治潁珍藏 | ZhiYing Collection | 仿雌黃,雄黃鼻烟壸 | Realgar Snuff Bottle

雄黃,雌黃 | Realgar & Orpiment

Realgar is a ruby-red mineral whose name comes from the Arabic rahj al-ġār which means "powder of the mine" probably due to its use as a pigment as well.

Orpiment is a yellow to orange mineral whose name derives from auripigmentum (aurum means "gold" and pigmentum means "pigment" or "color") due to its deep yellow color and use as a paint pigment.

So what do orpiment and realgar have in common? Turns out they're both arsenic sulfide minerals:

Orpiment = As2S3
Realgar = As4S4

The minerals can also occur together.

Historically orpiment was used as a bright yellow pigment for painting before the development of cadmium yellow. Realgar was used as a ruby-red pigment with one imporant drawback - it fades to a yellow powder after long exposure to light (old paintings where realgar was used now have a yellow color in place of the red the artist intended). Also, one of the major problems with orpiment and realgar pigments is that they're highly toxic, being arsenic compounds.

The fading of realgar pigments also affects the mineral specimens. Realgar needs to be kept in a dark box or drawer, if you leave it out on a bookshelf the mineral will start to break down into a yellow mineral called pararealgar (AsS). I've read that it's the green wavelengths of light that will break down realgar but have no idea why (something I need to research).

Both orpiment and realgar occur in low-temperature hydrothermal veins (fractures in rock in which hot water precipitated minerals), in hot spring deposits, and as sublimates from gasses emitted from volcanic fumaroles. In some areas, these minerals occur with galena (lead sulfide - PbS), gold, and silver deposits. Most of the arsenic produced worldwide comes from these two minerals and another called arsenopyrite (FeAsS).

What use is arsenic? Historically, it was an important poison (it's been called the "Poison of Kings") but today autopsies can detect its presence with some simple chemical tests if it's a suspected cause of death. Victorian women used to ingest arsenic to make them look paler (unlike the tanned commoners who had to work outside). Obviously not a recommended practice. Arsenic was also once used to treat syphilis and other medical conditions. Its poisonous properties have led to its use as a wood preservative (now phased out in the U.S.) and insecticide and fungicide. One high-tech use is in the manufacture of certain semiconductors (notable those made of GaAs - gallium arsenide).

(Information on Realgar and Opriment as minerals is taken from Steve Schimmrich's website. Hudson Valley Geologist. Steve is a geologist and community college professor in a rural area of the mid-Hudson Valley of New York.)

雄黄之用 | Use of Realgar

Realgar and Orpiment, both poisonous substances, are regarded as the antidote to poison. According to legend, they have the mythical power to drive away evil.

One of the most dangerous and inauspicious days of the year in ancient China was the 5th day of the 5th month. Also known as tian zhong jie (天中节). This day marked the beginning of the hot season whereby the spread of infectious diseases is at its worst. Chinese attribute to the appearance of evil spirits.

Furthermore, the most dangerous period of that day was considered to be "noon". The Chinese actually divided each day into twelve two-hour periods known as shichen (时 辰). "Noon", then, would be the two hour period from 11AM - 1PM which according to shichen is called wu (午).

One popular way to protect oneself during this day was to drink realgar wine (xiong huang jiu 雄黄酒). Realgar contains arsenic sulfide which was believed to be an antidote for poisons. It would therefore drive away evil spirits and kill insects and other poisonous animals.

Parents would use the wine to write the Chinese character "king" (wang 王) on a child's forehead as a form of protection.

The "five poisons" (wudu 五毒) actually refer to five poisonous animals. The purpose of the five poisons depicted on an amulet is to counteract pernicious influences. This is because the Chinese believe in combating poison with poison. Just like drinking realgar (arsenic) wine and mixing cinnabar (mercury) with wine to combat evil.

神农 | Shennong, the Father of Chinese Medicine

There is legendary evidence to support this belief of combating poison with poison. Shennong (神农), also known as the Yan Emperor (Yandi 炎帝), was a ruler who lived about 5,000 years ago and is credited with teaching the Chinese how to cultivate crops.

