This article is to help explain and demystify some of the processes involved in Taoist magic for the Western audience, especially those that have little exposure to this aspect of Chinese culture. If you've watched any of the great ghost-themed kung fu movies of the 80s and 90s like Mr. Vampire (僵尸先生),you may see a few things that look familiar - especially the 'Fu', the yellow paper talismans that are being empowered in this video. We'll keep the Chinese language use to a minimum to help keep this from getting too confusing.
A few notes about gear
You'll see that Wun Sifu is wearing a ceremonial robe and hat for this ritual, and it's important to note that they are not just for show (though they do look cool, you have to admit). Depending on the ceremony being performed, there are several different kinds of robes, hats, shoes, even 'undergarments' worn under the robes that you may see in other videos. They aren't chosen at random!
Before the video begins, she lights up four candles to begin the process. You can only see three of them at this camera angle, but there is a black taper candle hiding behind the incense pot. The two black tapers are the 'portal' candles, and the two candles in front are 'energy' candles, to explain it in simpler terms.
The first part: Opening the Altar (0:00 - 2:05)
The first thing you experience in this video, other than the sweet flute solo, is Wun Sifu drawing on three sticks of incense with her right hand in a position we call 'sword finger'. You see hand sign a lot through many aspects of Asian culture. Now you know what to call it when you see it! What she is doing is writing on the incense, essentially giving the altar a command via instructions drawn on burning incense. Then she stomps - this is how we send a spell out to interact with the world. Then you see her light the incense, doing so with all four candles. Of course, you only need one to physically ignite the incense, but putting the incense into different flames is also a way to 'program' the intent of the command being sent to the altar.
Then she holds the incense to her foreheads and stomps - she is reciting spells silently between each stomp. Watch for that throughout the video, you'll know what is happening when you hear a stomp. Then bows of two different sorts, each with its own purpose, then she places the incense one stick at a time into the altar in a specific pattern. Then we move on to when your humble narrator likes to refer to as the 'Naruto moves' - a set of gestures that tell the altar to 'open', followed by a symbol being drawn with her sword finger again. Finally, the bell is rung over the candles and pot to finalize the opening process, and the 'singing bowl' is rung like a gong, commanding the altar to store the given energy. All of that is just to wake the altar up - boot the system up, to think of it another way. She hasn't even begun to activate the Fu!
The second part: Drawing resources to charge the Fu (2:05 - 7:30)
More incense is burned, with instructions drawn onto them - this step is to request power from the lineage network, o that she doesn't have to rely solely on her own power resources to charge the fu - this is one of the ways we all help each other. the handsigns and spells up to about the 5 minute mark are for this purpose. Then more incense - this time, however, it is being done to begin the process of drawing magical energy from the altar to charge the Fu. Next we move onto the advanced 'Naruto moves', these are specific spells she is using to draw power from herself to push into the altar, and then on to the fu. That energy is going to sit there for now, to be used in the final step. Then she gathers up the fu and directly projects spells into the fu using her sword finger once more. The final bit of this sectioon may look familiar if you have been paying close attention - its the same set of gestures used in the beginning to open the altar. this time, the fu is being opened to receive energy.
The third part: Programming the Fu (7:31 - 9:40)
This part looks a lot like the last section, but there are important differences. You'll notice that she switches hands, this is because the intent is different - instead of just adding power, here she is reciting very specific spells that are written to activate the Fu for its intended purpose. Not much else to say here without getting into very technical details, but it's also worth noting that there are spells for empowering all sorts of things other than Fu talismans, and each spell is different.
The fourth part: Launching the program (9:41 - 13:00)
And now another demonstration of Taoist dexterity, Wun Sifu moves through a sequence of handsigns and associated spells to 'wake up' the Fu and start everything in motion. Again, without getting too complicated here, every one of those hand contortions is an individual spell.
The fifth part: Tweaking the program (13:00 - 15:40)
This set of spells is for fine tuning the application of the Fu - giving it the ability to sense and react to the specific application for which it was written, to conserve its power when not active, and the like. This step can be much more complex as well, with more handsigns and such, but Wun Sifu didn't use them here.
The final part: Activation (15:41 - 16:00)
At last the process comes to a conclusion with Wun Sifu moving the Fu over the incense bowl to gather all of the energy she's collected there (and you can tell she's a pro, she doesn't catch her sleeve on fire), and a final spell and handsign to flip the 'ON' switch. The fu are now charged up and ready to use!
Powering down (16:01 - 16:11)
The last hand moves and spell here are to power down the altar. Not strictly part of the Fu empowerment process, but it's like turning off the lights when you leave a room, no sense in wasting energy.