IntroductionThe philosophies that would form the basis of religion for later Chinese dynasties; Confucianism, Buddhism, and Taoism; did not exist during the Shang Dynasty; however these ancient people's religion had many facets. On this page we will list facts about the religion of the Shang Dynasty in a format that hopefully kids and adults will find understandable. You will find information on who their gods were, ancestor worship, and how they performed divination.
Click here for a great selection of Amazon.com books about the Shang Dynasty.
Shang Dynasty Gods
- The people of the Shang Dynasty were polytheistic meaning they worshipped numerous gods.
- The supreme god worshipped during the Shang Dynasty was Shang Di. This main god is also referred to as Shangdi, Shang-ti, Di, or Ti. It was believed he had control over nature and control over the destiny of people.
- The Shang people held huge festivals to honor their gods and in the hopes of influencing them for favorable events such as an abundant harvest.
Shang Dynasty Ancestor Worship
- Part of the Shang religion involved ancestor worship.
- Keeping dead ancestors pleased was very important. It was believed unhappy ancestors could cause bad events such as a bad crop or illness whereas happy ancestors could bring good things such as wealth.
- Many of the Shang people believed that the spirits of their ancestors existed in the world around them and occupied the objects around them.
Facts about Shang Dynasty Divination
- Divination, which is defined as the using of certain signs to predict future events, played an important part in Shang religion.
- In order to perform the divination priests would apply a hot metal rod to a turtle shell or bone (usually the shoulder bone of a cow or Ox) until the shell or bone cracked. The interpretation of the cracks was most often performed by the Shang rulers and occasionally by other royalty.
- The subject of the divination was called the "charge". Typical charges included questions about crops, weather, war, and illness.
- The cracks made in the shell or bone would be read by the ruler to determine the answers to questions posed to their gods or ancestors about the future. Often the questions involved determining if certain rituals should be performed.
- The shells and bones used for the Shang divination are called Oracle bones. Usually inscribed on the Oracle bone was the date, charge (reason for the divination), and the diviner's name.
- After interpreting the cracks made by the divination process the results were usually carved on the shell or bone.
- The discovery of numerous Oracle bones dating back to the Shang Dynasty has provided important information about this ancient society. In fact the discovery and interpretation of several oracle bones in the early 1900s actually confirmed that the Shang people existed; which had been in question. These artifacts also supplied important information about the genealogy of the Shang rulers.
Interesting Shang Dynasty Religion Facts
- Sacrifices also played a role in the religion of the Shang Dynasty. Usually animals were sacrificed to please the gods or ancestors; human sacrifice was also practiced on occasion.
- The Shang people built huge ornate tombs for their rulers. Within these tombs they often placed items such as utensils and weapons which were meant for use in the afterlife.
- To accompany and serve the ruler in the afterlife sometimes humans and horses were buried along with him.
- Thousands of tombs from the Shang Dynasty era have been discovered and excavated providing important information about their culture.