Most Honored Elders, allow me to begin by saying I only have personal knowledge of one Shisa, currently known as “Rebel”. Do not allow the name to fool you. It has no relation to this Shisa’s temperament, unlike other Shen we have studied. The name is more happenstance than a reflection of its predisposition, as I shall get to in a moment. Allow me to begin with the generalities of Shisa before getting to the particular traits of this one example.
We have long held that Shisa are a form of Shen more closely tied to humanity than other celestial spirits. They are sometimes thought of as the mortal immortals because they can bleed and even be killed but will always reincarnate. They each seem to embody an aspect of humanity or community but it is unclear whether they are the reflections or the origins of those aspects. Elder Ling has long spoken of his great grandfather’s great grandfather and his meeting the Shisa Luban who, depending on how full the wine jug is, either taught him the art of carpentry or was his best pupil. Shisa are beings of physical form instead of pure spirit but it is said they can sometimes possess a willing subject or prepared object, reminiscent of the vodun loa. I have asked a local mambo and the only thing we agree on is that spirits do what spirits do.
Now as for the specifics on the Shisa Rebel, who has been known to my family legends and stories for many generations, I personally can only attest to the past ten years. Various comments in passing allude to this Shisa being active or at least present for centuries. As an example, he mentioned during community tai chi recently that although the philosophies have changed depending on geographical pedigree (as he put it) the forms are identical to what Zhang Sanfeng witnessed when “they helped the Shen repel the Water Ghosts, Kappa and other Fomor creatures”. I am unsure if this is the same Zhang Sanfeng accredited with designing the foundation of tai chi Ch’uan but it seems likely. Further study may be warranted as the Fomor become more blatant in their incursions. Decades would pass while this Shisa lay dormant within a jade statuette “because my assistance wasn’t needed and there wasn’t much interesting going on”. In the early 1900’s, this Shisa “traveled Europe and the Americas” as his statuette was passed from one mortal thief to another. When I asked him why he allowed this his answer was “Creation gave man many confusing traits but never bothered to let me know why. As long as those traits are not due to Outside influence why should I interfere?”
I have learned that during this time this Shisa came to be in New York in 1929. The only thing he’ll say is that there was much suffering but as most of it was caused by man he was powerless so he left. It took over ten years but eventually this Shisa came back to the Orient by way of World War 2. By this time he had seen more than enough evil of man toward man. He wandered from village to village, avoiding cities and “modern civilization” as much as he could. This is where my family’s personal knowledge starts. This Shisa came upon my great, great grandfather Tomon toiling in the fields. He was being berated by the foreman when word came that the foreman’s infant daughter had fallen into a tiger pit. While all the fieldworkers ran with the foreman to help only the Shisa and Tomon jumped into the pit. Tomon injured his leg in the process but was still able to assist the Shisa in lifting the girl up high enough for others to reach her. As the story goes, Tomon died an hour later, probably due to blood loss. The Shisa asked if there was anything he could do for him and Tomon said he had only thought of the girl’s safety but now regretted leaving his wife & unborn child. The Shisa promised that they would be cared for. The Shisa made a doll out of grass and wildflowers and gave it to Tomon’s wife, saying that it was his dying wish and they would be protected as long as they kept it. The doll was passed down thru the generations until it was lost in 1971 during a mortar attack.
The Shisa has stated this is when he encountered “a good man with a golden heart” and, as he believed the last of Tomon’s family to be dead, decided to watch over this man. Thus the Shisa again returned to New York and has witnessed more of man’s cruelty but even more of man’s hope and kindness. With the help of some of the more shady “do gooders”, the Shisa has become an established identity known as Rebel Robertson after the aforementioned good man he met in the war. I was reacquainted with Rebel quite by accident when a local youth charity group brought a tour to the Chinese Gardens. Rebel seemed to recognize me, or more accurately my family ties immediately. He has returned almost weekly to “keep in touch” as he puts it and I have realized he is drawn to the poorer, but not seedier, areas around New York. He can always be found at one of the various missions, charities or community gatherings “just helping out”. I believe we should definitely encourage this but as always, will bow to those wiser than I.