Shennong (神农) is considered to be the Father of Chinese Medicine. This is because he discovered and personally tested upon himself hundreds of medicinal and poisonous herbs. Its was said that, he had a transparent body and could observe the effects of the medicine in his body. He had never suffered long-term effects because the poisons of various medicine apparently canceled each other out.

Some historical sources refer to the five poisons as consisting of the snake, scorpion, centipede, toad and spider. Other references have the lizard replacing the spider. Still other sources mention the five poisons as the snake, scorpion, centipede, spider and the "three-legged toad". (Learn more about the "three-legged toad" at Liu Hai and the Three-Legged Toad.)

Finally, the tiger is sometimes included as one of the five poisons as explained below.

This is the reverse side of another old Chinese five poison charm.

The large animal at the right is a tiger or cat. To the right of the cat's tail is a lizard and to the left is a spider. A snake is at the left of the center hole and the three legged toad is at the lower left.

(Information taken from Wiki)

白蛇傳 | Legend of the White Snake

Lü Dongbin, one of the Eight Immortals, disguises himself as a man selling TangYuan at the Broken Bridge (斷橋) near the West Lake in Hangzhou. A boy called Xu Xian (许仙) buys some tangyuan from Lü Dongbin without knowing that they are actually immortality pills. After eating the TangYuen, he did not feel hungry for the next three days. Xu Xian went back to ask why and Lü Dongbin laughs and carried Xu Xian to the bridge. He he flipped him upside down and causes him to vomit the tangyuan into the lake.

Under the bridge, there is a white snake spirit who has been practising Taoist magical arts in the hope of becoming an immortal. She ate the pills and gains 500 years' worth of magical powers. She therefore feels grateful to Xu Xian and their fates become intertwined together.

There was another terrapin (or tortoise) spirit also training in the lake who did not manage to eat any of the pills and became jealous of the white snake.

One day, the white snake sees a beggar on the bridge who has caught a green snake. He wanted to dig out the snake's gall and sell it. The white snake transforms into a woman and buys the green snake from the beggar, thus saving its life. The green snake is grateful to the white snake and she regards the white snake as an elder sister.

Eighteen years later, during the QingMing Festival, the white and green snakes transform themselves into two young women called Bai Suzhen (白素貞) and Xiaoqing (小青). They meet Xu Xian at the Broken Bridge in Hangzhou. Xu Xian and Bai Suzhen gradually fall in love and are eventually married. They move to Zhenjiang, where they open a medicine shop.

Picture on long veranda in the Summer Palace, Beijing, China.

In the meantime, the terrapin spirit has accumulated enough powers to take human form, so he transforms into a Buddhist monk called Fahai (Chinese: 法海; pinyin: Fǎhǎi). Still angry with Bai Suzhen, Fahai plots to break up her relationship with Xu Xian. He approached Xu Xian and tells him that during the Duanwu Festival his wife should drink realgar wine.

Bai Suzhen unsuspectingly drinks the wine and reveals her true form as a large white snake. Xu Xian dies of shock after seeing that his wife is not human. Bai Suzhen and Xiaoqing travel to Mount Emei and steal a magical herb that restored Xu Xian to life.

Picture on long veranda in the Summer Palace, Beijing, China.

After coming back to life, Xu Xian still maintains his love for Bai Suzhen despite knowing her true identity. Fahai tries to separate them again by capturing Xu Xian and imprisoning him in Jinshan Temple (金山寺).

Bai Suzhen and Xiaoqing fought with Fahai to try to rescue Xu Xian. Bai tried to use her powers to flood the temple. However, her powers are limited because she is already pregnant and failed to save her husband.

Xu Xian later manages to escape from Jinshan Temple and reunite with his wife in Hangzhou, where Bai Suzhen gives birth to their son, Xu Mengjiao. However, Fahai tracks them down, defeats Bai Suzhen and imprisons her in Leifeng Pagoda.

Twenty years later, Xu Mengjiao earns the top scholar degree in the imperial examination and returns home in glory to visit his parents.

Xiaoqing, who managed to escaped, went back to Jinshan Temple and defeated FaHai. Bai Suzhen was finally freed and reunited with her husband and son.

Fahai fled and hides inside the stomach of a crab. Which give raise to the saying that a crab's internal fat is orange because it resembles the colour of Fahai's kasaya.

(Information taken from Wiki)

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