The Step of Yu - Creative Arts

The Element Encyclopedia of Witchcraft: The Complete A-Z for the Entire Magical World - Judika Illes 2005

The Step of Yu
Creative Arts

This dance step associated with Taoist shamans (and often particularly with female shamans) commemorates Da-yu (also spelled Ta-yu) or Yu the Great, the mythical founder of China’s Xia Dynasty. Yu was also a great shaman, allegedly able to control storms and floods. He was partially paralyzed and walked with a limp; an imitation of his step was transformed into a shamanic dance—or so the legend says.

The earliest written reference to “the Step of Yu” (or in Chinese, Yu-bu) derives from the fourth century BCE with a description from the Taoist philosopher Ko Hong. The Step of Yu was a hopping dance: the dancer first leads with the left foot, then shifts to the right, in the meantime, simultaneously, dragging the other leg.

The limping step may be understood as more than mere imitation. Although the dance is named for Yu, the limping step associated with shamans may be far older.

For reasons that remain mysterious, a tremendous number of shamanic heroes from all over Earth possess myths that involve wearing only one shoe or detail an injured or somehow vulnerable (special) foot. These include Achilles, Jason of the Argonauts, Oedipus, Hephaestus, Wayland the Smith, and the biblical Jacob. The motif isn’t exclusive to men: in one story Medea removes one single sandal. One way of interpreting the secret meaning of the loss of Cinderella’s shoe is as a tale of successful shamanic initiation. (Shoes also represent female genitalia and so there are also other ways of interpreting the glass slipper that serves as the prince’s tool for identifying his perfect match.) Cinderella is able to escape from the degradation imposed on her when she learns to access her magic and shamanic powers. Walking with one shoe on and one shoe off demonstrates her successful initiation as a shaman.

Many of the trickster spirits who are so often sponsors of shamanism are also depicted limping, most notably perhaps Africa’s Papa Legba. Medieval depictions of the devil incorporated this image of the limping trickster. Satan was often portrayed during the witch-hunt era as having one shod human foot and one bare cloven goat’s hoof, causing him to limp. (See HORNED ONE.)

In some Northern regions, dances associated elsewhere with goats are performed in honor of bears. The shaman Yu was allegedly able to transform into a bear.