the "". He is sometimes shown riding on a qilin.

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